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Going With the Flow: Wet 'n Wild on the McKenzie and Umpqua 

The ump runs hot, cold and wild. I am a whitewater neophyte, but I'm joining some far-flung friends to do a trip down the Middle

click to enlarge The ump runs hot, cold and wild.
  • The ump runs hot, cold and wild.
The ump runs hot, cold and wild. I am a whitewater neophyte, but I'm joining some far-flung friends to do a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River over the Fourth of July. The Middle Fork is 100 miles of free flowing river in the heart of the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. A group from Bend that did the Middle Fork two weeks ago reported that it was "big and pushy" and, in one incident, unfortunately lost a kayak, never to be seen again. Wanting to actually return from the River of No Return, I figured I'd better do some serious cramming, so I got out on a couple of our best rivers these past two weekends.


The McKenzie River is a perfect Class II+ day trip to get your feet wet. In fact, some locals are even running the river on their stand-up paddle boards. One of the most popular runs is 18 miles from Paradise Campground to Finn Rock. I've done this before, and it is characterized by some fun riffles and a few boulder gardens. We did the more challenging 15-mile section a little further downriver from Finn Rock to Leaburg Dam, which features Brown's Hole and Class III Marten Rapid. It was sunny, the scenery was gorgeous and we were having so much fun, we missed our takeout just below the rapid. So we floated an extra four miles to the dam and hitchhiked back to the car.


The Umpqua is Mother Nature's version of the Wet 'n Wild Water Park, but you don't have to go to Orlando, pay $75, or stand in line with thousands of tourists. Last weekend, I joined a contingent of Bendites and Valley-dwellers who converged at Horseshoe Bend Campground on the wild and scenic North Umpqua River about 50 miles east of Roseburg. There are five 3-hour segments of wonderful whitewater boating along this stretch and twenty-six fantastic fishing holes where Steamboat Creek pours into the North Umpqua.

The flow was a very nice 1340 CFS. On Saturday, we ran the first segment from Boulder Flat to Horseshoe Bend, a stellar 6-mile stretch with four Class II+ rapids and four Class III rapids. The very first rapid, Boulder Hole, is the biggest, so some people put in below that. It's a fun run for experienced boaters and novices alike because there is nothing death-defying and there are plenty of super surf spots. The second segment, from Horseshoe Bend to Gravel Bin, is a little more thrilling because of eight Class III rapids and Class IV Pinball. When I ran it, in nervous anticipation of Pinball, I dumped it in Alligator, an angled wave just upstream. I managed a frantic self rescue in my Aire Tomcat and ricocheted through Pinball upright the rest of the way. It was sort of like being in a live arcade game.

If you are looking for a mellower water experience, the Umpqua also boasts cool swimming holes and steamy hot springs. On Sunday, we hiked along the North Umpqua Trail to the Umpqua Hot Springs near Toketee Lake. The bridge at the normal trailhead is out of commission, but a nearby log can get you there or you can enjoy the 2-mile hike in from downriver through impressive old growth and gorgeous Rhododendrons. Several soaking pools carved into travertine stone are nestled into a cliffside overlooking the whitewater below. The upper pool is an intense 112 degrees F, but you can play Goldilocks and scramble down to lower pools until you find the one that is "Ahhh, just right."

If you are planning your own river trip, visit the Willamette Kayak and Canoe Club's website at to check river levels. A great website for scoping out riverside campsites is If you are seeking a comprehensive whitewater resource or are considering a commercial trip, you might want to check out, the brainchild of Bend entrepreneur Brad Goettemoeller.

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