Hidden Treasures of Oregon Rafting

Adam Smith, Guest Author
August 21, 2012 (Updated August 22, 2012)

There you are, paddles up, floating in silence. A speckle-breasted osprey circling overhead peers into the pristine water, tucks into a dive and explodes into the surface, flapping away with a  rainbow trout in its talons. Without a sound, your guide points to the stony shore–a family of mink stands up under a thicket of butterfly bush below the towering pines, curiously watching you watch the bird. Ahead of you is a flat horizon line on the water, and the soft roar of a rapid begins to crescendo. “Ok guys, lock in,”  he whispers, deftly positioning the blue raft with his yellow blade. Your mind blocks out the beauty, your hand tightens around your t-grip, and your feet wedge themselves under the thwart. Your eyes widen as the misty spray, basalt rocks, and raging waves rise into view.  At the perfect moment, above the deafening din, your guide bellows the command, “All forward! Forward hard! Keep paddling! Dig! Dig! Dig!”

Whitewater rafting in Oregon is one of our greatest treasures. River trips like the Deschutes and White Salmon are well known, but our state has countless rivers to discover. It’s no surprise that outfitters on lesser-known rivers offer rafting trips that exceed your expectations – perhaps it’s the location, natural beauty, affordability, quality of service, or unique opportunities to explore. It could be all of the above. Regardless, your experience and memories will be a rich reward. Three hidden treasures of Oregon rafting can be found on the Upper Clackamas, North Umpqua and the Rogue.

The Upper Clackamas River – located only an hour from of Portland – is a prime example of a great raft trip. In spring, thanks to heavy rain and snowmelt, thrilling class IV rapids rip through a breathtaking valley in the Mt. Hood National Forest. In summer, the Upper Clackamas matures into a picturesque class III+ playground of fun rapids, sunny pools, and wildlife-filled forests. It’s hard to find a better combination anywhere in Oregon. Blue Sky Rafting, headquartered near Estacada, offers trips including rare treats like all-you-can-eat riverside barbecues, cliff jumping and surfing the rafts.

Further south, the gorgeous North Umpqua River is tucked in the Cascades between Eugene and Roseburg. With five segments, the North Umpqua rapids range from class II to class IV down a Wild and Scenic river that is equally famous for its fishing. Off the water, there are great hikes to glittering waterfalls, emerald old-growth forests, and fascinating basalt and volcanic formations. Try contacting North Umpqua Outfitters for advice.

Finally, rediscover the Rogue River near Grant’s Pass, Medford and Ashland. Famous for rafting and jet boat tours, it offers other unique ways to explore the area. The Rogue River Trail has exceptional camping, and certain outfitters offer raft-supported hiking; after you trek the river, the boats transfer your gear between campsites. Or for an even more luxurious experience, raft or rent a kayak from lodge to lodge. Start your Rogue research with Oregon River Experiences, a multi-day trip outfitter headquartered in Oregon City.

Regardless of which river you choose, the treasure will be all yours.