The Low-Down on Floating the River this Summer

June 30, 2014

By Dusty Trails

The weather is getting hotter, the water is warming up, and Bendites are starting to get out on the water to float the river. It’s one of the more popular summer activities in Bend: last year, The Bulletin announced that the Deschutes made the “Top 10 Western River Floats” in Discovery News. However, the thought of it can be daunting at first if you’ve never done it before. Here are some tips to make your floating excursion go, well… swimmingly.

The gear:

Don’t have a floatie or a personal floatation device? Head over to Riverbend Park and look for the little trailer with the Sun Country Tours logo on the side. They rent inner tubes and standup paddleboards, and loan PFDs to children 12 and younger for free (Under Oregon law, all boats must carry a Coast Guard-approved PFD for every person onboard or being towed. Children under 12 must wear PFDs at all times on a moving boat, including inflatable rafts and kayaks. That doesn’t include individual air mattresses, inner tubes, and floating toys. However, if any of these are tied together, they count as “boats” and the PFD law applies). Another option is Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, who rents the same things in addition to canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.

Where to start:

According to Visit Bend, the easiest place to kick off your river float is from Riverbend Park, just behind the Bend Park & Rec District office. On the opposite shore, about ½ mile upstream and just a few feet downstream from the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge, Farewell Bend Park offers a longer float, if you can manage to find a parking spot next to Reed Market Road. Either place offers a safe, sandy shore for you to launch your air mattress, float tube, or raft. If you want a shorter float, you can also start just downstream from the Colorado Avenue Bridge on the sandy beach in McKay Park and float from there to Drake Park.

Where to go:

If you start at Farewell Bend or Riverbend Park, you’ll meander along the Deschutes through the Old Mill District. As you approach the Colorado Avenue Bridge, you’ll see a bunch of signs pointing you toward an exit. Follow the signs carefully, as a trip over the spillway would be extremely dangerous. Bend Park & Rec is taking steps to create a safe passage around the spillway next year. But for now, it’s up to you to make the short portage.

Once you’re out of the river before the spillway, you can hoof it back to the car or continue your journey by putting in again from the beach in McKay Park and floating from there to Drake Park. At the end, you can walk back, shuttle it with your own vehicles, or catch the Ride the River shuttle back to your starting point. Check the website for the schedule and pricing.

Things to note:

Bring some type of water shoe to make the getting in/out and walking process easier on your feet. They can also serve as a make-shift paddle. Chacos, Keens, and Tevas, are good. Flip-flops work too, but there’s a good chance you might lose them in the water! Phone, keys, wallet, camera, and any other personal items you choose to bring should be in a waterproof bag. It’s a good idea to keep your sunglasses on a strap as well. Finally, pay close attention to the signs before the spillway, and don’t litter!

For the more adventurous:

The slow curving river that provides Bend’s namesake is a popular destination for a lazy kind of day. But the recent Discovery News article highlights the more adventurous side of water sports that Bend caters to: whitewater rafting and kayaking. The upper section just south of Bend has the Big Eddy Class IV rapid, which is perfect for rafting on your own or with a trip through Sun Country Tours. The lower section starts at Warm Springs and ends just before Sherars Falls – but be careful of fishermen! No matter what section you plan on visiting, you are bound to find an epic day playing in the water in Central Oregon.


For more information on floating the river, including safety tips and a handy map, check out this page from Bend Metro Parks & Rec.