Paddling Overview: Deschutes National Forest

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Sparks Lake, Deschutes National Forest.
Sparks Lake, Deschutes National Forest. (Wikimedia)

Canoeing Deschutes National Forest Travel Tips

  • Canoe rentals and guided raft trips are available in the Bend and Sunriver areas. Rent a canoe at Sunriver Resort Marina. They provide shuttle service for paddlers. Sun Country Tours also offers guided river trips in and around Sunriver.
  • Upstream from Bend are opportunities for inner tubing and canoeing, with some powerboats thrown in.
  • There are some places along or near the Deschutes River that you won't want to miss: Benham Falls, Cascade Lakes Highway, Lava Lands, and the High Desert Museum.

In the early 1800s, the Deschutes River was known by French fur traders as the "Riviere des Chutes" or "Riviere aux Chutes"—the "river of falls." The Deschutes River is now known throughout the United States as a river for fishing, canoeing, rafting, hiking, and beautiful scenery. Along with this natural allure the river also shares a rich history and importance to Central Oregon.

Check the Float Guide for a description of the Deschutes's roller coaster. But don't stop—understanding the history, geology and wildlife along the river will enrich your trip.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Some 135.4 miles of six Deschutes National Forest streams became part of the National Wild and Scenic River System with passage of the 1988 Omnibus Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Rivers added to the system must meet two requirements: They must be free-flowing and they must have one or more "outstandingly remarkable" values. These values may be scenic, recreational, geologic, historic, or cultural. They also may be related to the river's fish and wildlife.

To preserve its current free-flowing condition, a designated river is protected from federally supported dam-building and other federally authorized structural changes.

Portions of six rivers and streams on the Forest are currently part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. These designated portions are 54.4 miles of the upper Deschutes River (above Bend), 12.0 miles of the Little Deschutes River, 28.6 miles of the Metolius River, 15.0 miles of Big Marsh Creek, 10.0 miles of Crescent Creek, and 15.4 miles of Squaw Creek.

Once designated, river segments are classified based on the extent of development and access along each section. These classifications are wild, scenic, and recreational. Generally, rivers designated wild have the most use restrictions, and those classified recreational have the least. Of the six Deschutes National Forest rivers, most portions are classified recreational or scenic. Only part of Squaw Creek received a wild designation.

After designation of these six rivers, public input and support led the Forest to examine 70 additional streams. Of the 70, five were determined eligible for additional study.

These streams are Fall River, Headwaters of the Deschutes River, Jack Creek, Paulina Creek, and Browns Creek. These streams are protected from dam-building and development until further studies determine whether they receive Congressional designation.

Float Guide

The Deschutes River meanders 87.4 miles from Little Lava Lake to Bend, with releases at Crane Prairie, Wickiup and Crescent Lake dams regulating the flow. The reservoirs were built to supply irrigation water for agriculture. River flow has been regulated since 1922, but it is still a river of contrasts, changing in character from Class I to Class IV rapids within a few hundred yards.

The 53 mile stretch from Wickiup Dam to Bend is a fabulous stretch of whitewater for the serious rafter. Over this length, you will float some calm waters, but you will also hit some Class V rapids that test the skills of experts and some difficult lava-crossing portages that sap the endurance of even the most fit. There are plenty of intermediate routes, however, which offer less risky thrills. Below are highlights of the float which can help you plan an itinerary appropriate to your time and expertise. If you want professional assistance, three commercial rafting guides run the stretch from aspen Camp to Lava Island.

Upstream from Bend are opportunities for innertubing and canoeing, with some powerboats thrown in.

Remember that although the river has stretches of calm water, it is hazardous. Observing safety guidelines merely reduces the risk, it doesn't eliminate it. "If in doubt, scout it out" may sound like a cliche, but it is an excellent rule for water safety. Wear a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device when on the river and wear or carry other equipment appropriate to the segment of the river. Know where the major rapids are located on the river. Expect to portage around several log jams and major (Class IV-VI) rapids.

LITTLE LAVA LAKE - WICKIUP RESERVOIR

DIFFICULTY : Class III rapids and snags.
RIVER LENGTH: About 25 mi./38 km.
COMMENTS: Not recommended for rafting.

WICKIUP DAM PRINGLE FALLS

DIFFICULTY: Overall Class I. Pringle Falls is Class Ill for approximately 200yards followed by 200 yards of Class IV and V water. Running these falls is extremely dangerous.
RIVER LENGTH: 8.4 mi./13.4km.
COMMENTS:
Put In: Tenino Ramp or Bull Bend.
Take Out: Wyeth. You must take out here. No landing between Wyeth and Pringle Falls. Intermediate Take Out: Bull Bend.

PRINGLE FALLS - TETHEROW LOGJAM

DIFFICULTY: Overall Class I. There is a 159 yard portage at Tetherow logjam.
RIVER LENGTH: 3.9 mi./6.2 km.
COMMENTS:
Put In: Pringle Falls.
Take Out: Right bank just above Tetherow Logjam.

TETHEROW LOGJAM - BENHAM FALLS

DIFFICULTY: Overall Class I. Benham Falls is a series of Class IV rapids and Class VI falls. Running these falls is extremely dangerous.
RIVER LENGTH: 31.1 mi./49.7 km.
COMMENTS:
Put In: Tetherow Logjam boot-ramp.
Take Out: Benham Falls day use site boatramp. There is a dangerous logjam and rapids downstream. There is a 1-mile portage trail on the west side of the river from Benham Falls foot bridge to below the Falls.
Intermediate Put In/Take Outs: Big River, LaPine State Park, Harper's Bridge, Besson Camp.

BEN HAM FALLS VIEWPOINT - DILLON FALLS

DIFFICULTY: Class III & IV from Benham Falls Viewpoint to Slough Camp. Class I from Slough Camp to Dillon Falls. Dillon Falls consists of a 15-foot Class VI drop followed by Class V rapids. Running these falls is extremely dangerous.
RIVER LENGTH: 2.4 mi./3.8 km.
COMMENTS:
Put In: Benham Falls Viewpoint.
Take Out: Dillon Falls. Dangerous water below Dillon Falls. One mile portage around the Falls on west side of river.

DILLON FALLS - LAVA ISLAND FALLS

DIFFICULTY: Overall Class II and III. Class II to Big Eddy, Big Eddy Class IV with Class Ill below Big Eddy. Take Out on left bank to scout Big Eddy. Do not continue unless you are an experienced boater and have a whitewater canoe, kayak, or raft. Length of portage at Big Eddy, 300 yards.
RIVER LENGTH: 2.7 mi./4.3 km.
COMMENTS:
Put In: One mile north of Dillon Falls campground.
Take Out: Lava Island Falls.
Intermediate Put In/Take Out: Aspen Camp, Big Eddy. Length of portage at Lava Island is long and not recommended.

LAVA ISLAND - City of Bend

DIFFICULTY: Class VI. Lava Island Falls is a continuous Class IV-VI rapids for 1/2 mile followed by mostly Class VI interspersed by lesser rapids. Not recommended for floating.
RIVER LENGTH: 4.6 mi./6.9 km.
COMMENTS:
The portage over the falls is over one mile of lava, brush and hills. It is likely this portage would result in personal injury. Portages are difficult with lava, brush and few trails.


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