Portage River in Ohio (2022)

A self-supported trip created by emanoh

Trip Overview

This is the second time I've paddled the Portage River. Without doing the research, I think the Portage found it's name, because 75% of the year, you'd have to do a lot of Portaging. Throughout most of the summer, the Portage is a slow, winding, shallow (un-paddleable) river that cuts through the heart of Northwest Ohio's farm Land.

Our trip was a 20 mile trip from Pemberville to Oak Harbor, OH. My paddling buddy and I did this trip in 7 hrs with two 14 ft touring kayaks (perception carolinas). To the best of my knowledge there are not any gauges on the river, no dams to gauge height or flow. The Sandusky River is a similar river 30 miles to the east and on the same day it was flowing at close to 7000 CFS and at 5.5 feet. At this time of the year the Sandusky can get to class III-IV. Big difference is the Sandusky has a bit more gradient and it contains more rock shelves to create river features.

It was a fairly cold day when we began our trip mid 40's at the start and it dropped into the 30's towards the end. Temps. weren�t bad when the sun popped out. We started in Pemberville, OH, passed through Woodville, OH, Elmore, OH and ended our trip in Oak Harbor, OH. Both times I've done this trip it has been in April, when the river is still high due to snow run-off, and recent spring rains. The river has been particularly swollen both times I've run this route. It should be noted that this trip followed a day and a half of heavy rain. While I don't condone paddling at really high water, this trip is as straight forward as a trip can get, there are few strainers, few sweepers and if you keep your eyes open, no surprises.

The put-in in Pemberville is very easy, there are numerous put-in locations along the river, parks and open areas. We decided to put-in in downtown. There is a parking lot that parallels the river behind most of the downtown buildings. The water was moving fairly swift, once we put in, it didn't take us long to put some miles behind us. The upper part of this trip between Pemberville and Elmore is winding, not very rugged, houses line most of the trip, but, there are a few places that give you the feeling that at one time this was fairly rough country.

The biggest feature that can catch people off guard are the currents around bridge piers and a set of rapids just up-stream from the Turnpike bridge. If you are a regular paddler, you already know that the current can get funky around bridges and this trip goes under a lot of bridges, most notably one near Woodville that has a sign that says "Canton Bridge Building Company 1899." It looks every bit of being over 100 years old.

The set of rapids near the turnpike were very tricky. I haven't seen this section at low water, so I can't tell you what the river features are. As we came around a bend in the river, it sounded like Niagara Falls was nearby. My buddy and I exited river right to scout out the rapids. These rapids were difficult to read because they were on a curve and not a straight section of river. After scouting, there had to have been several sets of 4-foot curlers and lots of rough, semi curler rapids. Without having training in rating rapids, this 300-yard section of rough water was mostly class 1.5 & 2, with the large keeper curler a sudden class III. After scouting we decided to eddy out and ferry across the river and scoot down river left. We ferried back to river right below the big rapids to scout the next 100 yards of river below the Turnpike Bridge and around a bend. We decided to run these rapids straight through and they presented no problems in our Kayaks.

Just above Elmore we ducked into Sugar Creek. We followed this little tributary for a mile or so until a tree blocked our path. I'm sure not many people have make it back as far as we had, because this little creek has to be a trickle in the summer. I think I tried to pick my way back into Sugar Creek the first time I did this trip, but it was blocked by high-water residue

The trip from the Turnpike rapids to Elmore is winding and much like the rest of the river. At Elmore the river opens up and you can really get a sense of the flat Northwest Ohio territory. At this point the river had spilled over it's banks and if you wanted to, could paddle into fields that lined the river.

The scenery is featureless and there are numerous housed lining the river. The 8 mile paddle from Elmore to Oak Harbor is pretty much uneventful the river doesn't really wind, it opens up wide and doesn't give the sensation we all like about paddling a winding river.

We pulled into Oak Harbor, with a pretty good head wind. Temps had dropped in to the 30's and water was freezing to our PFD's and our hands were pretty stiff, but we were warm from the adventure and finally spending some time on the water after a long, cold, hard winter. We pulled out at the water treatment plant in Oak Harbor. If you've spent any time on the water, we had properly prepared our clothing, gear, food and water. While the temperature dropped, we were still comfortable and enjoyed our time on the water

As far as nature, the first time I've done this trip, I saw a bald eagle. We saw a nest this time, but no eagle. We saw many hawks, great blue herons, blue-jays, ducks, cardinals and many other early spring birds. One of the neat features about this trip is that you go through three counties. You start in Wood Co. go though Sandusky Co. and end up in Ottawa.

We were so tired of being cooped up this winter we made the whole 20-mile trip. If I were to suggest this to anyone, I would definitely recommend going from Pemberville to Elmore. There is a park in downtown Elmore that makes for an easy take out. The last 8 miles is uneventful and not the most inspired piece of water I've ever paddled.

The first time I did this trip, I started in Elmore paddled past Oak Harbor, through Port Clinton, Ohio and into Lake Erie, where I took out at my parents lake side summer place on the east end of Port Clinton. This trip was 26 miles and included a bid of lake paddling. Besides adding another some mileage, this trip was more out of a sense of accomplishment, then scenic. The river is 400-500 yards wide at this point. If someone wants the details, please email me. [emailprotected]


This is rural farming geography. Other than some small markets to pick up some food, there are no accommodations. We ran this trip in 7 hrs. If one wanted to make this into an over night trip, it would be hard to find land that wouldn't require trespassing. This is strictly a day-trip.


To take out. From Toledo, OH. Take Route 163 past Genoa. OH. Route 163 goes all the way to Oak Harbor. OH. Follow 163 through downtown Oak Harbor and on your right as you're leaving town, you'll see a sign that says Oak Harbor Soccer Fields. The Water Treatment plant is at the end of this little drive.

To Put-in from Oak Harbor. Follow 163 back through downtown. You'll see signs for route 105. Route 105 follows the Portage from Oak Harbor, past Elmore, Woodville and into Pemberville. Just follow the river and you can't miss any of these small farming towns. Scout around Pemberville until you find a place that is suitable to put-in.


Canoeing and Kayaking Ohio's Streams: An Access Guide for Paddlers and Anglers by Rick Combs, Steve Gillen, Richard Combs. This can be found at Amazon.com

Trip Details

  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

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