Season: March or April in years when sufficient release from Ochoco and Prineville Reservoirs occurs. In years of low snowpack there may be no release.
The Crooked is one of the West's finest whitewater runs and would easily be one of the most popular expert runs in the country if not for the fact that adequate flows appear with short notice and quickly disappear. When the river is in, it's time to drop plans for everything else and make your way to central Oregon. During these rare opportunities, it's not uncommon to see the river attracting folks from the tri-state area of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The river includes several sections of continuous and demanding whitewater and half a dozen signature drops that present an extra challenge. Many, but not all, of the drops have good recovery sections that allow some opportunity to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
The river starts out with 2.5 miles of flatwater from the put-in at Lone Pine Bridge. This provides a good warm up and opportunities to view wildlife that live along the river. As the river approaches the North Unit Main aqueduct, which arches overhead carrying water from the Deschutes, the action begins with a bang: you can hear the roar of the rapids below as you approach. For the next 1.5 mile the river explodes with continuous class III/IV whitewater which builds to IV+ at higher flows. Although rapids on this section are not as challenging as the most difficult drops on the run, it will give you a good idea of what to expect. The river settles back to flatwater as you enter Smith Rock State Park. You will have an incredible view of the rock towers that rise up from the valley floor attracting hundreds of climbers to the thousands of established routes. This is also your last convenient exit before committing to the remainder of the run and if you are having trouble at the start, be warned that more challenging rapids await downstream.
Within about half an hour of leaving the park, you will encounter a short class III rapid before arriving at the horizon line that marks Number One. It's an easy scout or portage along river right and it's a good idea to hop out for a look so you know where the hole is that you'll want to avoid. The main current flows into a hole near the center and there are lines that weave around it either to the left or right with your preferred route depending on skill and the flows. There is a good recovery pool at the base of Number One to catch your breath and watch others as they thread their way through the rapid.
After a couple fun rapids and about another 20 minutes of paddling, the next major drop is Number Two. This rapid is marked by a midstream island giving this rapids its alternate name of Lava Island. The rapid begins with a class III lead in which builds as you further commit. The drop is normally not scouted but you can run either a left or right line depending on flows and your preference. The right line is generally considered more straight forward but you do want to be lined up and driving hard to punch the holes on this side. There's no free pass on the left either so give it some gas and know that there is a good recovery pool downstream of the drop.
After Number Two the river starts to churn along at a good pace with lots of fun class III known as the Bumps. This section is reminiscent of the first continous section on the run but a slight bit easier. It is one of the most enjoyable sections on the run where you can kick back and relax and enjoy this great river. Don't fall asleep though as you will soon be on top of Wap-de-Doodle which is one of the most intimidating drops on the run. It's easy to commit to this rapid before you realize it and although it is possible to sneak it down the right, it's great fun to run the meat right down the center. It is possible to scout from river left if you recognize it from the top.
More fun rapids continue as you round the corner and the highway bridges (the new and old one) and railroad come into sight. This is one of the most incredible sections of the run as you are now deep in the canyon which continues on past the take-out at China Dam. As you pass under the railroad bridge, the action picks up again and you're in another great section with fun class III/IV, or class IV at higher levels. A couple of the drops are a little bigger than the others but you should be able to boat scout without too much difficulty until you reach No Name.
No Name can sneak up on you rather quickly, but as you see the river disappear below at a point where rock walls descend straight into the river on river left, you should consider hopping out for a scout on the bench on river right. It's easy to get a look at the rapid from the right side where you can also portage. As with Number One the crux move is to avoid the hole towards the center. At flows around 3500 cfs you will probably eventually flush out but as flows drop from there it can get pretty sticky. Look for a thin line down the left or a run down the right that requires a couple of moves. This is one of the more technically challenging drops on the run.
If you've made it this far you're pretty much home free and you will enjoy another 20 minutes or so of fun class III that continues all the way to the pool behind China Dam. This man-made structure forms a tricky rapid that is typically run by starting right and then working back over to the center. There is a hole down at the bottom that can give you problems if you're not in control. Those who choose not to run the dam can take out on river left and hike up to Hollywood Road while those who run China Dam pull out below where the road meets the river. Alternatively you can continue on downstream on the Lower Crooked .
To reach the put-in, head to Terrebonne, OR on Highway 97 just south of the Crooked River (you can view the river from the Peter Skene Ogden highway overlook at Highway 97 mile 112.9). At mile 115.8 in Terrebone, turn east on Smith Rock Way and continue 4.8 miles to the end of this road at the T junction. Here turn left onto Lone Pine Road and continue 0.2 mile to Lone Pine Bridge. This put-in is located at river mile 30.0. An alternative access is available downstream at river mile 27.6 where the aqueduct crosses the river. This option is a good choice at the lower range of flows.
To reach the take-out from Terrebone, head north on Highway 97 but before you cross the river head west at Highway 97 mile 115.3 on Lower Bridge Road towards Crooked River Ranch. Follow Lower Bridge Rd. 2.1 miles and turn right on NW 43rd St. Continue 1.8 miles to the T junction and turn left on NW Powey Ave. Continue on this road, which becomes Chinook Dr., for 3.2 miles as it drops down to the golf course and turn right on Clubhouse Rd. Drive in 0.4 mile heading right at the church and past the cabins to parking along a fence a short distance from the gorge rim. From this parking spot, you can hike the old Hollywood Road which is the gate to the east of where you park. The road is no longer accessible be vehicles as several boulders have come down from the cliffs above and vegetation has grown in making it nothing more than a trail. It's about a mile down this road to the river which provides access near river mile 13. Due to the steep climb, the option of this take-out as a practical alternative is only feasible for kayaks or IK's. Rafts typically continue on downstream.
Camping is available at the bivouac site at Smith Rock State Park (picnic tables are set up at a designated cooking area and a separate tent area is set aside about 100 yards from the parking lot (sleeping in vehicles is not allowed). A modest fee includes access to running water and a shower. Signs to the park appear off of Smith Rock Way which leads to the put-in. Alternatively, free camping is available at one of two nearby BLM sites: Skull Hollow which is a couple miles past the Lone Pine Bridge (look for the Gray Butte Trailhead turnoff to the left off Lone Pine Road) or Steelhead Falls which is along the Deschutes River and only a couple miles from the take-out (see directions on the Deschutes River page). A popular meeting place to plan the day and coordinate shuttles is the Sun Spot Cafe in Terrebone located right on Highway 97.
Report of flow needs for whitewater recreation on the Crooked River, OR. [Low Resolution Web Version]
Management Plan for the Middle Deschutes - Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River
Report of flow needs for whitewater recreation on the Crooked River, OR. [High Resolution Print Version]
There a USGS gauge below Osborne Canyon near the take-out. There is also a USBR gauge Crooked River at Smith Rocks. Flows of 1400 - 4600 cfs represents the range of acceptable flow although kayaks can enjoy the run down to 800 cfs. 1500 cfs is about the lower limit for rafts and above 2000 cfs is considered a good flow. As flows increase to 4000 cfs, sections of the run approach class V and you definitely want to bring your A game. Check out the teacup diagram to determine the status of reservoirs upstream.
Permits are not required for this reach.
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Wap de Doodle
Wild and Scenic Crooked River
China Dam from river left
Number Two: river right
Crooked River Ranch golf course
entrance hole China Dam
Crashing through the hole at No Name
Entering No Name
Looking Upstream at Number Two
Setting up for the left line at Number One
Dropping in to Number One
Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park
Crooked River Lone Pine Putin
Crooked River Canyon
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This week, Oregon House Bill 2835 re-passed the Oregon House on a 52-7 vote. Having earlier cleared the Senate, the bill now awaits a signature from the Governor to be signed into law. For decades, opportunities to protect and improve the ability of the public to access and legally use waterways for recreation have seen minimal progress, while efforts to severely limit access have been a consistent threat. Oregon House Bill 2835 is a pivotal piece of legislation in Oregon, and the first proactive waterway access bill in recent history to have made it through the state legislature.
Protection provided by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act are currently under threat by several pieces of legislation in Congress. HR850/S1134 targets the St. Croix River in Minnesota and Wisconsin, HR 869 and HR 2578 target the Merced River in California, and HR 2060 applies to the Crooked River in Oregon. If passed, the implications reach beyond these three rivers - opening the door to development threatens to undermine the integrity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System overall.
AW has completed a study of instream flow needs for recreation on the Crooked River in Oregon. The information will provide river managers with important information on how the river is used by whitewater paddlers.
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