SEASON: All year possible. The summer is most popular for both private trips and commercial outfitters.
The Lower Deschutes is probably Oregon's most popular overnight float trip and is a classic among fishermen. Experienced river runners will find this to be a relaxing river float but a few class III rapids deserve strict attention. While this can be a great beginner trip for those who have an experienced guide along, inexperienced river runners get themselves into trouble every year and there have been several fatalities on the river.
Agricultural diversions upstream near Bend remove water from the river, but springs on the Crooked, Deschutes, and Metolius rivers provide consistent year-around flow which is further regulated by the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric project. The peak season is the summer and the river attracts a wide range of user groups including recreational floaters and drift boat fishermen. While the beautiful canyon scenery interspersed with small groves of trees providing welcome shade makes this a great trip, don't come expecting wilderness solitude. The use tends to be biased towards trips where you pack the rafts with everything you could possibly need (and then some) and kick back for a good time with your friends.
Permits are required but it is a reservation system and given that the river is managed for high use, it is generally easy to find a slot if you plan in advance. The run can be divided into two sections with the first half popular as the start of an overnight trip and the lower section popular as a day trip.
Warm Springs Boat Ramp to Harpham Flat (42.0 miles, alternate put-in points)
The run starts out at the uppermost put-in at Warm Springs Boat Ramp which is on the upstream river right side of the Highway 26 Bridge. Those who come in late and want to camp the night before often launch at Mecca Flat which is 1.8 miles downstream on river right (a dirt road parallels the river). Trout Creek is another potential access point which is 9.4 miles downstream of the put-in but less convenient to Highway 26 as the river right road does not extend down that far.
Whitehorse Rapids is the most challenging rapid on this section as it is nearly half a mile long. If you don't know the rapid it's a good idea to get out on river right for a look as there are a couple alternative lines depending on your skills and the flow. Buckskin Mary and Four Chutes Rapids are another fun set of drops on this section.
Harpham Flat to Sandy Beach (10.4 miles, intermediate access points)
When you hear people talk about doing a day trip on the lower Deschutes this is the section they are running and if you are in the area this is a great run throughout the summer but be prepared to share the river with dozens of rafts. There are several great rapids on this section packed relatively close together. While there is nothing any harder than Whitehorse Rapids they come more frequently. Wapinitia Rapids and Boxcar Rapids can be easily scouted from the road on river right. Maupin City Park is another popular launch site. Downstream of town you will come to a two mile action-packed section that includes Surf City Rapids, Oak Springs Rapids, White River Rapids, Upper Elevator Rapids, and Lower Elevator Rapids before you reach Sandy Beach which is the last take-out before the river plunges over Sherars Falls.
LOGISTICS: The Lower Deschutes web site has maps and information on the run including everything you need to make a reservation and obtain a permit which can all be done online. The The Prineville District BLM and Oregon State Parks also publish a Deschutes River Boater's Guide with mile-by-mile rapid descriptions, campsites (including relative size and accessibility to shade), human and geologic history of the river, and detailed maps.
Trout Creek is a BLM access site with camping, vehicle access, toilet, tables, garbage service, and boat ramp. Day use and overnight parking is available for this site which serves as a put-in or take-out. There is also a trailhead here that provides access to the 7.6 mile trail that follows the old railroad grade up to Mecca Flat. There is also a ranger station staffed during the summer with visitor information, boater check-in, and emergency communications.
Wave train down the left and boulder garden on the right.
Large waves and a small ledge drop with a hole to the left that is best avoided.
Management Plan for the Lower Deschutes Wild and Scenic River
This gauge is located just upstream of the mouth with the Columbia River. Flows are regulated by reservoirs upstream but always high enough for boating. Release from the last reservoir is provided by the Deschutes near Madras which is an alternate gauge used for this run. Flows are typically around 6500 cfs through the winter and early spring, and then dip to 4000 cfs during the summer.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
Horizon Line at Buckskin Mary
Trout Creek Access
Mecca Flat Access
Maupin City Park Access
Deschutes River Canyon
Running Buckskin Mary
Rafting on the Deschutes
Entering Whitehorse Rapid
Sandy Beach Access
Lower Elevator Rapids
Upper Elevator Rapids
White River Rapids
Oak Springs Rapids
Surf City Rapids
Maupin City Park
Buckskin Mary Rapids Raft Run
Buckskin Mary Rapids
Ender at Whiskey Dick
Whiskey Dick Campsite
Rainbow Launch: Hwy 26
Johnny @ Box Car
Oak Springs, Deschutes
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