Floating the Deschutes River

Floating the Deschutes River

A movie: Floating the Deschutes River

I am surprised that there aren’t movies about floating the Deschutes River. The Deschutes River has it all. It has a remarkable history, great fishing, unbelievable rapids, vast scenery, Salmon, Steelhead, waterfalls, and small towns and cities perched at its banks. People come from all over the world to float the Deschutes River. Tiger Woods, Kevin Costner, Matt Damon, and Bill Gates all have been on the river. 

Each Deschutes river guide has a story of a famous person who they took down the river or a house that an actor supposedly owns. Restaurants nearby have pictures of actors for patrons to look at while visiting. There are even spots on the river named after people! 

The rapids you will encounter while floating the Deschutes River are excellent, ranging from Class 1-3. Each day has a good variety of each, and the last day is full of rapids. The Deschutes River offers excellent hiking trails, fishing, and camping spots to stay. 

Geography: 

The Deschutes River is 174 miles long. It starts outside Bend, Oregon, at Little Lava lake, before flowing just over 8 miles into Crane Prairie Reservoir. It travels through Bend, Oregon, and heads north, eventually flowing into the Columbia River east of The Dalles, Oregon. 

The sections:

We will break the Deschutes River into sections to make it easier to tackle. 

Upper Deschutes River: Lava Falls to Bend

The upper section of the Deschutes River offers a few smaller rapids and one virtually unrunnable one called Benham Falls. A typical float starts at the Aspen Boat Ramp and ends at the Lava Island take-out. The biggest rapid of this section, Big Eddy, is right before the take-out. 

If you were vacationing in Bend, Oregon, and had a few hours to kill, I recommend this section. It is a fun introduction to the Deschutes River.

The upper section also provides decent fishing for Brown Trout, Rainbows, and Brookies. I like using streamer patterns for the Brown Trout and do my best to match the hatch in the evenings. 

Middle Deschutes: Bend to the Dam

This section might be my favorite to fish on the Deschutes River, but not well known for whitewater rafting. The Middle Deschutes cuts through steep canyons around Redmond, Oregon. You can see quite a few smaller waterfalls if you don’t mind hiking, and you can also see a vast, river-wide waterfall called Steelhead Falls. 

Floating the Deschutes River
Steelhead Falls

A friend of mine kayaked this section, and I have heard it is fun for those running kayaks. My buddy was even brave enough to take his kayak over Steelhead Falls, and he lived to tell the tail. 

The Middle Deschutes ends at its confluence with the Metolius and Crooked rivers. These rivers are combined at Pelton Dam and mark the end of the Middle Deschutes River. 

Lower Deschutes: Warm Springs Boat Launch to Harpam Flats

Day 1

Mecca Flats is the start of the Lower Deschutes River, and this is the section that comes to mind when I think about this when I think of floating the Deschutes River. I recommend you go to this site and download the river maps before you venture out to the Lower Deschutes. 

The first 20 miles are tame until you hit Trout Creek Rapid. It is an easy Class 2, but it alerts you that you are entering the whitewater section of the river. Just another 10 miles downriver, you will hit the most significant rapid on the Lower Deschutes River: Whitehorse Rapid.

Day 2

Whitehorse is a half-mile-long rapid that needs to be scouted before running it. Pull off above on the right side and walk the railroad tracks to get a clear view of the rapid. You want to enter into the rapid river-right and slowly make your way to the river-middle. It would be best to locate the few nasty rocks in there before running the rapid. 

The Deschutes mellows out for the next 10 miles. You will float through the scenic Mutton Mountains, and there are plenty of places to stop for a nice lunch. The fishing in this section is pretty good as well. 

Buskin Mary Rapid is the next one up and fun to float in your PFD. It is a straightforward Class 3, and run it down the middle and enjoy the wave train. The campsite right below the rapid is one of my favorites, and it offers excellent shade and enough of a clearing to enjoy stargazing. 

Day 3

In the morning, you will set out for the most action-packed section of the river. The following seven rapids are fun to run and offer excitement for everyone. The most significant rapid is Oak Springs. It has two channels you can run, and one is a Class 3 and the other a Class 4, depending on who you ask. The left channel is the most complex to run and has some sharp rocks, called the cheese grader, that can leave a mark at the bottom! There is usually a photographer sitting on the rocks taking photos that you can purchase at the end of the trip.

There is a nice side hike and play area at the confluence of White River. Pull off to the right and hike up to enjoy the rock-formed water slides. Be careful around the waterfall at the top. 

The trip ends at the Sandy Beach take-out. From there, you can take a short shuttle into the town of Maupin. Make sure you grab a Pint at the Rainbow Tavern. For years, it has been a local mainstay, and every guide I know has haunted that bar.

Lower Deschutes: Mack Canyon to the mouth

The last section of the Lower Deschutes is called Macks Canyon to the Mouth. You can put in a little above Macks, but the regular launching point is here. This section has a few good rapids, and the scenery is impressive. However, the main draw to this section is Steelhead fishing. In years past, this section was a fantastic Steelhead fishery. However, the runs over the past few years have been disappointing.

Nonetheless, a few good rapids make it worth the trip. I recommend running this section in an Inflatable Kayak; it makes the rapids a little spicier. The first two rapids, Bull Run and Jet Pump are a couple of wave trains to run, and both are Class 2s and are straightforward. The following two are also Class 2s and have shallow rocks to avoid. 

Saving the best for last

The last day has a couple of Class 3 rapids to contend with. The first is Rattlesnake Rapid. Nearly every year, you will find a drift boat wrapped around the rock in the middle of this rapid. I recommend that you scout this Rapid before you run it. 

The last Rapid is Moody. You want to identify the narrow chutes that you can float through. Be wary of the jet boats that are running up the river. There have been many times where I had to yield to boats already in the chutes.

Conclusion

I hope you venture out and commit some time to float the Deschutes River. The Upper, Middle and Lower Deschutes offer something for everyone. I have spent over 20 years exploring and floating the Deschutes River and always journey back here. The smell of the Juniper berries, sage, and Pine trees captivate me. 

Email me if you need help lining out your trip to the Deschutes River. I can help with logistics, guide recommendations, fishing tips, and more. I am happy to help. Until next time!

All forward,

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