Floating the Deschutes River in Bend: Tips, Tricks and Tacos (Yes, Seriously)

Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon

The wild and scenic Deschutes River is Central Oregon’s water playground for all. From the slow meandering stretches near Sunriver to the rapids of Big Eddy, the river is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, fishing and swimming.

But no place along the river is it more popular than the stretch in Bend between the Bill Healy Bridge and iconic Mirror Pond. Come summer, the waterway is filled with river floaters and stand up paddlers enjoying the slow currents and festive vibe. And about halfway through that stretch you’ll find surfers and kayakers doing tricks at the whitewater park.

But for visitors, just how to join in all the action can be kind of confusing.

To help you navigate all the fun, the Bend Parks and Rec District has created this cool virtual tool. It’ll take you from the put in at Riverbend Park to the whitewater park. Click on the orange icons there for more info. And don’t worry if you didn’t pack an innertube in your carry-on luggage. Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe offers tube rentals at its “Park and Float” location near the Bend Parks and Rec Pavilion at Simpson and Bradbury. Shuttles run from there to Riverbend Park to put in, and then from the takeout at Drake Park back to the Park and Float. Tumalo Creek also rents paddleboards and kayaks from a kiosk at Riverbend Park.

Here’s some more useful information before you head out:

  • Choose a sturdy flotation device.
  • Floaters should park at Riverbend Park, the Park and Float at Simpson and Bradbury and or in the public lots on Columbia St. (There should be some signage to follow.) Do not park in private business parking areas or you’ll get towed.
  • Utilize the shuttle! It’s available from June 22 – Sept. 4, 2017 (tentative dates), the shuttle will pick you up at Drake Park and drop you off at Riverbend Park. The cost is $3 per person per day. More info at www.cascadeseasttransit.com
  • Leave the beer at home. It’s illegal to have alcohol on the river and Bend Police are out in force.
  • Leave no trace. It’s cool if you want to carry a cooler of water or soda, but please be sure to take out all the plastic bottles or cans you are using during the float. Don’t toss an empty sunscreen bottle into the water. Don’t discard a broken flip flop on the beach.
  • State law requires that each boat or paddleboard carry one Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board, and children age 12 and under are required to wear life jackets. Boaters and paddleboarders are also required to carry a whistle.
Crux Fermentation Project
Crux Fermentation Project, Bend

After an amazing day on the river, the first thing you’re probably going to want to do is grab something to eat. If you’re wanting to hit up downtown, which is a short walk from the take out at Drake Park, there are tons of options. Hit up happy hour at 900 Wall, head out back to O’Kanes at McMenamins Old St. Francis School or make the pilgrimage to Deschutes Brewery – the spot that started Central Oregon’s craft beer revolution.

If you’re getting a ride back to the Old Mill District, you’ve got options there too. We’ve found, through extensive research, that a trip to Crux Fermentation Project for a Crux Pils and three El Sancho tacos (I opt for one chicken, one pork and one beef) is the perfect end to a perfect day on the river.

Deschutes River is a Central Oregon Playground For All

The Deschutes River runs through Bend's Old Mill District
The Deschutes River runs through Bend’s Old Mill District

The Deschutes River was once the economic lifeblood for Central Oregon, serving as a vital tool for saw mills powering a thriving logging industry here. The industry’s role in Central Oregon faded away, but the river, of course, remained. Today, it serves as a different lifeblood – for the thousands and thousands of people who use it as a playground.

How? Let us count thy ways.

1. Float it

Floating the Deschutes River in Bend is atop the “Unofficial Rites of Summer” list. Thanks to Farewell Bend and Riverbend Parks (on opposite sides of the river) putting in to the river has become easier than ever. All you need is an innertube, an air-mattress – just about anything that floats will work for this gentle float to downtown Bend’s Drake Park. Need to rent an innertube? No problem – Sun Country Tours has a small trailer at Riverbend Park and offers 2-hour rentals for $15/adults and $10/kids 6-12. And Parks and Rec runs a river shuttle service for floaters to get from Mirror Pond back to Riverbend Park.

Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon

2. Surf It

Yep, you read that right. The Deschutes River is home to the only whitewater play area in the state of Oregon and it’s centrally located in Bend’s popular Old Mill District. The waves in the whitewater park are adjustable – controlled from an iPad at the Bend Parks & Rec office up the street – so the challenge can change from day to day. Surfers and whitewater kayakers have been flocking to the area since it opened in 2015, and there’s usually a crowd of folks watching from the new footbridge above. Couldn’t fit your surfboard in the overhead bin? River Surf Co. is located just a quarter mile from the whitewater park and has all kinds of rental gear available, including surf boards.

Courtesy Paul Clark

3. Raft It

For the most part, the Deschutes River is a gentle, serene body of water that matches perfectly the laid back lifestyle we love here in Central Oregon. But man, there are some rip-roarin rapids on the river too that cater perfectly to the adventurous side we like to bust out every now and then. And there’s no better way to experience it than Sun Country Tours’ Big Eddy Thrill Ride. 

Big Eddy Thriller

4. Fish It

The Deschutes river provides world-class fishing opportunities for rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout and steelhead from the amateur to the experienced angler. The best fishing changes throughout the year depending on hatches, restrictions, and river flows in each section (upper, middle, lower). For the best experience contact a fishing guide service and go with an expert.

fly fishing 1

5. Kayak or SUP It

In 2014 Outside Magazine named Bend and Central Oregon the best place in the world to stand up paddleboard thanks to our numerous high alpine lakes and the gentle flow of the Deschutes River. What’s more, you can rent a board or kayak right on the banks of the river at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe. 


6. Admire It

You don’t have to actually be in the water or on the water to fully enjoy the beauty of the Deschutes River. Gentle nature trails like the Deschutes River Trail can take you into the backcountry for beautiful views like this one from Benham Falls. You can pretty much drive right up to the falls viewing area or you can walk or ride your bike along the trail. There’s even a bathroom.