SEASON: All year possible. The summer is most popular for both private trips and
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 mellow trip but a few class III
rapids particularly those in the last few miles deserve attention. While this can be a great beginner trip,
inexperienced river runners get themselves into trouble every year.
Agricultural diversions upstream 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, drift boat fishermen, and jet boaters (not
allowed on designated motor-free weekends). 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. While there
is no road along the lower half of this run, a rail line runs along river left and you can expect a few
trains to rumble by in the night. 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 offering roadside access down to Macks Canyon and the
second half with no imtermediate access.
Sherars Falls to Macks Canyon (18.9 miles, several intermediate access points)
The run starts out from the put-in about a mile downstream of Sherars Falls (river mile
44.0) on river right at Buckhollow Day Use site (river mile 42.8). For the next approximately 20 miles
down to Macks Canyon Campground (river mile 23.9) a bumpy dirt road parallels river right. There are
a number of day-use sites and designated camp sites that also provide alternative river access,
offering opportunities for an easy day trip if you happen to be in the area. In addition to the road-
accessible campsites on river right, those boating this stretch also have access to several camp sites
on river left. The road iteself does not detract from the run as it is high up away from the banks most of
the way and the limited traffic consists of river runners.
Trestle Hole (river mile 41.0) is well known to kayakers for its park-and-play in the river
right channel that has hosted past competitions. It was known as a consistent performer following
floods in the late 1990's but the channel has since filled with sediment and does not see the natural
flushing flows that have been limited due to upstream diversions and hydropower operations. A new
round of floods could restore the spot but in the meantime it can still be enjoyed at high flows. It is
easily visible from the road on river right where the railroad trestle crosses the river (about 3 miles
down the road from Sherars Falls).
Wreck Rapids, the site of a head-on train collision in 1949, is a short distance downstream
of Trestle Hole, and is the only class III on this first section of the run.
Macks Canyon to Columbia River (23.5 miles, no intermediate access)
Many groups begin their trip at Macks Canyon. It's a popular meeting place for groups the
night before a trip that launch in the morning. Starting at Macks Canyon makes for a shorter river trip
that can easily be done over a weekend or over three days at a lazy pace. The downside is you drive
downstream along 20 miles of river that provide great boating and maybe even get a flat tire on the
As you round the bend and leave Macks Canyon behind you no longer have the road but
the train traffic and jet boats (depending on the weekend) remind you that you have not really left
civilization. It's still a spectacular river with great scenery. There are several fun class II rapids that
prepare you for slightly more challenging whitewater towards the end of the trip. Washout Rapids
(river mile 7.5) is the first of the class III rapids below Macks Canyon. Additional class III rapids include
Gordon Ridge Rapids (river mile 5.7), Colorado Rapids (river mile 3.9), Rattlesnake Rapids (river mile
2.6), and finally Moody Rapids (river mile 0.6) which comes up within site of the take-out. Experienced
paddlers should have no problem boat scouting these rapids but keep your eyes open for the hole at
Washout Rapids to center right and another at Moody Rapids on river left.
As you finish up the run be aware that the last couple miles (Rattlsnake Rapids to Moody
Rapids) is designated as a pass-through zone designated for bank fisherman who hike up the river.
For this reason you should float through this section without stopping.
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.
Good paved road access is available to Sherars Falls which is about half an hour from
Maupin (your closest stop for last minute supplies). The uppermost put-in downstream of Sherars Falls
is located at Buckhollow Day Use Area (river mile 42.8). Although there are other access points the
most popular access for a weekend overnight trip is Macks Canyon (river mile 23.9). This requires a
20 mile drive down the dirt road along river right from Sherars Falls. From Macks Canyon there is no
access until you reach the mouth at the Deschutes where it joins the Columbia at Heritage Landing
Park on river left which is the primary take-out (river mile 0.4). Deschutes State Park provides
camping and river access on river right (river mile 0.3). Most groups arrange for shuttle service.
Buck Hollow to Heritage Landing is a mellow section of whitewater that is great for learning and scenic.
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 reservoirs of the Pelton
Round Butte Hydroelectric Project 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.
Columbia River Confluence
Moody Rapids, looking back upstream
Moody Rapids, dropping in
Deschutes River, train
Gordon Ridge Rapids, last pitch
Gordon Ridge Rapids, entrance
Rafting Lower Deschutes
Deschutes Jet Boat
Macks Canyon boat ramp
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!