No Endless Summer for Oregon Tubers

BEND, OR –, the region’s source for local information, proclaims, “There’s a law in Bend that says no one shall visit our fair city in the summer months without floating the Deschutes River at least once.” Honestly, that statement could not hold more truth for both locals and tourists. Each year, around mid-June, snow-melt from the Cascades begins to increase water levels of the Deschutes River, creating a nice current perfect for floating. It’s an amazing opportunity to enjoy one of the most scenic, unique, and enjoyable experiences you can have in Bend. Unfortunately, as we locals are full-aware, there is no endless summer in the Pacific Northwest. So, pump up those tubes and hit the river before time runs out on another season!

Bend Parks & Recreation had made it easier than ever to enjoy a float downstream by adding a River Shuttle, a Park & Float facility and on-site outfitters. You can also stay in the river and continue through the state-of-the-art Bend Whitewater Park. The park offers a mildly-wild passageway (amusingly referred to as “da chute” by a few locals) for floaters, plus a whitewater channel for experienced paddlers and a nature habitat channel designed to preserve Bend’s aquatic wildlife.

Once Summer officially arrives, a fabulous way, of course, is to spend a hot summer day soaking up the sun atop a gently bobbing inner tube as you float down one of Oregon’s cool, clear rivers. There’s a long list of quality places to float the Beaver State.
Partial to the far-reaching waterway in Bend, the Deschutes River offers one of the most complete adventures, including a man-made whitewater rapids experience, adding an exclusive “theme park” ride element before you casually flow through a residential lagoon, reminiscent of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. You may even be lucky enough to be serenaded by an act performing at the Les Schwab Amphitheater, just a stone’s throw from the riverbank. There’s even public transportation available specifically for tubers and their chosen crafts.

An awesome place to float near Portland, the Sandy River won’t disappoint. This is a popular place for urbanites to cool down and relax in the summertime, as it’s only twenty or so minutes from downtown. Although this location doesn’t offer the amenities of Bend, the shores are lined with houses and public beaches, enjoyed by the locals and Portlandians alike. You’ll have plenty of people to share hoots and hollers with along the way. The waters themselves are a bit smoother, and there are fewer category-worthy rapids, making it not a good choice for smaller children as it can get a bit dicey toward the end as the ride.
There are numerous places to float along the Willamette River, though one of the most memorable outings is the yearly Big Float event, in which hundreds of people grab their inner tubes and other floatation devices and set off on a massive floating celebration of the Willamette River. Here, you can catch an awesome view of the Portland skyline and its bridges. What the heck is The Big Float?

The goal of The Big Float, quite simply, is to encourage people to “get into their river” and support its preservation and healthy development as a recreational resource. And to have a whale of a good time in the process. The annual event is a fundraiser for the Human Access Project. Open to all ages, TBF begins with, naturally, a parade. Floaters gather at Tom McCall Bowl Beach (where the Blues Festival is held), then carry or wear their floatation devices and march south along Waterfront Park to the put-in point at Poet’s Beach beneath the Marquam Bridge. Floaters will paddle down river and land on the west bank at the Tom McCall Bowl. Here, Portland’s grandest downtown beach party will be held – complete with music barge and live bands, food carts, beer/wine garden, sponsor booths, and a kids’ activities area.

The Clackamas River, with its combination of natural beauty, lazy pace, and proximity to Portland can draw a crowd, so it’s unlikely that you’ll have the river to yourself. A well-known spot with both hipsters from the inner city and all kinds of Portland suburbanites – but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting though! The Clackamas is a wilder ride, with more rocks and faster rapids. It also has a more secluded shoreline. If you’re looking to get in touch with nature, this is your jam. But be warned: It’s a bit more aggressive, so only serious tubists need apply.
If you’re looking for a river float near Eugene, a fantastic option and one of the most picturesque, is taking a trip down the McKenzie River. There are a couple rough spots you’ll want to navigate around, but otherwise it’s quite an easy ride. And many Portlanders forget that there are nearby rivers in Washington, as well, including the Washougal, which is just an hour from Portland, northwest of Vancouver. The drive is pretty enough, the river not nearly as crowded as any of those closer to the city, and the water is refreshingly cold. Another Southwest Washington gem, the East Fork of the Lewis River is beautiful, less crowded than anything closer to Portland, and a bit colder than some of the others on this list.

There you have it, a rundown of the best river floats across the Oregon and SW Washington. Whether you choose to brave the urban waters of the Willamette, or would prefer the scenic beauty and colder rapids of one of the outlying sites, get out there and cool off while exploring the region’s rivers – on a tube!
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References: Visit Bend | Only In Your State | Urban Nest PDX | The Big Float | W Week