Floating the Duwamish: The Lower Waterway

After a particularly wet and grey winter, high temperatures and bright sun finally arrived in Seattle this memorial day weekend. I could vividly imagine the sweltering holiday traffic on the highway 2 or the I90. Nuts to that! We’ve got a canoe!

Commuter traffic


So far we’ve covered the Green River from the Auburn Golf Course to the South Park Bridge in a pair of separate floats: From Auburn Golf Course to Southcenter and Southcenter to the South Park Bridge. Give ’em a read if you care to. 

All that remained of the lower river was from South Park to the Puget Sound, a distance of about five miles, but five miles of some of the most heavily industrialized waters in the Northwest. 

We grabbed an outgoing tide with pretty good timing, paddling with the current and making good headway.

Dark forests of encrusted pilings and rusting barges make up much of the shoreline. Heavy industry is king on the Duwamish. 

River traffic was thankfully low, mostly a few small personal watercraft, some motorized, some not. A few tug boats passed by during the day, and at one point we had to make way for a barge.

Silver Streak on the sea

Just past the massive Alaska Marine Lines complex we came to Kellogg Island, a non industrialized sanctuary of blackberries and scrubby trees. 

We passed the inside channel between the island and West Marginal Way. Clam holes and tiny fish were abundant in the shallow water. 

A mob of surly birds swarmed the muddy shoreline, persuading us to forego making landfall on this voyage. 

“One time I heard about some guy named Hitchcock who got killed by a flock of birds in England or something. I ain’t taking no chances.”

Beyond the island we passed beneath a rusted bascule style railroad bridge and the soaring expanse of the West Seattle Bridge. We were now in the choppier waters of the West Waterway.

No big cargo ships were moored as we paddled beneath the looming orange cargo cranes on our way to Jack Block Park, just west of the West Waterway. 

We made landfall at the park, fully intending to carry the canoe out and strap it to my van we’d parked in the lot earlier. But hell, the day was still young! 


We had reached the park right at the apex of low tide and with the wind blowing south off the sound we thought “Let’s ride the tide back to South Park!”

The wind had whipped up a light chop, knocking us around and splashing water over the bow. It wasn’t hard to see the limits of canoeing on open water by way of this small demonstration. 

This time around we made more of a bee line rather than explore the various slips and coves. Again we really only paddled a little, mostly riding the wind and the tide. 

The sun was still hot and high over the South Park neighborhood as we dragged the canoe up the riverbank. 

“Hey, wanna go get a beer at Loretta’s?”


You could say that the Lower Duwamish Waterway is a very unique float. If you are a fan of grit and industry and like to paddle, I’d say this is an absolute must-do. 

If grit and industry are not your thing, there is also a surprising amount of wildlife living their lives amongst the rusting barges and oil sheens. 

It’s inspiring!

One way or another it’s a fascinating place, and I’m sure it’ll leave any curious traveler with some lasting impressions.

…and if you play around in the mud long enough you’ll undoubtedly have some lasting conditions as well.  

Cut down forest, soak in creosote, replant forest in ocean.


Obviously the tide is a huge factor on this section of river. We took the tide out, and caught it back in. Seemed to work pretty good, but I ain’t gonna tell you how to do your job. 

Once you start getting lower on the river, the water gets bigger and a good chop can easily build up. Personally, capsizing in these bustling industrial waters is not my idea of a good time. Best to know when to call it!

There’s a lot of traffic on this portion of river, very big traffic. Know the rules of the water before you go! 

We had a second vehicle stationed at a beach park to take out at the end of the journey, but favorable wind and tide influenced us to keep going all the way back to South Park.  The best part of options is that you can keep them open. 

Might wanna bring a more up to date map


Floating the Green: Auburn GC to Southcenter

Proud Mary keep on rolling


Distance: 10mi or so

Challenges: LOW, some obstacles

Equipment: Navigable by canoe


We put in at a wide shoulder along Green River Rd. SE across from the Auburn Golf Course.

Dwellings of scrap wood and ragged plastic sheets stood out amongst the trees and down to the shoreline.

As we drifted by, a hard looking woman took her place next to a pile of BMX bikes and squinted at us against the glare of the sun.

A light smoke carried the scent of cooked food, and probably a lot more…

Take it in!

River living

The hum of an irrigation pump signaled our arrival into the receding farmlands of the Kent Valley.

The levees grow high and wild with invasive vegetation, and the river narrows yet runs deep. The occasional log or gentle curve might change it up, but much of the float through here is rather calming and serene.

Waterfowl love the peace and privacy these green walls provide, you may wish you had packed a field guide.

One of a kind view


Hundreds of thousands of human beings live, work and consume within throwing distance of the Green River as it flows through Auburn, Kent and Tukwila…

Predictably, garbage is everywhere!

Cans and bottles spanning years of American consumerism stand out amongst the rocks and gravel of the river bottom.

Furniture, vehicles, clothes! The river is like a big, wet thrift store.

New donations arriving daily!

“Old man River”

Near Southcenter we spotted a pair of men wading in the shallows, their heads bowed into home made underwater view boxes.

Initially we thought maybe they were biologists of some kind, keeping a vigilant eye for rare local species like the “Duwamish Three-Eyed Roughy”, or the “Tukwila Brown Floater”.

As it turns out they were Garbologists, plying the waters for sunken treasure.

Antique bottles, car emblems… Shit, sometimes wallets. You never know what’ll float your way”

Poor man’s Jurassic Park

The levees around Southcenter blocked much of the hustle, but the bustle was evident in the form of thumpin’ bass and top ten.

Passing beneath South 180th Street we drew stares from traffic bound gawkers.

Yep, shoulda taken a canoe instead buddy!

Much of this last section was spent paddling, expediting the current’s painfully slow hand.

Finally we passed by a wild eyed, but timid looking man under the last bridge.

“Hey dood! Which way is Seattle?”

No response, he was on some good stuff I reckon.

Just before the I-405 we took out, which is pretty much to say just before the Green becomes the Duwamish.

Meriwether Lewis himself


This was largely a slow, tranquil float, with a little bit of excitement here and there.

Despite flowing through some solid urbanism the river also passes through farmland and a couple large parks.

Birds of all kinds were in abundance, fish occasionally rolled, a coyote skirted away and a bald eagle just stood on a log, watching.

If you’re into the dystopian element of floating an urban river, this stretch offers that as well, but less so than say The Duwamish.

Berlin Wall ’81


Your main issue will be parking.

Unless you plan to put in and take out at public locations, you’ll probably have to deal with a private lot.

I can’t speak for that except to say:


Patriot Porn

Happy Trails

Floating the Duwamish: Southcenter to South Park bridge

Used tire shorelines!
Used tire shorelines!

It’s been going on months now that me and Junker Chris have been sitting at our beer drinking spot on the banks of the Duwamish; watching the wildlife, talking about conservation, speculating on the upcoming runs, and runs past.

One time while we were down there, this bum showed up on a bicycle. “You young fellas wouldn’t rob an old man would ya?” We laughed and talked with him a bit, at some point he volunteered that he had an aluminum boat for sale up the river, tied off to a tree. It could be ours for $100.

The urban river
The urban river

Wisely we didn’t take him up on the offer, but it may have planted a seed.

Strengthening the resolve!
Strengthening the resolve!

“We oughta get a boat and float this thing someday”, said Junker Chris staring across the shimmering water.

Well the other day, “that day” finally came, Junker Chris got his hands on a canoe, and we were set. Initially we wanted to do a longer float for our first foray, however my work schedule wasn’t having it, so floating would have to wait until the late afternoon.

Our plan was to put in at this sandy bar near Southcenter, and take out at Ol’ Riverman Dan’s house next to the South Park drawbridge. We picked up the essentials along the way (beer), and were off.

Old pilings and the new ones
Old pilings and the new ones

The put in required a short walk down a fishermen’s trail that began in a hotel parking lot right off of the West Valley Highway. The beach was a nice place to launch, and we were afloat in little time.

We paddled upriver for a short way to reacquaint ourselves with canoe handling. Looking into the shallow water was to look directly into the urban soul of the Duwamish; Beer cans, hubcaps, traffic cones. I joked that we could make a good living here bottom trawling for aluminum, but I may have been serious.

Under the 405
Under the 405

Soon we were heading downstream, floating under the I-405, Southcenter Blvd and Interurban Ave S.

The river is a very curious mixture of everything. There are moments when you feel totally isolated, only to have that illusion shattered by a thunderous bass-mobile mad thuggin’ overhead.

Passing near Fort Dent, the commuter trains were flying by, but we could only hear them from our vantage point. Interspersed were the grunts and yells of an intense soccer practice, maybe the Sounders.

Riverman Dan
Riverman Dan

Upstream we saw a man barreling down on a jetski. It was Riverman Dan. “How the hell you guys doin?” he jabbed, pulling up alongside. The wake jostled our canoe.

Dan told us that the remnant of the Black River was just ahead, and maybe we should take a look. Before he left he let us know that “if we needed anything, just call”

The Black River

We approached.  The Black River was a little muddy opening not much more than 10ft wide.

Entering the Black
Entering the Black

At one time it was here that the Black River and the White River met to form the Duwamish. However as a result of early public works projects, the White River was diverted southward, and the Black River has all but gone extinct, a consequence of Lake Washington being lowered 9ft or so following the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Black River Dam
Black River Dam

Paddling up the Black, the water was murky and shallow. We passed garbage bags languishing upon snags, slowly liberating their contents. Occasional pieces of mud encrusted furniture now formed part of the Black’s bank.

R&B music came from somewhere in the distance, right around the time we spotted an ancient rusted crane of some kind obscured amongst the alder. Later, only silence as we passed a very well established homeless encampment under a huge concrete roof. Eerie. Then we set eyes upon the Black River Dam.

Shoreline furniture!
Shoreline furniture!

Signs warned us that if we came within 100ft we could be destroyed by water releases at any time. That threat didn’t keep us from entering the stagnant lagoon.

Honestly as far as dams go, this isn’t much to see. It looks more like an over-sized Sears tool shed than it does a dam. We didn’t stay long….

Back on the Duwamish

Back on the river we passed the Tukwila string of riverside casinos. Most of the bank was dominated by debris and blackberry bushes. Not long thereafter though we were passing through the Foster Links Golf course. The river was decidedly more serene here. At one point we observed a golfer drinking a can of Guiness, while another hopelessly searched for his ball.

Olde Plunkin' Shack
Olde Plunkin’ Shack

Soon we were in earshot of the I-5 and the smell of a bakery filled the air. A neighborhood was to our right, and I observed a familiar looking man talking to a woman smoking a cigarette atop a riding lawnmower.

Allentown Superette
Allentown Superette

“Hey! Aren’t you the guy who used to sell beer at the North Park market?” I yelled. The man looked out upon us, using his hand as a visor to block the sun. He started laughing, “Yeah, how the hell have you been!?” He yelled.

Small world sometimes.

The I-5 was soon above us. BNSF switch engines were moving around intermod cars to our right, while the freeway blocked the sky. Between the freeway spans was a chainlink net spattered with chunks of road debris.

“I wonder how many people ever realize they are driving over the river?”

The I-5
The I-5

The river was either deep, dark, or both here. If it wasn’t I wonder how much shit you’d see along the bottom.

We continued drifting along, the sun low in the sky. We were in Allentown, passing by the Allentown Superette, and a single island. “Allentown Island!”. We pulled in close to investigate, and determined it to be an old bridge footing.

The I-5 crap catcher
The I-5 crap catcher

Now we were drifting near the drinking spot where the idea for this adventure was formed. The river widens greatly  here, a rotting catamaran marks the spot. It’s also here that the river becomes decidedly industrial, the Superfund site begins.

Beached garbage boat
Beached garbage boat

We spied a small channel marked by a derelict vessel to the south and decided to investigate. First we stopped to visit the beached craft. It was an olde boat, probably from the 70s, I imagine. It was halfway flooded, with it’s engine compartment exposed, an oil rainbow hovering atop the submerged motor.

Jet City river
Jet City river

Moving on, the muddy banks narrowed until finally blocked by low hanging growth. It was far enough though…

Blurry pic of landfill seep
Blurry pic of landfill seep

The bank was a cross section of buried garbage; plastics, old vehicle parts and clumps of chemical sludge seeping out where they could get out. The mud exhausted a chemical stench. Maybe it was getting late in the day, but the whole area just seemed… dead and dark. We left speedily.

At this point, tidal forces were in control which meant that we’d be paddling our asses the rest of the way. We passed rotting creosote barges, rusting steel scows and Paul Allen’s yacht, or so we thought, who knows. If it was Paul Allen’s yacht, I can safely say that it is bigger than all of the houses I’ve ever lived in… combined! He should be ashamed of himself.

Large Barge
Large Barge

Just as the sun was setting we made our destination; The South Park bridge. We decided to first make landfall on a “new” beach created by the “dredge and cap” remediation project.

A sign warned us not to play in the mud due to pollution….

Stay Tuned! More Duwamish Floating to come!

South Park bridge
South Park bridge

Harry Biped