It's Time For You to Meet the Magical Lower Deschutes River

Whatever your speed—dirtbag to debutante—there is something for you on the Lower Deschutes. From its beginnings high up near Mount Bachelor to where it flows into the Columbia River, Central Oregon's Deschutes River is a special place.

By Sam Stites and Chad Brown June 8, 2023 Published in the Summer 2023 issue of Portland Monthly

Located just Over two hours from Portland, the Lower Deschutes River has much to offer. Take a hike along the basalt cliffs, raft through some splashy class III rapids, or reel in a giant steelhead. Sleep out under thousands of stars at a riverside campground or lounge in luxury at one of the charming properties nearby.

Who should go? Everyone who likes outside. Whatever your speed—dirtbags to debutantes—there’s something for you on the Lower Deschutes.

Where is the Lower Deschutes? Excellent question. The Deschutes begins as a series of lakes in the high Cascades south of Mount Bachelor and ends after flowing 250 miles north, and dumping into the Columbia River. It's sliced into three sections: Upper, Middle, and Lower. The Upper runs from its origin as alpine lakes to the city of Bend; the Middle runs from Bend to Lake Billy Chinook; and the Lower is the final 100 miles of the river beyond the Pelton Dam near the town of Warm Springs. 

What wildlife will I see? So much. Think beavers, kingfishers, and bighorn sheep. The rugged landscape is highlighted by deep, basalt cliff canyons, fragrant sagebrush, and juniper trees. The river is globally revered by anglers for its rainbow trout and their seafaring cousins, steelhead, who return from the ocean supersized and ready to feast on giant bugs like stoneflies. Just keep an eye out for rattlesnakes!

What can you do there? So glad you asked. The Lower Deschutes is a mecca for fly-fishing, backpacking, whitewater rafting, and biking. The Lower Deschutes Back Country Byway encompasses more than 30 miles of paved and unpaved roadways near Maupin and gives easy access to the river’s delights, including a dozen campgrounds and seven day-use areas. In the arid desert, the Lower Deschutes is typically hot and dry in the summer, making the river itself a great place to cool off and relax. 

Your Best Ever Whitewater Trip on the Lower Deschutes

Rafting on the Lower Deschutes River is an Oregon rite of passage, just a couple hours from Portland. These are the outfitters, guides and rapids to know. By Sam Stites

Going Luxe on Lodging in the Lower Deschutes

A stay on the Lower Deschutes doesn’t have to be a grimy, bug-filled experience, thanks to luxurious and charming spots like these. By Sam Stites

The Deschutes River Became My Therapist and Healer

"The pain I fought, the darkness I navigated, and the loneliness I endured as a navy veteran fighting PTSD would leave my body the closer I got to the river to fly-fish." By Chad Brown