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A Trip Down the River

A Portland Blog on Style, culture & fun

A Trip Down the River

A Trip Down the River

So we’ve talked about great patios and spots to shield from the sun, eat and drink. But what about the ultimate NW escape? Enter the Deschutes River, a veritable liquid highway running through some of the most scenic and special territory in the state. Complete with riverside (first-come-first-serve) camping, amazing swimming holes, cliff jumping and enough whitewater to keep everyone busy and wet, the Deschutes is a true summer paradise. Just watch out for the occasional rattlesnake (I saw none on my last trip) and bring 3x the amount sunscreen you think you’ll need along with extra sunglasses! That said, there are many sections of the river that tailor to all levels of skill. From easy day runs through Bend, to the lazy drift from Warm Springs to Trout Creek (about 6 hours, no whitewater), to the wild and scenic portion running from Trout Creek to Harpham Flats, and then, of course, the “day run” from Harpham Flats through Maupin and on to Sandy Beach, well, the river has many different faces. Depending on your skill level, take your pick.
 

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D-day. Our group getting packed onto our two boats at the top of our 47 mile run. This is the Trout Creek put-in on the wild and scenic part of the Deschutes. Needless to say we are pumped. Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

 
Most people that “run the Deschutes” do it with a guided service. And if you’re new to whitewater, or river floating in general, I highly recommend this. See the list below for some excellent outfits and tips. However, for me, having run the river without a guide starting at 16, it’s all about “getting away from it all,” and that includes guides. After all, we’re not talking about the Rogue River here, where the rapids are most definitely more intense (and dangerous). That said, the Deschutes does have some Class IV water on it and proper preparation, appropriate skill and scouting is highly recommended. Having a guide can also be quite nice if you don’t like the idea of packing and un-packing dry bags, setting up camp anew each night, cooking for yourself, etc. As noted, the Deschutes is a river of many flavors, so pick yours and go!
 

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This sign says it all. Be sure to scout the bigger rapids, especially Whitehorse if you’re running that part of the river! Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

 

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Scouting Whitehorse Rapids on the wild and scenic section of the Deschutes. This is a must for anyone hitting this rapid for the first, second or third times! Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

 

Guides Services and Tips

If you own your own raft, kayak or drift boat, chances are you don’t need any advice when it comes to running the Deschutes. Your only concern will likely be getting a boater’s pass from the Bureau of Land Management (they book up) if you’re planning to do a private, non-guided run. Get on that element fast as these days they run out quickly. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to get these passes 8 months ahead of time! Yet if you’re looking at a guided service to round the corners a bit on the camping and/or safety side, or if you’re just looking to do a day run (here again with a guide), then the list below is a great place to start. As noted, following this list are some great tips (some hard won).
 

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My camp with friends just last weekend. Oh how the river beckons! Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

 

River Trails
I’ve used River Trails in Maupin exclusively as a supplier of rented rafts and inflatable kayaks. Having been introduced there by my dad when I was quite young, I never saw the need to go anywhere else. Here you can rent gear, right down to the cooler stocked with ice, for multi-day camping trips to day runs. This is a great place to call to get started and they provide both guided and DIY trips. Up front though, I just did a 4-day trip with two 14′ rafts with frames and oars, lifejackets and enough ice to freeze Portland, and the total was about $850. Split between 4 people (2 people per raft, although they can hold 3-4 easily), this is a low-cost getaway where your only other cost is food, drink and getting there. And on that last point, I’ve used a variety of different shuttle services that will take your car from the top of the river (at Trout Creek) down to the takeout (Sandy Beach in our case) for around $80. See the extra tips on this though, to avoid having your car broken into!
 

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The calm before the start of the second day. Here the rafts are mostly unloaded, awaiting gear for the next leg. These boats are from River Tails (noted below). Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

 

Deschutes U-Boat
While I haven’t personally used Deschutes U-boat for raft rental or guided service, they do supply both and their reputation is top-notch. Further, they also supply the vehicle shuttle service in-house, keeping all shuttle cars on their lot until the very last day of your trip. Very nice if you like all your windows intact! This outfit is worth a try for sure.
 

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Deschutes U-boat has a great reputation for guided and non-guided services on the, you guessed it, Deschutes River! Image Courtesy: Deschutes U-boat

 

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Buckskin Mary Rapids on the Wild and Scenic portion of the Deschutes. This is one spot you can float in your lifejacket (or on an inflatable bull!). Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

 

Tips for the River!

The list of tips I could give here could be longer, but I’m focusing here on just the critical things learned from “being on the river” vs. general camping. I’ll assume, if your camping, you know what you’re doing there to a large degree. That said, here are some “nice to know’s” about running the Deschutes:

  • Get your boater’s pass for your trip a good 6-8 months ahead of time here
  • Use a shuttle service that holds your car in a safe lot during your run (if going overnight).
  • Bring 3x the sunscreen you think you’ll need…trust me on that one!
  • Bring at least one extra pair of sunglasses as you will likely lose at least a pair. Here’s a GREAT place to get some!
  • Don’t forget Aloe Vera.
  • Bring along extra inflatables to ride on the calm sections of the river – this is serious fun!
  • If you get off the raft into an inflatable (e.g. air mattress), be sure you know what’s around the corner! You don’t want to get caught going into Boxcar on a pool floaty!
  • Watch for rattlesnakes. They are all over, although not often seen. Watch especially at dawn and/or dusk, when they come out to sun on the rocks.
  • Bring extra blocks of ice if on a multi-day trip…this is crucial. Plus, wary rafters will try to buy ice off of you and, well, you can be a savior!
  • Bring gloves for rowing. With your hands getting wet all the time rowing makes for blisters. Gardening gloves, etc., are a lifesaver!
  • A wide brim sunhat is most excellent!
  • Water shoes are very important as you’ll be getting in and out of your boat, stepping in shallow water.
  • Don’t be afraid to float Buckskin Mary Rapids in your life vest…it’s a rite of passage and not nearly as scary as you might think.
  • Don’t forget condiments for your food. This is a general camping thing, but we forgot last time and, well, just don’t forget.
  • There are no fires allowed on the Deschutes during the hot months, so forget that kind of stuff…but maybe some glow sticks? They do attract bugs though.
  • Bring bug spray!!
  • Weight isn’t a big issue with the big rafts, it’s more like car camping…so bring some of your glamping elements.
  • There is no cell service on the river, 95% of the time (unless running through Bend, Warm Springs, Maupin, etc.).
  • Consider buying your own personal PFD lifejacket…they are more comfortable than those provided by the raft companies.
  • Bring a book to read…plenty of down time with zero electronics. Nice!
  • Invest in a super comfy collapsable camp chair…you will be sitting in it.
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    Prepping the inflatable bull for many runs down Buckskin Mary! Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

     

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    An excellent way to float the lazier parts of the river… This is what I think about when I’m hot here in the valley! Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers

     
    Header Image Courtesy: Dan Meyers