Nothing says summer like a day on the water, and visitors to Central Oregon will find plenty of opportunities to swim, paddle or float. Two particularly beloved high-desert waterways in the region are the Deschutes River and the Crooked River, both of which are among Oregon’s designated Wild and Scenic Rivers for their natural beauty, recreational opportunities, unique geological features and cultural significance.
These two rivers offer a multitude of ways to enjoy yourself, from an adrenaline-pumping day of whitewater rafting to a leisurely float through town, a ride along a meandering scenic bikeway or a casual scenic drive. Whether you’re in or out of the water, here are some of the top ways to enjoy the sun on the Deschutes and Crooked rivers.
Jump Into Adventure on the Mighty Deschutes
The Deschutes River, designated as a Wild and Scenic River in 1988, is world renowned for its recreational opportunities. A fantastic starting point for adventure begins in the lively town of Bend. Float through the Old Mill District past trendy shops, restaurants and coffee shops to Drake Park, where the city’s shuttles await to transport you back for a small fee. Afterward, consider the short drive upriver to hike Benham Falls, a 25-foot waterfall and the tallest cascade on the Upper Deschutes.
Hungry for a surge of adrenaline? Go whitewater rafting in Maupin, often referred to as the “gateway to the Deschutes.” Team up with local experts in the know like the River Drifters or Imperial River Co., both of whom offer guided single-day or multiday whitewater adventures. Outfitters provide all the necessary equipment, experienced guides and pro tips to ensure a safe and memorable journey.
If fly-fishing is your passion, La Pine is the place to be. About 12 miles northwest of downtown, LaPine State Park offers excellent fishing opportunities off the bank, as well as more than 14 miles of hiking trails on both sides of the river. Or drive the Cascade Lakes Highway to the headwaters of the Deschutes at Little Lava Lake, about 35 miles from La Pine, where you can fish for rainbow or brook trout. Right next door is Lava Lake, which offers superb trout fishing and panoramic views of Mt. Bachelor and the South Sister mountain.
Sunriver is a paradise for stand-up paddleboarding and kayak enthusiasts. Grab a paddleboard or boat from Sunriver ToyHouse and put in the Deschutes River at Big River Campground, paddling downstream until Besson Picnic Area. Or treat yourself by renting gear and arranging for a one-way trip and shuttle from Sunriver Resort for an easy, no-fret experience.
Fish and Hike the Rugged Crooked River
While the Deschutes River may be better known, the Crooked offers surprises around every bend. Rugged and pristine, the river winds through towering basalt walls, unforgettable canyons and classic high-desert scenery abundant with wildlife, junipers and natural beauty.
Clear waters beckon anglers for challenging yet exciting trout fishing. To point you in the right direction, hire a local outfitter like River Borne Outfitters out of Madras or Fly & Field Outfitters, based in Bend. Each offers guided full- and half-day fly-fishing trips with local expertise to maximize your day and increase your chance of landing a prized catch. If you prefer a more accessible fishing experience, Palisades and Chimney Rock campgrounds offer fishing platforms that provide convenient access to the Crooked River.
Just a few feet away, adventurists also have access to one of the area’s best hiking trails, Chimney Rock Trail. The short but steep 1.3-mile trail offers stunning views of the cliffs and canyons formed by the river over time. At the top is the area’s namesake, Chimney Rock, a striking geological formation. From there you can admire panoramic views of the Crooked River as it winds its way through the canyon below.
For those who prefer pedal power, the area also boasts the Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway. This 18-mile stretch begins in Prineville and contours along with the river until Big Bend Campground. Stop at Good Bike Co. in downtown Prineville to rent a bicycle, shop for bike accessories, or enjoy a celebratory post-ride pint.
Catch your breath with a drive on the Lower Crooked River Back Country Byway (Highway 27) by car. The scenic drive along the river is a perfect option to enjoy the views without the effort and has ample opportunities to pull off and stop along the way.
Know Before You Go:
- Always wear a properly fitted life jacket while on or near the water, even if you’re a skilled swimmer.
- Be aware of your surroundings and familiarize yourself with the river’s conditions, including currents, obstacles and potential hazards.
- Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and appropriate clothing.
- Respect the river and its environment; dispose of trash responsibly and leave no trace.
- If you’re new to a particular activity or uncertain about your skills, consider taking lessons or hiring a professional guide for a safe and enjoyable experience.