Float the Deschutes River in Bend for cool summer fun

May 26, 2023
Float the Deschutes River in Bend for cool summer fun

By Aaron Rasheed

Summer is around the corner, and floating the Deschutes River from the Riverbend Park area downstream to Drake Park is a fun trip through town that takes between 60 and 90 minutes depending on conditions.

Starting at Riverbend and Farewell Bend parks

Located near the Old Mill District, Riverbend and Farewell Bend parks are known for their miles of river access, grassy stretches and wildlife conservation areas. Floaters can expect a relaxing drift with opportunities to observe common and rare water fowl along the marshy banks. Birds such as bufflehead ducks, cackling geese and red-breasted mergansers can sometimes be seen along the way.

As the river flows north, the floater will travel through the Old Mill toward the Colorado Avenue Bridge, followed immediately by McKay and Bend Whitewater parks. For those floating with small children, Bend Park & Recreation District recommends you portage before the bridge, exiting at river left and walking around to McKay Park.

If floating through rather than walking, there are three channels to make note of. For the more adventurous, the Fish Ladder, located to the left as one floats, can be taken by those who want a little rapids experience. In the middle is the rougher whitewater channel, recommended for surfers, paddleboarders and kayakers. The far-right lane is the Habitat Channel and has no public access. (You really messed up if you find yourself in this channel.)

The Whitewater Park isn’t big wave surfing by any means, but it does feature a man-made river wave. The Whitewater Park is popular with local surfers. Due to summer crowds, Bend Park and Recreation District recommends keeping sessions to one hour in order to give others a turn.

The whitewater channel can be accessed from downriver at McKay Beach or Miller’s Landing. Pay attention to water conditions as the river frequently shifts in current flows. Board leashes are prohibited given the potential of becoming snagged on underwater features. More information can be found at facebook.com/BendWhitewaterPark.

Floating from McKay Park to Drake

Drifting farther north is an easy cruise, passing Miller’s Landing on the east side of the river and Columbia Park farther down on the west bank.

Miller’s Landing was once owned by Harry Miller, owner of Miller Lumber Company, who bought the land in 1924. Today, it’s Bend’s latest riverfront park, sized at 4.7 acres and located across the river from McKay Park. Another river access point, Miller’s Landing has open lawn areas, picnic shelters and trails connecting the Riverside neighborhood to the Old Mill District.Columbia Park is also known as “Pirate-ship Park,” due to its boat play structure for children. The 2-acre park has picnic areas and a horseshoe pit. Though this park is located near the water, river access has been closed since July 2020 due to safety concerns and to prevent bank erosion.

Farther along the river tour, floaters will cross beneath the Northwest Galveston bridge into Mirror Pond, with Harmon Park on the west bank and Drake Park on the east.

Drake Park spans 13 acres, offering nearly a mile of riverfront water access for aquatic activities such as fishing, tubing, kayaking and canoeing. The area has public restroom access and paved paths. This park is also well known for hosting concerts, festivals and many other events during the spring, summer and fall. Access to the downtown shops, pubs, and restaurants is within walking distance as well.

Overall, this water voyage makes for a fun summer activity for traveling through the heart of Bend.

Shuttle and safety information

The Ride the River shuttle starts and ends at Park & Float, located across from The Pavilion at 1000 SW Bradbury Way, and is offered from June 17 through Labor Day. A round-trip shuttle costs $5 and departs every 15 to 20 minutes between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Be sure to make reservations in advance. Tickets are available at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe.

Dress properly for water temperatures. The summer heat can be misleading as water temperatures can remain in the low 60s. The National Center for Cold Water Safety advises that people treat any water below 70 degrees with caution.

Lifeguards aren’t available, so venture at your own risk. State Law requires life jackets for children 12 and younger.

Alcohol use, tethering watercraft together and bridge jumping are not permitted and are among park district officials’ top safety concerns this year.

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