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Visiting the Bull Run Watershed

Bull Run Watershed tours offer the unique chance to see firsthand how Portland's drinking water travels from forest to faucet. The majority of the day is spent in the Bull Run but starts with a short visit to the city's groundwater source, the Columbia South Shore Well Field.

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About Bull Run Watershed tours

During the tour, a professional natural resources educator leads participants through the Bull Run Watershed, discussing Portland's drinking water sources and system. All information is intended for a general audience.

If you're a teacher interested in Bull Run tours, check out our school programs.

We offer tours from June through October, with a mix of weekdays and weekends. We post tour dates in June. If you'd like to receive an email when we post the season's tour dates, sign up for our notification list.

Tours cost $21.69 per person. We charge a $20 fee for transportation, and the ticketing service adds a fee of $1.69.

Sign up for a tour online

What to expect on the tour

The tour is an all-day affair. We usually leave Portland at 8:30 am and return around 4:30 pm. Here's a typical tour day:

  • Meet the bus in Portland at 8:15 am
  • Bus departs at 8:30 am
  • Visit the Columbia South Shore Well Field, the city's groundwater source
  • Walk through old-growth forest in the upper reaches of the Bull Run Watershed
  • Eat lunch at Bull Run Lake, the headwaters of the Bull Run River
  • Tour the city's 1929 concrete dam, plus the house of one of the engineers who worked on it
  • Drive across the city's 1962 earth and rock fill dam
  • Visit the lower Bull Run River and learn about the fish that live there
  • Arrive back in Portland at 4:30 pm

Because of the distances involved in the tour, we spend much of the day on the bus. We usually offer an optional one-mile hike through old-growth forest.

Preparing for your trip

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes.

Weather in the watershed tends to be cooler and wetter than in the Portland area, so bring extra layers and prepare for rain. Much of your tour will take place inside a vehicle, but you will have opportunities to walk on rough trails and primitive roads.

Wear clean shoes or boots.

To protect water quality, please clean your shoes before the tour. Sometimes shoes can transport fecal matter (from dogs, cats, cows, etc.) or seeds from invasive plants.

Bring enough food and drinks to last the entire day.

Tour schedules do not allow time to stop for provisions. You'll have opportunities to refill your water bottle during the day.

Consider the restroom situation.

Restrooms can be two to three hours apart. If limited restroom availability presents an issue for you, please contact us.

Bring official photo identification and a completed waiver form.

For security, all participants must present a signed liability waiver, and adults (18 years and older) must provide identification. Participants under 18 years old must have the waiver signed by a guardian, but do not have to provide identification.

Consider your health.

The tour area is remote. Water Bureau staff carry emergency radios and are trained in first aid; however, cell phones do not work and emergency care can be more than an hour away. If you know you may need medication (including over-the-counter drugs), please bring your own.

Read these guidelines about protecting the drinking water.

We require that participants:

  • Refrain from smoking, vaping, or using e-cigarettes.
  • Do not touch the water or put anything in the water.
  • Use only the restroom facilities provided.
  • Take home any trash. Littering—or putting any foreign material on the land—is prohibited.
  • Stay with the group at all times.