Skip to main content

The "Best" River Rafting Trip

Leavenworth, Washington:


As a professional river rafting guide, once I have established an easy rapport with my paddle crew, dedicated their names to my memory (at least, for the next few hours or days) and learned a bit about their backgrounds without delving too deep into their real-life endeavors (unless they are ready to go there), eventually, someone asks, "What is the best river rafting trip?"

My stock Ed Abbey-inspired answer is, "Whatever river I am floating at the time. . . "

Which is true.  But it is also meant to be telling.  I love being outdoors.  I love leading beginners into the wilderness.  I love being on a river.  I love the camaraderie, the teamwork, the real-time social networking.  

The other old canard I may opt to cast out is, "A bad day on the river is better than a good day at the office."  But that one is true only so far as it goes.  To be honest, selecting a best river trip is mighty, darn subjective.

My stock non-cutesey answer is, "The Colorado River through the Grand Canyon if you have more than a week's worth of vacation, the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho if you only have a week and the Lochsa River in Idaho if you want lots of big water packed into four hours."  But many people don't want to be on a river with intimidating white water in a wilderness setting far from emergency medical services.  Some people would be wholly satisfied with slightly less intimidating white water, or a stretch of river slightly less remote.

The Deschutes River in north central Oregon, a little over two hours from metropolitan Portland, is a very appealing river trip suitable for a wide range of participants.  Because the Deschutes flows south to north in the 'rain shadow' of the eastern border of the Cascade range, it can be much drier early in the season than other rivers in the Pacific Northwest.



As far as I am concerned, the spring months are the prime time period to be on the Deschutes.  Red-winged blackbirds trill from every cattail and bulrush.  Pairs of osprey patrol the skies while busily fortifying their nests.  Grasses blanket the campsites and hillsides.  Campfires, contained in fire pans, are allowed, which means, in addition to an evening spent gathered around a warm flame, meals can be baked in well-seasoned Dutch Ovens.

The river is likely to be swollen from snow melt which means the always entertaining white water at White Horse, Boxcar and Oak Springs will be just that much more entertaining.  All of which are good, beginning Class III white water challenges.  And though the river might be higher than normal, because it is highly regulated upstream by a couple of dams, it will not be too high to raft.

Of course, the best reason to be on the Deschutes River in the spring months, is that the likelihood of anyone else being on the river is low.  So, even though you are not floating through desolate wilderness, you will feel isolated surrounded by the austere mountains and dramatic basalt canyons.

If you cannot make the time until the summer months - and the beauty of the Deschutes in July and August are the long, hot, lazy days and the inviting swimming holes - it is best to try and work around the weekends and schedule your trip midweek.  Unlike most of the rivers in the Pacific Northwest, the Deschutes maintains a sufficient water flow due to those upstream regulatory dams.

The western half of the United States lays claim to more than a dozen classic overnight white water rafting trips.  They all have their highlights and attractions, some more than others.  If you are looking for an overnight river rafting trip within close proximity to Seattle or Portland, suitable for families, excellent for adventurous wedding parties, where you do not have to commit to a week bedding down outdoors, the Deschutes River, in the high desert country in eastern Oregon, is the best river trip for you.


Popular posts from this blog

Spring River Guide Training

Time to sign up if you want to be a guide, or if you just want to feel comfortable on the river on your own.
Only a few weeks away from our annual seven day guide training odyssey on the Deschutes River in north central Oregon and - as the senior instructor - I am beginning to feel the undertow of another river season.

Orion's guide training course kicks off every whitewater season and is comprised of seasoned and salty veterans, women and men, wide-eyed whitewater neophytes, those who revel in the adversity and those who are challenging their ordinary state of being, whatever that may be.

It is a time for ditching cellphones and the comfort of our creature habits.  Sharing and laughing and looking one another in the eye.  Being physically present because...you have to be to deal with the circumstances of being out amidst the elements.  Setting up tarps in windstorms and cooking over fires.

It will be a memorable trip.  Even for those of us participating in it for the 40th time.

River Rafting is Good for You

I have been rafting for a long time.

My first rafting experience was in the fall of my first year in college.  As a matter of fact, after matriculation, it was the very next thing I did.  The river rafting trip, regarded as my wilderness orientation to Prescott College, was a month long affair.

One month in the wilderness after having spent the majority of my life in well-ordered suburbs where my primary contact with the outdoors involved sports.

You can imagine it was an eye-opener in a number of ways.

My wilderness orientation, which took place over four decades ago, brought me serendipitously to this place.

Overnight raft trips are the single easiest method to 'leave it all behind.'  The 'behind' we referred to leaving used to just mean the traffic and the stressors of modern day life, ringing phones, the hustle and bustle of humanity and bills coming due, responsibilities to uphold.

Now, we are saddled with the ubiquity of always being connected to what is going o…

The Phenomena of People

I do not have a river story for you this week, but I had a visit from a good friend from Bellingham and our reunion reminded me of one of the other reasons I have persevered with this little cottage industry.



I wrote a story a few years back titled "Why I (Continue to) Raft" and the gist of that column was that I realized how much I enjoyed getting people out on the water and watching the transformation.  It ended with the brief tale of my very young nephew from Dallas who floated the Skagit and - at first - was terrified of the moving, darn-cold-if-you're-from-Texas water.  And, despite being on a trip surrounded by a large Y group of boisterous Northwesterners who could not get enough of swimming, it appeared he would endure the trip and be ecstatic to see the takeout and a warm, dry car.

When we were halfway down the river, his entire attitude did an about face.  And by the time we hit the takeout he WAS ecstatic, but not about being finished and back to dry land.  …