The Deschutes River in north central Oregon – east of the Cascade Range – is the closest family overnight river rafting trip to Seattle and Portland. Because it is to the east of the mountains, it is far less wet than the maritime climates associated with Washington and Oregon. Because it is dam-controlled, the Deschutes is navigable year-round. Because it flows more than 100 miles through high desert and basalt canyons, it is noticeably warmer than all other rivers in the region.
The Deschutes River is one of Oregon’s designated scenic waterways, one of the nation’s best steelhead flyfishing rivers, and an ideal family river rafting vacation.
Orion River Rafting provides overnight excursions on two stretches of the ‘river of falls’ – or the Deschutes. We separate the two stretches by calling the southern part the ‘Upper’ Deschutes – from Warm Springs, Oregon, to Sandy Beach/Maupin – and the northern section – from Buckhollow Day Use Area (BLM) to Heritage Landing State Park – the ‘Lower’ Deschutes. The Upper part of the river runs for approximately 54 river miles. The Lower part of the river is about 40 river miles in length.
The perfect length of time to spend on either stretch of river is 3 days and 2 nights; however, you can easily spend 5 days and 4 nights on the Upper Deschutes. Leisurely days on the river, stopping at swimming holes and jump off rocks, hiking out of the canyon for impressive views of the surrounding countryside and floating rapids in just your life jacket help to extend any trip on the Upper portion of the river.
How would I characterize each stretch of water?
The Upper Deschutes River (closest to Bend, Oregon) offers the better white water and manages to dole the white water out slowly, allowing it to build until the climactic last day when you paddle a half-dozen notable rapids and get your image repeatedly caught on-camera. Commercial photographers camp at all of the larger rapids. And, as I mentioned earlier, this segment of the river includes rapids suitable for swimming in your life jackets, jump off rocks, pleasant hikes and large, shady camps.
The Lower Deschutes River is very attractive to those who prefer solitude, fly fishing and noteworthy scenery. Each day of the 3 day trip will consist of a set or two of rapids, but nothing quite as challenging as what you will find upstream. The lower half of the river would be more suitable for younger kids.
So, if you are looking for a family raft vacation within an easy driving distance of the metropolitan areas of either Seattle or Portland, and you want to get out in the wild for more than a day, you need look no further than the Deschutes River.