Willamette is peace in summer

Float this mellow river, through forests full of birds, without traveling far from cities

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INDEPENDENCE, Ore. -- The experience of floating down the Willamette River is, at least in the beginning, a bit strange.

The stream is wide enough to be a small lake and moves with a pace of a tortoise -- slow and steady but always arriving at its destination.

I recently took my first float down the Willamette River and found the experience a relaxing way to fill a few hours on a warm summer afternoon.

Getting started was a breeze, thanks to the Willamette Water Trail. On their online map, it's simple to pick two places for put-in and take-out and the river mileage between them.

I chose a short float from Independence's Riverview Park to Emil Marx/Lloyd Strange Fishing Hole. The float is 4.25 miles and about as easy as it gets.

Our crafts were a pair of inflatable kayaks -- Orange Torpedoes that we bought used for $50 apiece.

After setting up the shuttle (parking one car at Emil Marx), we put on the river at Riverview Park's boat ramp and began floating downstream. We passed a few motorboats early on but were mostly by ourselves.

Part of what's surprising about the Willamette River is that, despite its flowing through Oregon's largest population centers, it's quite peaceful for much of the journey. The river's edges are forested, and the sound of birds is more common than that of cars.

Obvious precautions must be taken any time you're floating a river -- wear a life jacket and watch for hazards such as trees and rocks -- but the Willamette is such a mellow stream that we laid back and allowed the tortoise to take us where it would. There are no rapids, so even a cheap inflatable boat from Walmart would work fine.

We stopped at a pair of gravel bars for a snack and to go swimming and finished our float in a little more than two hours. Emil Marx is impossible to miss -- you can see your parked car from the river well before you reach it.