Whether you’re drawn to Bend by the breweries, the hiking trails, or the mountain biking, there’s one activity that’s almost certainly on your to-do list if you visit between late-May and September: Floating the river.

I know this because previous blogs I’ve written on the subject remain our most highly-trafficked posts almost eight years later. Since the rules and even the river change from year to year, it’s time for an updated, latest-and-greatest blog post featuring everything you need to know about floating the Deschutes River in the summer of 2018.

Get ready for river floating fun!

Start with the right gear

First things first: Here’s what you’ll need to safely (and legally) float the river:

  • A high-quality inner tube or floatation device. While you’ll see plenty of folks out there on pool toys, that’s risky if you want to cruise through the passageway channel in the Bend Whitewater Park. Rocks and rapids lead to popped and tumbled cheap floaties (which leaves us with garbage bins stuffed with ruined inflatables). You can rent durable float tubes from a number of local retailers including Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and Sun Country.
  • I’ve witnessed many a ruined vacation when visitors didn’t realize the strength of the sun in our high-altitude desert town. Slather up, guys. You’ll thank me later.
  • Proper footwear. You’ll want something on your feet for hoofing it back to your car or around the passageway, but whatever you do, DON’T WEAR FLIP FLOPS! They’ll come off in the water or mud to become litter in our pristine river. Instead, opt for sturdy footwear like Keens or Tevas.
  • Secure your personal items. Plan to keep your keys, phones, trash and other belongings with you, not on the river’s bottom. Want to ruin your trip in a hurry? Just lose your car keys (or wallet, phone, camera, prescription glasses and so on) in the passageway. No Bueno.
  • Life jacket. State law requires that each boat or paddleboard carry one Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board, and children age 12 and under are required to wear life jackets. If you lash several float tubes together, that counts as a boat. Play it safe and snag yourself and the kids a free rental life jacket from the Tumalo Creek kiosk.

 

From Point A to Point B

Since the Deschutes River does not flow in a circle like a carnival ride, you need to make a plan before you set foot in the water.

While some folks opt for a long walk back to their car or do the multi-car shuffle by leaving a vehicle at the takeout point, you’ll be much, much happier if you leave the driving to someone else by taking the Ride the River Shuttle.

In 2018, the City of Bend just implemented a new four-hour parking limit along Riverside Boulevard adjacent to Drake Park from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day. Fines start at $50, which is a heck of a lot more expensive than a ride on the shuttle.

When you finish your float in Drake Park, catch the Ride the River shuttle back to your starting point.

 

Where do I start floating?

Most floaters put in at the shallow beach area in Riverbend Park, which has the bonus of being home base to the Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe kiosk where you can rent gear from May 25-June 15, 2018.

Starting June 16, 2018 and going through Labor Day, you’ve got an all-new, extra-super-awesome place to begin your floating adventure. That’s Tumalo Creek’s new Park & Float kiosk next to the Bend Park and Rec Pavilion on Simpson and Bradbury. Not only can you rent all the gear you need for a safe and happy float, but you can park your car in their ample parking spaces and catch the shuttle right to the river.

Since the shuttle starts and ends here, there’s no need to haul your rented tube down the hill to Riverbend Park. You can also rent a kayak, standup paddleboard, or surfboard here and go straight to the Bend Whitewater Park a block away. Bonus: When you’re done floating, they’ll take care of getting your tube back as you exit at Drake Park (more on that in a sec).

If you don’t feel like starting at Riverbend Park for whatever reason, some floaters opt to put in a bit more upstream at Farewell Bend Park, which is on the opposite side of the river and has much more limited parking.

Wherever you choose to start, just plop your booty in your tube and paddle out into the water to catch a current and start your journey downstream. Keep in mind the water is fed by snowmelt and icy springs, so it’ll be chilly even at the height of summer. As you approach the Colorado Avenue Bridge, you’ve got a decision to make . . .

 

To ride or not to ride?

In 2015, the Bend Whitewater Park opened at the site of the former Colorado Avenue dam, opening up an access that previously didn’t exist. It has three distinct channels that include a habitat area for wildlife, a whitewater channel for surfing and whitewater kayaking, and a passageway meant for river floaters.

Ride the rapids in the Bend Whitewater Park.

If this is your first time through, hop out here and study the passageway. It includes a series of rapids that’ll be a little bumpy and could wreck your ride (not to mention your backside) if you’re not using a sturdy floatation device. If you’re on a flatwater boat or paddleboard instead of a float tube, you’ll want to exit the river here as the rapids will likely damage your boat or board.

Feeling up to it? If you’re riding on through the passageway, do your best to keep your feet downstream and your floatie in the whitewater section of the channel.

If you have small children with you or if you’d rather walk around it, just hoof it along the portage trail and hop back in the water on the other end of the channel.

You can also call it a day at the bridge and enjoy a relatively short walk back to the put-in point.

Or you can keep on floating . . .

 

Got it. Let’s keep going!

If you choose to continue floating past the Colorado Avenue Bridge, you’ll eventually find yourself drifting into Drake Park. As you approach the Galveston Avenue Bridge, start making your way to the right.

Just past the bridge, you’ll see a small beach on the right side of the river. That’s where you’ll want to hop out.

And since you already made plans to Ride the River Shuttle, you’ll have an easy time getting back to your vehicle or to the put-in spot so you can do the whole thing all over again.

 

What else do I need to know?

A few more rules, tips, and general advice to avoid breaking the law or being a jerk:

Enjoy your float!
  • Local ordinances make it illegal to drink alcohol on the Deschutes River or in a Bend park, so leave the brews at home. You know what’s also illegal? Sinking your beer cans or bottles in the water. If the cops catch you doing it, they’ll fine you. If a local catches you doing it, you’ll get a pretty serious tongue-lashing about littering and the importance of protecting Bend’s natural beauty.
  • Despite the fact that marijuana is legal in Oregon, it’s not legal to blaze up in public places. Leave the bong behind, guys.
  • Keep in mind that the full float will take anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes. Plan on half that time if you jump out at the Colorado Avenue Bridge.
  • Parking can be crowded at Riverbend Park, but it’s downright insane at Drake Park. Seriously, Ride the River Shuttle. I promise you’ll thank me.
  • Bend Park and Rec has a full page devoted to the Bend Whitewater Park and tips for floating the river. Check it out here.
  • Want a big-picture overview of the Deschutes River and where all the hazards lie? The Bulletin recently ran an excellent graphic you can scope out right here.
  • New this year, there’s an organized effort to encourage floaters to Enjoy, Protect, and Respect the river. It’s a fabulous initiative, and you can read all about it here.
  • Want more tips on navigating Bend like a pro? Check out our Visit Like a Local page!

Happy floating, everyone!

17 responses to “What you should know about floating the Deschutes River in 2018”

  1. After Labor Day, when the Ride the River Shuttle isn’t running, is there another way to return back up river? I just planned a trip to Bend the weekend of September 8-9. Thanks!

    • Jenna,
      Some people do the two-car shuffle, leaving one at Drake Park and one at Riverbend. Others just float to the Whitewater Park and take out there, then hoof it back to Riverbend (it’s not terribly far) and put in again there.

    • I took a Lyft one time when the River Shuttle was over an hour late, it cost me 6 bucks. I just deflated my tubes, and I have a dry bag for a towel.

    • Hi, Kimberly. Did you see somewhere that the river shuttle is free? It definitely isn’t, so let us know if you saw inaccurate information somewhere so we can make sure to correct that.

    • Adam,
      It kinda depends on whether you’re paddling a little or just floating, and also on how much you linger and play in the Whitewater Park. I’d say an hour to an hour and a half is a safe estimate.

  2. I think if I have $3 cash with me I can pay the driver of the shuttle for the trip back to Riverbend Park. However, is it possible to purchase the shuttle wristband before floating the river?

    • Tiffany,
      That can vary pretty wildly. Some years we get a nice, long summer that lasts well into early October, and other years we’ll have snow by the same date. I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that you can float through most of September, though there’s a good chance it’ll be getting chillier (not to mention dark earlier) near the end of the month. Happy floating!

    • Lauren, generally speaking, yes. Weekends get more crowded because that’s when locals are more likely to be off work and out on the river. That said, pretty much every day in August can be pretty busy 🙂

  3. Is it worth the float and also what about obstacles how do you dodge those. And how do you stop? So I definitely have some questions.

    • Hi, Amy! Only you can judge whether you think it’s worth it, but it’s certainly one of the most popular activities in Bend. I’ve done it literally hundreds of times and still continue to enjoy it, so that’s my .02.

      The post talks about the Bend Whitewater Park and the decision you’ll need to make about whether to ride the rapids or just hop out and walk around. If you’re unsure, it’s easy to just paddle your way to the edge and get out (or literally just stand up and walk to the shore….it’s shallow in that portion of the river).

      This section of river isn’t whitewater, if that’s what you’re imagining. It’s a slow, lazy float, and you use your hands to paddle your way to the left or the right shore when it’s time to get out. Other than that, you just float!

      Enjoy!

  4. Hello, I am a seasoned SUP-er as well as my dog (he has a life jacket a well). However, is it so crowded that I’d need to be concerned about people bumping into us the whole time and tipping us over or do floaters/paddlers spread out? Also, are the rapids easy to navigate on a SUP? Thanks!

    • Hi, Jen! For the section of the river starting at Riverbend Park and paddling upstream toward the Bill Healey Bridge (then paddling or floating back to the put-in point) there are no rapids. You could also put in at Riverbend and go downstream instead, but I definitely wouldn’t take a paddleboard through the Bend Whitewater Park. It’s easy to take out and portage around, then put back in on the other side of the bridge and continue on to Drake Park. But you’d need to be mindful of how you’ll be getting your board and your dog back to the put-in point, which is why we always prefer to do the Riverbend-to-Healey-Bridge route.

      People do spread out on the river, but it can get crowded on weekends. As a SUPer, you’ll have more control of your direction than the river floaters will, so it’s generally up to you to avoid them (not terribly tough to do). The problem I encounter more often with my dog is that she gets excited about all the other people on the river, and when they call out to her (hey, puppy puppy!) she hops off my board and paddles over to them. That’s one reason I prefer to go during quieter times (weekday evenings) if I’m SUPing with my pup.

      Happy paddling!
      Tawna

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