Visit Bend Blog

Everything you need to know about floating the river in Bend, Oregon

June 6th, 2014

NOTE: THIS POST IS FROM 2014. TO SEE A MORE RECENT POST ON FLOATING THE RIVER IN BEND, GO HERE.

It’s been nearly three years since I wrote this post about floating the Deschutes River in Bend. Though it’s long-buried in the archives, it continues to rack up the highest number of views of all the Bend Buzz Blog posts.

See that sandy beach off the right just below the bridge? That's a great spot to start your float on the Deschutes River.

See that sandy beach off the right just below the bridge? That’s a great spot to start your float on the Deschutes River.

Think that says something about the popularity of floating the river in Bend?

In the interest of making sure we’ve got the latest-and-greatest info out there for our lovely readers, here’s a revamped version of the post for your enjoyment . . .

For those who don’t live in Bend, the idea of floating the river can seem a little daunting. You see all the smiling, happy people floating past as you stroll through the Old Mill District for dinner or shopping, but um…well, how do they get there? And what are the rules?

Hey, relax. Floating the river is a cinch.

The easiest place to kick off your river float is from Riverbend Park, though another great spot is Farewell Bend Park just a little upstream on the opposite shore just a few feet downstream from the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge. 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.

The view from your river float as you pass through the Old Mill District.

The view from your river float as you pass through the Old Mill District.

Don’t have an inner tube or a PFD? No problem. Head over to Riverbend Park and look for the little trailer with the Sun Country Tours logo on the side. Not only do they rent float tubes and standup paddle boards, they loan free PFDs (personal floatation devices) to children 12 and under. Another great option for float tube rentals is Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. They also rent PFDs, canoes, kayaks, and standup paddle boards and are conveniently located close to the Old Mill District.

Everyone has a personal preference when it comes to floating the river. I’m a big fan of the single air mattress and a slow, easy stroke to keep myself heading straight. When I’m floating with the family, we usually opt for a queen-sized air mattress with the two kids in the middle and the grownups on either side for easy one-armed paddling.

OK, so you’ve got your floaty and you’ve hoped in the river somewhere near Riverbend Park. Now what?

You’ll meander along the Deschutes through the Old Mill District, passing under a couple bridges and waving to happy shoppers and diners.

When you reach the Colorado Avenue Bridge, you can hop out here and hoof it back to your car if you’re pressed for time. Alternately, you can stroll beneath the bridge and put in again on the other side in McKay Park. Don’t forget to stop and check out the expert surfers and kayakers paddling around in the new state-of-the-art Bend Whitewater Park.

Once you’ve floated the second stretch of river, you’ll end your journey in scenic Drake Park. It’s a bit of a hike from here to your car, unless you’ve used a two-car buddy system (which is what I often do). You can also catch the Ride the River shuttle. Be sure to check the website for schedule and pricing.

Preparing for our family float last Father's Day.

Preparing for our family float last Father’s Day.

There are a few rules you need to know before you hop in the water. 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.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Have some sort of water shoes that stay on your feet so you have protection when you hop out of the water and have to hoof it across a hot, rocky surface to your car or shuttle. Chacos, Tevas, or Keens are a good idea. Flip flops are risky, as they can slip off easily (my favorite Havaiana is probably still buried in the muck somewhere).
  • Buy a waterproof pouch to wear around your neck for any essentials like car keys or phone. Consider having your sunglasses on a strap as well, in case you fall in.
  • Please, please don’t litter. If you bring beverages or snacks, do not dump bottles and wrappers in our river. If your raft happens to pop, please take it with you instead of cramming it into an overflowing trash can that’s meant for smaller items. Try to leave the river as pretty and pristine as you found it.
  • Have fun! This is pretty much a given, though.

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

And for more ideas on other forms of water recreation including whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and more, check out this page on the Visit Bend website.


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