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McKenzie Paddle Adventure 

Whether it's on a raft, whitewater kayak or paddleboard, it's choose your own adventure on Oregon's beloved West Cascades River

click to enlarge Beth Junkins gets ready to send it on the McKenzie River. - K.M. COLLINS
  • K.M. Collins
  • Beth Junkins gets ready to send it on the McKenzie River.
Splashes and giggles abound on a lush, fun and flowy section of the McKenzie River. While you're paddling, gaze below the surface to see glassy greenish-blue water and a riverbed lined with rounded igneous cobbles—a nice relief from Bend's lacerating lava rock. A brown bag lunch never tasted so good when consuming it under giant deciduous trees on the beach at Finn Rock.

Directions: Drive 6.8 miles past McKenzie Bridge until you see a store called Christmas Treasures. Pass it. In the next mile or two, there's a pull off on the left side of the road with pit toilets and three boat ramps. This is the put-in. If you drive to the confluence of the Blue and the Mckenzie Rivers, 3 miles past Christmas Treasures, you've gone too far. The take out is 12 miles down river or 7 miles further on the left side of the road at Silver Creek Landing.

Gear needed: Whitewater kayak, inflatable kayak, paddleboard or raft, choose your own adventure. Personal Floatation Device, paddle, helmet and a spray skirt.



Suggested Snacks: Fruit roll-ups and nut butter packets to eat while on the river. Word to the wise: snacks are crucial to morale when paddling. Share with your buddies; this will motivate them to rescue you if you swim.  

click to enlarge K.M. COLLINS
  • K.M. Collins

This Perfect Day
: I've paddle-rafted and kayaked Blue River to Silver Creek three times and hope to rage it on a paddleboard soon. On a recent mid-June paddle raft mission, I and three colleagues gasped as we crossed McKenzie Pass and saw a dusting of snow at the summit. Soon after, we realized we had forgotten a life jacket back at the shop. We soon discovered that several gas stations and markets in the area rent out life jackets for free.

Once we were rigged up and shoved off at Blue River we hit several awesome sets of pretty low-consequence rapids. Although the weather couldn't make up its mind between rain and sun, it wasn't a problem in our dry suits. Plus, the valley is so much less cold than the desert.

Just over halfway through the run, a series of three rapids—Frogger, Fluffy Bunny and Eagle Point—kicked the remaining 6 miles on the commitment level up a notch.

On a paddle raft, this wasn't too intimidating; a nice rush as you entered the line at the top of the rapid and a fun drop as you launched into the wave train below. But in a hard-shell kayak, it felt like upping the ante. Rafts are so forgiving, even if the line you choose through the rapid is off. Even if you scrape a rock or edge by a snag, you'll still probably end up plowing through, bumper boat style, unscathed. In a kayak, if your line is off by a hair, you could go in the drink.

This in mind, dropping into Frogger felt like an obstacle course. The rapid is a quarter-mile long boulder garden; dodging rocks is the name of the game. The ones sticking out of the water are easy to maneuver—it's the rocks just below the surface, that you almost can't see from upriver, that you have to worry about. They can have giant sniper holes on the down river side that aren't visible as you approach from above.

Easily the biggest features of the day—Fluffy Bunny and Eagle Point—both required dropping in to the left of a boulder or downed tree. For Fluffy Bunny, on the left side of the wave train, I spotted a 2-foot wide sneaky line that would allow me to avoid the meat of the rapid. I'd have to cross the train in its first trough to get to the left side. In the split second I had to size up the feature, I had determined the wave train was super condensed and seemed like an unpredictable rodeo. Admittedly, I have a habit of risking a lot to try for a dry line. Skirting features is a skill builder in its own right. It requires hitting an exact line—and that demands technique. Victory abounded, the line went and the girls who followed me through made it without swimming, too.

Shortly after Eagle Point, the take-out at Silver Creek has a nice public lookout off a deck—great for photos.

Bonus Eats: On the way home, stop at the Snow Cap in Sisters. With burgers, fries, shakes and more, their menu is reasonably priced and fulfilling after a long day on the river.
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