The state of Oregon is in the heart of the Pacific Northwest and is full of rivers that need to be whitewater rafted. With multiple high elevation mountain ranges coupled with large amounts of moisture building off of its Oregon coast shoreline you just can’t get much better of an environment for healthy stream-flow which is exactly what whitewater rafting needs. Lots of water going downhill fast! Below is a short list of some of my favorite whitewater runs in the state of Oregon. If you are searching for a commercial rafting outfitter make sure to know what to expect from them and what they might expect from your. And don’t hesitate to dig into their websites to look for specials and discounts.

This list is certainly not comprehensive as Oregon has hundreds of great rivers to choose from. However, there are some classics that are perfect for those wanting to get out for the afternoon with a commercial rafting outfitter and those are what we will concentrate on.

Whitewater in Oregon state
Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival in Oregon

Rafting and Kayaking the Rogue River – Southern Oregon

Nationally famous for many reasons the Rogue River in southern Oregon offers full day and half day options and is a super opportunity for family style rafting on class II and III whitewater. Just outside of the town of Merlin Oregon you’ll find outfitters that will set you up with standard rafting opportunities and inflatable kayaking opportunities. This is some relatively easy whitewater with nice easy stretches of mellow rafting interspersed with fun rapids. Oregon’s Rogue River was named Wild and Scenic in the first round of federal designation for such in 1968. If you’ve watched the move River Wild you might recognize some of the scenery. While the one day rafting trips do not sport a ton of whitewater the river really makes up for it in the depth of its color and the impressive rock formations along with very lush timber all the way to river’s edge. Don’t just go to the Rogue for the rafting as the history is deep, just like parts of the river. With a multitude of Native American sites and history, gold rush lore and amazing Steelhead and Salmon fishing not to mention some really unique cabins that I’ve stayed in I know that you will enjoy your visit.

Big Whitewater on the Snake River of Hell’s Canon – Eastern Oregon

The Snake River through Hell’s Canyon is the Oregon / Idaho state border and the deepest gorge in all of North America. The Snake is a large volume whitewater river sporting my favorite kind of rapids, those super long rapids with lots of standing waves. It’s a whitewater roller coaster. When you launch a raft into Hell’s Canyon you are rafting into isolation. The river and trails are the only passages through the canyon. Therefore, day trip rafting in Hell’s Canyon requires a jetboat ride back to your vehicle at the end of the day which is pretty darn cool to get to power through all of those same rapids for a second time in one day. Oregon has a dam system on the Snake River which causes the river to warm up a good deal. In the summer months I don’t think I’ve measured the water temperature below 70 degrees. In-between rapids jumping in for a life jacket float can be very pleasant. Like the Rogue River in Southern Oregon the Snake gets a good deal of TV and Movie publicity. Over the past few years I’ve work gigs for Bear Grills survival show and for Warner Brother’s movie “Vacation” coordinating river safety and training stunt doubles for their scenes. Bring a fishing pole and some small-mouth bass jigs. The warm water of the Snake River keeps the fishing highly active. On my last trip on the Snake we had a fishing competition during one day’s float. I won $3.

Rafting whitewater
Whitewater rafting lining up for one big splash.

Rafting – Kayaking – SUP on the Deschutes River – Central Oregon

Everybody loves rafting in Central Oregon on the Deschutes River and this is the most popular Oregon whitewater rafting the state has. The Deschutes River is a long river with two main river portal points for rafting headquarters, one in the Bend/Sunriver, Oregon area and the other in Maupin, Oregon area. Both offer day trips and each are different from the other. The rafting trips in the Bend/Sun River area are shorter day trips and perfect for folks with limited time with one really fun class III rapid. For those traveling through Central  Oregon you will probably be on Hwy 97 which is easy access to this section of rafting. In Maupin, Oregon the Deschutes river offers both half-day and full-day rafting adventures and sports a nice list of rapids with long sections of mellow floating to soak in the sunshine. This section of whitewater is extra special to me as my first solo whitewater trip took place there. I was 12 years old and dad turned me loose to challenge the rapids solo while he followed in the family raft. What could go wrong? It became my career.

Columbia River Gorge – Northern Oregon

The Columbia River Gorge spans/divides Oregon and Washington and has 10 sweet rivers flowing into it. The best whitewater of this area is the White Salmon River which technically is not Oregon whitewater rafting, but is right on the border in the state of Washington. The White Salmon is the most exciting commercial rafting trip on this list of four rivers and has day trips on different sections that give you the choice of going aggressive or keeping it less intimidating. The thing about the White Salmon is that it goes downhill fast so even in the spots where there is no whitewater the river keeps moving right along making your rafting trip physically easier. Along the White Salmon River rafting trips is Husum Falls an optional 14ft waterfall that many folks walk around and many folks go for the challenge of running it. The White Salmon River has it all no matter what your skill set or schedule. Full day rafting, ½ day rafting and ¾ day rafting. 

Husum Falls is a huge rapid.
Husum Falls is the highest commercially run waterfall in the Pacific North West

There is so much Oregon whitewater rafting that we will have to come back to this topic another time. This should at least wet (pun intended) your appetite for some fun rafting on your next trip to Oregon.

Oregon Whitewater Guide
Mark Zoller has been guiding whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers since 1985. He lives in and loves the Columbia River Gorge
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