A visit to Central Oregon in the summer would not be complete without a float down the famous Deschutes River. It’s wide, calm and family friendly — with a few small rapids for adventurous souls (easy to avoid if you wish.)
Locals and visitors alike feel this river call to them. It’s a fun way to experience Bend, Oregon, in a completely different way. And on a hot summer day, what could be better than the cool mountain water?
Don’t jump in just yet! Floating the river requires a bit of planning, but we’ve got you covered. Just follow these ideas for what to bring, what not to bring, where to go, and other tips for an awesome float, and you’ll be on your way.
What to Bring
- Flotation devices. Obviously, you’re going to need something to float on. For this river float, forgo the typical pool toys and opt for something sturdier, like an inner tube. It won’t be fun for anyone if your flotation device breaks partway down the river. Remember, you’re out in nature and nature means rocks and sticks. If you don’t have something to float on, rentals are available at Riverbend Park from Sun Country and Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe.
- Rope/tether. This is in case you want to tether your tubes together. It’s a lot of fun and helpful if you have kids with you.
- Life jackets. Oregon state law requires life jackets for all boaters, paddleboarders, and children 12 years old and under (tubes tethered together may be considered a boat). If you don’t have life jackets, they are available for free rental at Riverbend Park at the Sun Country trailer. If you will be on a paddleboard, you also will need to carry a whistle.
- Waterproof, high-SPF sunscreen. Even if you already have a tan or think you’ll be fine out in the sun for the afternoon, think again! The Deschutes River is above 4,500 feet, which means the sun can burn your skin fast. Make sure you have a decent SPF, and apply as often as directed on the bottle.
- Water-friendly shoes. The river has plenty of rocks that can hurt your feet, so make sure to bring shoes you can wear in water, such as sturdy sandals or shoes made specifically for water use. Leave the flip flops at home! The current will easily carry them away.
- Water. Stay hydrated in the summer heat. Go with plastic or stainless steel, like a HydroFlask, since glass can break.
- A way to secure your personal items. You won’t want to lose your keys or cellphone in the river! Bring something to secure them while you float, such as a waterproof pouch you can wear around your neck.
What NOT to Bring
Alcohol. No drinking allowed in or around the river. Same with marijuana.
Where to Go
You’ll start at Riverbend Park in the Old Mill District and can float all the way to Drake Park in downtown Bend. There’s an exit to the left right before you enter the passageway channel of the whitewater park, as well as at the whitewater park itself if you don’t want to do the entire float.
Tips for an Awesome Float
- Prepare. Talk with everyone in your group about logistics, rules of the river, and how to stay safe. Allow for at least an hour to 90 minutes for your float time.
- Decide your journey beforehand. Before you float, decide if you’re going to get out before the passageway channel or not. There’s an area to exit the river to the left; otherwise, you stay to the left and go through. The left passage for floaters is fairly gentle, but will still be going over some bumps in the river. The City of Bend’s Parks & Rec website has a map here.
- Figure out drop off and pick up. If you have someone willing to pick you up and take you back to your car, great! Just be aware that the parking areas can get busy. Otherwise, check out the Ride the River shuttle service for $3 (check the site for a schedule). Park your car at Riverbend Park or use public parking on Columbia St. It is best to use Cascade East Transit’s “Ride the River” shuttle to return to the park at the end of your float. The shuttle stops at Riverbend Park, McKay Park, and Drake Park. If you’re doing a shorter float (i.e. getting out before or at the whitewater park) you can potentially walk back to a car parked nearby.
- Tether! If going in a group or with kids, consider tethering your floats together so you stay in a group. It’s less stressful than having to keep track of everyone going different speeds. Plus, it’s fun!
- Respect nature. Don’t ever litter in or around the river. Protect native plants and wildlife by getting in and out of the river at designated areas.
- Check out the amphitheater schedule. If a concert is going on at the amphitheater, it can be fun to float at that time and hear some of the music. View the amphitheater’s website here.
- Float the river virtually! To feel even more prepared, the City of Bend’s Park & Rec virtual river float site lets you float the river from the comfort of your home. Then you’ll know what to expect before you even arrive.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of hotels in the area, but why not try a vacation rental? It’ll feel more like home, with close proximity to all of Central Oregon. Do a quick search at Cascara Vacations to see what types of rentals are available. Also, be sure to check out the recreational and dining discounts!