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1. Deschutes River, Central Oregon

Man kayaking along the Deschutes River in Oregon, between grassy banks.
Kayaking on glassy water, you’ll often encounter beaver, great blue heron and red winged black birds on the Deschutes River.

I hail from Central Oregon and one of the reasons I moved there was all the great paddling accessible by way of the Deschutes River. From easy access day trips on the town section to remote multi-day excursions, there are kayak trips for everyone.

An oasis 

The Deschutes River is a lush refuge in the arid and harsh high desert. Towering ponderosa pines and aspen groves line the banks intermingling with fairly fresh (according to geologic time) sharp ah-ah lava—flows which oozed from the Newberry Formation thousands of years ago. This lava creates an intricate network of tubes—bridges or tunnels—and bedrock which the river flows in and out of numerous times on its path to the mouth of the Columbia River. 

During your time on the water you are sure to see great blue heron, osprey, belted kingfisher, beaver, otters, deer and even bighorn sheep in some locales, along with relics from by-gone railroad and timber operations.

Thrills accessible from town and beyond

Much of the river from its headwaters at Lava Lake to its middle section at Cline Falls State Park is flat water and easily navigable. My favorite stretch is central to Bend and located right in the middle of town: Riverbend Park to Bill Healy Bridge. This area can be paddled year round and is ideal in the summer. It is 1-2 miles one-way and is very accessible to newbies (note that if you’re just getting into the sport, you’ll want to read my kayaking tips for beginners to help you get started).

If you want to challenge yourself with a small thrill, paddle as far upstream from Riverbend Park as possible, until you hit a natural Class 1 rapid just upstream of Bill Healy Bridge. Try ferrying in and out of the small currents all channelized by fallen rocks and boulders in the river profile. Be ready for a fish tale or possible capsize. Consider wearing a skirt and helmet. 

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