10 Best Whitewater Rivers in Oregon: The Ultimate Guide

51 best rivers in Oregon

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Introduction to Oregon’s Best Whitewater Rivers

Whitewater rafting
Rafting on the Mckenzie River.

Do you want to know the best whitewater rivers to raft in Oregon? is home to some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the United States. The lush green forests and mountains dotting our landscape inspire adventure and create many Oregonians’ deep yearning for exploration. Our rivers provide some of the best hiking, Whitewater Rafting, kayaking, fishing, and camping spots. Narrowing it down to the 10best whitewater trips in Oregon is hard.

Whether you’re new to Oregon or call it home, you owe it to yourself to get out and experience some of the best whitewater rivers in Oregon.

If this is your first time trekking through our rivers, or you’re simply an expert looking for a new adventure, this guide will help you find the perfect river trip.

Oregon has something for everyone when it comes to Whitewater Rafting. Each river brings its unique flora, fauna, and features for you to experience. This guide gathers information from years of Oregon whitewater rafting trips.

We’ve considered all the factors that make or break a trip, including flow rate, remoteness, ease of access, wildlife viewing opportunities, and much more. However, considering there are hundreds of rivers in Oregon to run, it is hard to narrow it down. We did our best, but I am sure you might find one that you enjoy that didn’t make the 51 best whitewater trips in Oregon list!

Oregon is home to some of the best rivers for whitewater rafting, but we are proud to introduce you to 51 which we truly believe you should experience during your next trip!

What Are the Best whitewater rivers in Oregon?

If I were to make a bucket list of the best whitewater rivers, I would narrow it down to these five. They offer great multi-day trips, fantastic scenery, and fun whitewater!

Whitewater Rafting rivers in the Willamette Valley

Northern Oregon has some of the best day-trip runs anywhere. I especially love the ones near Eugene, Oregon. Most are easily accessible and offer shuttles. 

Upper Willamette River

The Upper Willamette River offers some tremendous kayaking opportunities outside Eugene, Oregon. Try this river if you have a few days to run this and the Mckenzie River. 

Mckenzie River

The McKenzie River is a classic Oregon river trip best known for its incredibly clear water and gorgeous blue-green color. It has been rated as one of the top ten trout fishing rivers in the US due to its sizeable wild fish population. You can drink right from the river without any treatment! Several sections on this river, including Cougar Reservoir, Sahalie Falls, and The Seven Castles, mainly offer Class II rapids. However, there is a short section after Sahalie Falls with some Class III.

Mckenzie River
Mckenzie River at Sunset

   The main attraction on this river is the upper section that starts near Clear Lake. This section starts with an easy Class II run with a significant Class III called Fishladder Rapid. Then there is a long stretch of Class I-II before reaching the take-out.

McKenzie River whitewater rafting trips are best during spring runoff in May because it has high flow rates due to snowmelt feeding the tributaries. It is also an excellent option when flows are low during summer.

Preferred Whitewater Rafting Guide: Helfrich Outfitters

N. Santiam River

The Santiam River is in Oregon and offers over 70 miles of nature-filled whitewater. The section that most people kayak begins at Foster Bar, where you’ll find Class II rapids with some scattered class III’s sprinkled here or there. This stretch of rapids continues till just before the South Fork River, which provides more Class III+ rapids to add to the excitement factor.

There are sand bars here and there if you want to take a break from kayaking, which can be nice when moving for 9+ hours each day.

Preferred Whitewater Rafting Guide: Oregon River Experiences

S. Santiam River

Five-mile bridge to Hannah Bridge offers great Class I and II rapids. It is a nice nine-mile run for beginners and novices alike.

The section between Mountain House and Foster Lake should only be run at substantial rainfall or snowmelt. The first six miles are beautiful and have Class II rapids. Take out about three miles below Trout Creek Campground, where HWY 20 crosses the river. 

The last five miles consist of Class III and IV rapids. The takeout is at Cascadia Park.

Whitewater Rafting Rivers in Northern Oregon

Northern Oregon is known for its small creeks and runnable waterfalls but also offers excellent river running opportunities as well. All of them are day-trip runs, but some, like the Clackamas, are amazing!

Hood River

Sandy River

There are some decent runs on this river, and it makes for a great choice if you live near Portland and only don’t have a lot of time to explore. I love the Oxbow Park section and ran it many times as a kid. 

Clackamas River

I grew up on this river, where I fell in love with whitewater rafting. You must try the upper section and run the classic Carter Bridge, Bob’s Hole, and Toilet Bowl. You can scout them all from the road, but be wary because this is technical water. Especially when the river is running low. 

I love this section because it can easily be run a few times a day. The camping is not great, but there is plenty of BLM land if you feel ambitious. 

Salmon River

Whitewater Rafting Rivers in S. Oregon

Southern Oregon has big rapids in tight water. It offers the world-renowned Rogue River and some of the most challenging water to run with the Illinois and Upper Klamath Rivers. 

Rogue River

The Rogue River is located in Oregon. It offers over 40 miles of nature-filled whitewater ranging from Class II to IV. The section that most people Kayak begins at Grave Creek. The scenery slowly turns into a lush forest instead of farmland like many other rivers in Oregon. The rapids will gradually get more extensive and exciting as you go along. You’ll also encounter some challenging ledges and smaller waterfalls during the first several miles.

There are great camp spots by all of the major rapids on this river. So, if you want to break up your trip, it’s really easy. During the summer, strict restrictions can be on when you can camp at these sites. Keep that in mind before setting out. The river eventually turns into a Class III and IV as you continue with some waterfalls that drop nearly 100 feet along the way. This section ends just before the famous Whitewater Park.

Preferred Whitewater Rafting Guide: Northwest Rafting Co.

N. Umpqua River

The North Umpqua River is a cold, clear river in southwest Oregon. A pristine gem with a wide variety of features, from riffles and small drops to big wave trains and demanding Class III/IV runs. The North Umpqua contains over 60 rapids on the 41 miles that run from Steamboat to the town of Roseburg. 

If you haven’t run this section before, you should scout PinBall Rapids and others. Follow a group through for your first time. 

Main Fork of the Umpqua River

The Umpqua River is in Oregon, offering over 84  miles of great scenery and world-class Bass fishing opportunities. The section that most people float is just outside of Sutherlin, Oregon. Along this stretch, you’ll find primarily Class I and II rapids with incredibly large old-growth trees on either side of the river.

Umpqua River at sunset
Umpqua River at Sunset

This part of the Umpqua River is perfect for beginner paddlers looking to relax through beautiful scenery. There are also ample opportunities to see wildlife along this stretch since it’s much less trafficked than other rivers in Oregon. Excellent camp spots are everywhere along the river, making this trip even more enjoyable since you don’t have to worry about packing everything in. 

Upper Klamath River

S. Fork of the Coquille River

The South Fork Coquille River is located near the Pacific coast, south of Bandon, near Bullards Beach State Park. It’s rated at class II-III with an average flow rate of 438 cubic feet per second, but it does have its moments when it hits class IV rapids during the peak season. The river is a whopping 21 miles long. It features 3,000 feet of undulating and winding whitewater action that will keep you on your toes forever. This is not a trip for beginners, but for those rafting before and looking for an expert-level ride through Southern Oregon’s wildlands.

Whitewater Rafting Rivers in Central Oregon

Metolius River

The Metolius offers a fun day trip from just below the head of the river all the way to the mouth. It consists primarily of Class III rapids in the lower section and plenty of obstacles to be wary of. If you feel less ambitious, I would try from the Head of the Metolius down to Lower Bridge Campground. The river runs a little slower, save for the gorge, which is primarily Class III, yet still overs pretty scenery. 

The fishing here is spectacular too. However, most of it is Flyfishing only. The store in Camp Sherman, Oregon, offers great food, fishing tips, and supplies.

Upper Deschutes River

The Deschutes River is one of the best river trips in Oregon, especially for intermediate paddlers. It is located northeast of Portland and offers everything from big wave trains to long pools, perfect for relaxing. The main section begins at Aspen Campground and ends above Lava Island Falls outside Bend, OR.

This section is called “The Big Eddy.” It is a small section that can be run multiple times in a day. 

I also like the run from the Riverhouse Motel in Bend to Tumalo State Park. This five-mile section has some great Class III and IV water. 

Middle Deschutes River

There are about 25 miles of river that you can run. The first section is from Tumalo State Park to Cline Falls State Park. This 14 miles section consists of Class III water with incredible canyon scenery. 

From Cine Falls to Lower Bridge Road is another 12 miles and worth the time. I rarely see boaters on these sections, and the runs are great. They consist of your typical Central Oregon small but tight water. 

Lower Deschutes River

Although this section gets overrun by boaters in the Summer, it is worth doing if you get a chance. Typical starting points are Trout Creek Camp Ground or higher up at Mecca Flats. The runs are your typical Class II-IV, but the float is excellent, and there are some notable rapids here, such as Whitehorse and Oak Springs. If you are feeling adventurous, try and run Oak Springs on the right. 

Buckskin Mary is my favorite wave train that I like to float through with my PFD. I have spent hours with clients floating here. 

There are also natural waterslides where the White Salmon enters the river on the left side. Make sure you wear your PFD. I have heard horror stories of people drowning there without one. 

There are also excellent trout fishing and Steelhead opportunities too!

We have a comprehensive review and river map for the lower section of this river Here.

Preferred Whitewater Rafting Guide: River Drifters

Crooked River

The Crooked River is one of my favorites to run in the Spring. The tall canyon walls and narrow chutes make it a fantastic run. My favorite run is from Lone Pine Ranch to Crooked River Ranch. There are some tricky rapids, and I recommend it to advanced boaters. There are few spots to take out, and portaging is next to impossible. 

Crooked River Canyon
The Crooked River Canyon

I lost a few paddles on this trip, but it’s worth it for the fantastic Class IV water and the scenery; come back again and fish it. You will not be disappointed!

Whitewater Rafting Rivers in Eastern Oregon

Eastern Oregon offers great multi-day trip opportunities. The scenery is some of the best in the State, and the rapids are memorable. This is the place to go to make those lasting family memories. This region offers the best whitewater rivers in Oregon.

Grande Ronde River

This beautiful three- or four-day river trip offers excellent rapids, picturesque river campsites, and epic night skies. 

I prefer the Minam to Troy run. It is about 35 miles and consists of Class II and III rapids. The campsites are exceptional, and you can get away from people here if you don’t try and go on a Holiday weekend. 

Starry Skies at Camp
Starry Skies at Camp

The first few miles is a class III rapid called the Minam Roller you want to ensure you are ready for. It has flipped many boats. Not the way you want to start the trip.

After that, the river runs similarly to the Deschutes. However, this can be a tricky river to navigate at low water. You definitely want to scout Blind Falls and Sheep Creek Rapid.

Snake River

The Snake River is a classic example of the ruggedness and beauty of the United States. Traveling through Hells Canyon in Northern Idaho, this hidden gem runs between two parts of the largest roadless area in the contiguous US. This makes it one of the most remote whitewater trips in Oregon. The main section begins at Pittsburg Landing on U.S-95 near Halfway, OR. Class III rapids start immediately with several more before Little Rattlesnake rapid, considered an easy class IV run by many guidebooks. This leaves 6 miles of Class II water until you reach Riggins Cabins. Shuttle services are available if not dropping in from Brownlee or Oxbow dams further downstream.

The river turns into a steep and continuous class III/IV run from Riggins. The list of rapids: Hells Gate, Tunnel Chute, Big Salmon rapid, Orphan Rock rapid, Staircase Rapids, and The Box. Then there are several miles of flatwater before reaching the bottom at Pittsburg Landing, accessed via Brownlee or Oxbow dams downstream. The Brownlee drop provides the only class V on this section called Granite Creek, which is fun for expert paddlers but no one else, so beware!

This river is best during spring runoff in May because it has high flow rates due to snowmelt. It is also an excellent option when flows are very low during summer.

Owyhee River

Oregon’s Grand Canyon. It has been called this by many. I know many rafters that consider the rapids even better. This is probably the most remote of rivers that Oregon has to offer. It also overs huge whitewater, great side hikes, and beautiful scenery. 

This is another river where you need to run it in the Spring. There are two primary sections, anywhere from a three to five-day trip. 

John Day

The John Day River is in Oregon and offers over 80 miles of nature-filled whitewater. It’s divided into three sections; Upper, Middle, and Lower. Depending on your time, you can kayak the sections individually or combine them into one trip of around 150 miles if you plan an extended stay along this great river. The upper section begins at the dam for Canyon City and follows down to Clarno Bridge. This section provides plenty of Class III+ rapids with some Class IV sprinkled. If you want more excitement, I recommend getting a permit to camp near Twickenham Ferry, where it turns into the Middle Section.

This is where things start to heat up on the John Day River with more rapids, islands, and remote camping. There are great camp spots along the river in this section, with some hidden gems that are exciting when floating by in your kayak. Most of the rapids in this section are rated between III-IV. If you’re an experienced boater, looking at the river gauge before heading out won’t hurt to ensure it’s not too low or too high for your skill level. The last section of the John Day River is the Lower Section and offers more Class III rapids until the end when things flatten slightly. This section ends just miles from where you started at Canyon City, so you can make this trip again if your group is up for it.

Imnaha River

FAQs on Whitewater Rivers in Oregon

What is the best of the rest?

Chetco River

The Chetco River is in Oregon and offers over 40 miles of nature-filled whitewater. The section that most people kayak begins just past the Bullards Bar Reservoir, with some Class III rapids running throughout it. You’ll also encounter several class IV rapids here and a handful of smaller waterfalls mixed in occasionally.

There are plenty of places to camp on the Chetco River. There are numerous sand bars where you can take breaks from kayaking, and there are tons of spots along the way to hang out when you want to get off the river. This section ends before the river turns into Class III and IV rapids. Some incredibly large waterfalls would be un-runnable by kayakers. So you won’t have to worry about finding more accessible areas to take out at.

Where can I get whitewater river maps or more detail on a particular river?

We offer comprehensive details on most of the rivers listed, and we can also connect you to our list of recommended river guides. Click here to email us. There are also digital maps that we like for a few of the rivers. We are eager to try those out this year and offer a review for you!

How do I plan for a trip like this?

First, know your limitations. It is vital to you having a great trip or a disaster. Hire a guide if it is is your first time running a Class III or IV river section. You can also learn a lot about planning meals and where to camp by watching them. I took this approach for the first time down the Middle Fork of the Salmon and am glad I did.

We can also help you plan your upcoming trip. Email us, and we will get you set up!

Check this : The 5 Best Women’s Water Shoes to Make a Splash in 2023!

Conclusions: Whitewater Rivers in Oregon

Oregon is a beautiful place to go whitewater rafting, with many spectacular rivers in the state that offer an excellent time for all skill levels. The 51 rivers highlighted above are some of the best but don’t hesitate to check out other rivers in Oregon too. In addition, these trips can be made year-round, although they may not be as pleasant during certain times of the year, depending on when you want to go. If it snows, you might have to wait until summertime! Enjoy your trip, and please comment below with any questions or concerns about Oregon Whitewater Rafting Trips.

Also read : What is the Best Inflatable Kayak to buy?

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