At nearly 2,000 acres, Smith and Bybee Lakes Wetlands Natural Area is the largest urban protected freshwater wetland in America. If you are yearning for a glimpse of wildlife, the lakes are well worth the short drive. Although the lakes get most of the traffic, the less popular and less crowded wetlands area comprises a significant portion of the park; this is where you will find some of the most interesting sights and sounds. The willow thickets and hedges of beggarstick are home to an incredible variety of fauna: beavers, nutria, Iver otter, song birds, great blue herons, ospreys, and even bald eagles in winter months. Also look for the western painted turtles, which the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has listed as a sensitive-critical species. Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Forest Park are all visible on clear days.
The wetlands are part of the Willamette River delta located between the Columbia River and the Colombia Slough. Once connected to the natural ebb and flow of the regional water system, the wetland's current hydrological management plan mitigates flooding in nearby industrial parks and port terminals, and helps isolate the contaminants from the nearby St. Johns landfill, the region's main dumpsite from 1940-1991.
If you are already on Marine Drive and would like another paddling option, a visit to the wetlands pairs nicely with a trip to Kelley Point Park, where you can use the boat ramp into the Columbia Slough.