Family Rafting in Central Oregon
We are a rafting family. My husband has been a whitewater athlete since childhood, and my own daughter has been on multi-day rafting trips in Colorado, Idaho and Oregon—almost too many to count in her little six-year life. We own a 14-ft. raft and on most summer weekends can be spotted rigging it to the top of our truck and heading to the river. It’s part of our family blood and my daughter is already a self-proclaimed river rat. So, when we were asked to join in on a Sun Country Tours trip down the McKenzie River, I have to say, I wasn’t sure if we could do it. We’ve never let anyone else take us down the river! After about a minute though, I quickly changed course. How nice would it be to have someone else do all the work for once, including meals and driving and packing and pictures! Our McKenzie Magic Half Day was booked in about 60 seconds.
We started out at the Sun Country office, a beautiful shop conveniently located on 13th Street in Bend. Don’t worry if you forget sunglasses, a towel, a hat, an extra pair of dry socks for the ride home, you can purchase last-minute supplies right at the shop. We were greeted by Sun Country owner, Dennis Oliphant, who is celebrating 35 years in business this year. With such a personal and river-loving figure at the helm, it’s not surprising that Sun Country Tours is one of the largest and most respected river outfitters in the Northwest. After checking our gear, we jumped on the bus with a new group of friends including staff from Pronghorn Club & Resort, a couple from San Francisco and our guides for the day, Ty and Pat.
It’s a beautiful 1.5-hour drive over the pass to the McKenzie River. You go from high dessert sage and pine to a lush and green landscape that my daughter likes to call “the rain forest.” If you’re visiting from outside of Oregon, it’s a treat to see the how different the environments are on either side of the mountains. Our guides gave us interesting lessons in history along the way, including a few Sasquatch stories (yes, really, check the YouTube footage.)
We arrived at Olallie Campground, the put-in, and after a thorough safety talk and paddle lesson on shore, we jumped in the boat and took off onto the beautiful McKenzie paddles in-hand. I immediately marveled at how beautiful the water was—crystal clear and turquoise in places, lined with moss-covered trees—and we had 12 miles of gorgeous water, super-fun rapids and paddling ahead of us. The rapids, with names like Fish Ladder, were absolutely perfect and this section is so fun because there isn’t much flat water. White waves keep rolling for a bumpy and exciting ride the entire way. Perfect for kids 6 and older and any adult that doesn’t mind getting wet.
We pulled into Paradise Campground, the take-out, with wet legs, big smiles and hungry bellies. Paddling 12 miles gives you an appetite. Thankfully Sun Country had a beautiful lunch ready and waiting for us, including hot coffee and fresh cookies, a real treat on the river!
Rafting as a family has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I love that there are companies like Sun Country Tours that make this special and rewarding experience accessible to all. The next time you’re in Central Oregon, make a point to go on one of their trips—McKenzie, Big Eddy Thriller, the Lower Deschutes, or the North Umpqua. It’s the best kind of memory making.