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Exploring the Upper Deschutes River 

The Upper Deschutes offers boaters some stellar scenery, moments of solitude and flatwater floats

For those looking for a different stretch of the Deschutes River to float this summer, instead of the "tube to tube" section through the Old Mill District, there are numerous flatwater options to float your boat. Here are several options to explore reaches of the designated Wild and Scenic Upper Deschutes River, as well as a few reminders.

click to enlarge A stand-up paddle boarder enjoys a relaxing float on the Deschutes River. - DAMIAN FAGAN
  • Damian Fagan
  • A stand-up paddle boarder enjoys a relaxing float on the Deschutes River.

Slough Camp to the base of Benham Falls

Located off of Forest Road 41, the Slough Camp Day Use Area is an easy place to launch a kayak or canoe for a fun paddle 1.0 river miles upstream toward the impressive Benham Falls and about 1.6 river miles downstream to the top of Dillon Falls. The upstream section winds past ponderosa pines and the massive lava flow from Lava Butte which dammed the river about 7,000 years ago at Benham Falls. Water backed up behind this basalt dam and created Sunriver Lake which eventually overflowed the dam and eroded a passage through the basalt, creating the spectacular Benham Falls.

Paddling against the current will require some effort to reach the tail-end of the Benham Falls rapids. The whitewater area makes a good turn-around point, and all that paddling effort will be rewarded as the current carries you back to Slough Camp.

Those up for a little more paddlin' from Slough Camp can continue downstream, enjoying the lazy curves of the river to the Dillon Falls Day Use area and boat ramp. This stretch passes the Ryan Meadow area where the Forest Service recently re-connected the river and this backwater slough, which formed a great habitat for waterfowl and amphibians. On the river, heed the riverbank warning signs about not continuing downstream past the Dillon Falls boat launch; Dillon Falls will seriously mess you up – that is if you survive the falls. The upstream, return paddle to Slough Camp is pretty easy against the slow-moving current.

Big River to Besson Day Use Area

This section of the Deschutes follows big lazy curves past forest woodlands, lush riparian willows and neighborhoods set back from the river for about 10 river miles. At times, the current does all the work; however, occasionally dipping your paddle blade will speed up the float.

Prior to launching a boat at the Big River Boat Launch on Forest Road 42, arrange a shuttle to the Besson Day Use Area downstream of the busy Harper Bridge off Spring River Road. The Besson take-out is about 2.5 river miles downstream of the bridge on river left.

Though this is a popular float with locals and Sunriver guests, it's still a great way to enjoy a relaxing time on the river. Keep an eye out for ospreys and bald eagles diving after fish or the occasional river otter swimming alongside your boat.

LaPine State Park to Big River

This float begins at the boat launch just downstream of the LaPine State Park Bridge in the park and continues to the Big River Day Use launch. This float is about 9.3 river miles long, winding and twisting past ancient oxbows, big trees and the confluence with the Fall River before reaching the takeout. Again, the current does a lot of the work.

The road shuttle is a bit longer for this float but connecting via Huntington Road makes it a quick trip.

A few reminders

Assuming you've got your boating gear together, including those 13 and under wearing a Coast Guard-approved PDF (personal flotation device), here are a few other tips. Download a free Deschutes Paddle Trail River Guide, created by the Bend Paddle Alliance, from the Avenza Maps website. The guide is also available from local outdoor gear retailers. The mile-by-mile guide points out hazards and launch areas. If a canoe, kayak or SUP is longer than 10 feet, you'll also need to purchase an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Waterway Access Permit online or through a vendor. An annual permit costs $19 (includes $2 agent fee) and the seven-day option is $7. Many of the boat launch areas also require either a Northwest Forest or other federal pass for parking, too. Stay safe and respect the river!

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