Why the Deschutes River Offers Oregon's Best Family Rafting Trip

My first rafting trip was 50 years ago on an 8th grade science club trip from my junior high in San Jose, California.  We went to the Stanislas River in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and I still remember the excitement of the day!  The frolicking rapids, the scent of spring, oak trees on the hills, and a guide that was very quiet.  Later, when I became a guide, I realized that likely our guide was brand new and his quietness came from sheer concentration and nervousness. Seven years later I became a whitewater rafting guide on the New and Gauley rivers in West Virginia and I’ve never looked back. The next season I was guiding in Oregon and Idaho.

Pioneers of Family Rafting Trips - Family Magic Rafting 

I raised my own two kids on the rivers of Oregon, Idaho and Montana and with them, we developed our legendary Family Magic rafting trips on the Salmon River Canyons. These five-day Idaho rafting trips are a kids’ paradise.  Warm swimming water, big white sand beaches and fun rapids.


A group of excited young ladies play in the water during a ROW Family Magic Rafting Trip on the Salmon River Canyons in Idaho


Family Rafting Expands to the Deschutes River in Oregon

A few years ago ROW Adventures expanded our operations to the Deschutes River in northcentral Oregon. Just two hours from Portland and flowing through a spectacular semi-desert landscape, the Deschutes is another river that makes for a superb family rafting adventure.  Flowing from the mountains of central Oregon, the Deschutes winds its way north, passing through the city of Bend where there is a popular rafting trip as well as a more difficult kayaking section.  Another 60 miles to the north starts the section known as the Lower Deschutes.  It’s a 100-mile journey from Warm Springs to the confluence with the mighty Columbia near the town of The Dalles. 

This section has been protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, meaning that it will never be dammed.  It was designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1988, joining an exclusive list of rivers that boast outstanding resource values. The Act guarantees that generations to come will be able to marvel at the river canyon’s beauty and gaze upon this dramatic landscape.  

Scenic variety is a hallmark of the Deschutes.  There are stretches where the river passes beneath cliffs of steeply-rising basalt of volcanic origin. At other points it flows beneath pine-studded mountains of the Cascade Range.  From the put-in near Warm Springs to the confluence with the Columbia, the river drops some 1250’ for an average gradient of 13’ a mile, enough to make our rafts move downstream with little effort.

ROW Paddlers float along the Deschutes, admiring the stunning landscape and geology, flanking the river


What Makes the Deschutes Great for Family Rafting?  Warm Water, Swimming, Fun Rapids and More!

First, kids love to swim, so the water temperatures should be mild enough to invite a jump from the raft into the water.  Because the Deschutes flows through sun-drenched lands the water gets into the 60-degree range, a temperature most kids will relish. Second, there should be some fun rapids. Nothing too crazy, but enough for some good splash and giggles! The Deschutes has plenty of rapids, but also plenty of calm stretches in between to jump in for a dip. 

Kids love boats and they especially love rafts. As Mark Twain’s character Huck Finns tells us: “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”


An overlook of ROW camp nestled along the Deschutes River   


Camping Made Easy & Time to Connect as a Family 

Camps are another important aspect of a family rafting trip. A signature aspect of our Deschutes trips is that our camp raft travels ahead of the group and sets up camp. When you pull into shore after a fun day on the river, the tents are up, the kitchen is ready, and you have only to carry your personal gear to the tent of your choice. Camps on the Deschutes have plenty of space to run around, play tag, throw a frisbee and relax under a towering ponderosa pine. When the sun sets and the night sky darkens, stars grow brighter and brighter, twinkling and filling young eyes with wonder, and parents with peace. This is family time as it’s meant to be. Find out more - watch: Camping with ROW Adventures!

Like many magical river trips, one of the main attractions is being totally unplugged from the e-devices of our lives. Cell phones get no signal and the internet is a different wide world away.  It’s a chance to return to bygone days of playing cards (we bring bird bingo for fun), building rock towers and simply sharing the song of the river and rustle of the breeze. Life seems right when you’re on the river. “We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed – only a little kind of a low chuckle.” – Huck Finn.


Enjoying some morning coffee before pushing off for another exciting day of rafting


Excellent Food & Stress-Free Logistics

We eat quite a bit better than Huck Finn did, with coolers laden with ice and fresh foods. Our guides have a knack for preparing bountiful, tasty meals for every palate. When the meal is over, your guides clean up and do all the dishes. Your task is to relax and spend time together, connecting, laughing and rediscovering each other.  

Some of our families’ fondest memories were born on the rivers of Oregon. Yours could be too! Our favorite trips on the Deschutes are three or four days in length which isn’t too big of a commitment but enough time to truly adventure together. Logistics are simple. We meet in the small town of Maupin, Oregon where you leave your car at our base. We drive a little over an hour to the launch point to the south.  During the trip we float back north, ending up just 20 minutes from your parked car.


Cooling off during a quick paddle break! 


We invite you to the Deschutes River where we promise you a family vacation filled with meaningful moments of discovery, learning, fun, laughter, camaraderie, connection and the building of healthy family bonds. If you're new to the idea of rafting as a family vacation, we invite you to read our Blog, Why Wilderness Rafting Trips are the Best Family Vacation, Ever.


Peter Grubb, Founder


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