As I look ahead, my view of the way forward disappears while I quickly approach the horizon line. A few yards in front of me, my friend skips over the drop and vanishes. Following close behind I hop over the ledge and land softly into a world of white. One might think I am experiencing a powder day on Mt. Bachelor; however, winter is over — it’s summertime in Central Oregon, and for whitewater kayakers that means riding the snow melt on Meadow Camp, one of the many rapids on the Deschutes River.
Whitewater kayaking has a smaller group of adventure seekers than other more popular summertime sports like hiking, mountain biking and stand up paddle boarding. Recently the sport has gained interest with the completion of the Bend Whitewater Park. The park is very popular but just a few miles upstream there are some amazing whitewater rapids for whitewater kayakers. Extreme rapids like Benham, Dillon and Lava Island Falls are options for experts, though the local summertime favorite is the more intermediate run, Meadow Camp.
This busy stretch of whitewater starts at the River Rim Park put in and has four difficult rapids. Most of them can be viewed from along the Deschutes River Trail. A hiking trail from River Canyon Park leads down to the river, which offers views of the main rapid at the Diversion Dam. This rapid is famous for causing many paddlers to flip earning the appropriate nickname “Dammit.”
Other named rapids further downstream are “Amazing” and “100%,” as in if you flip over there’s a 100% chance of hitting your head on a rock. As the names suggest, these rapids are to be given the utmost respect and require advanced skills, and proper gear to navigate. The Meadow Camp run effectively ends at 100%, just downstream of Mt. Bachelor Village, though the takeout is Bend Farewell Park.
Several years ago, a few local paddlers organized a race on Meadow Camp. The race has grown in popularity bringing in expert kayakers from all over. Paddlers are timed and have a gate they must paddle thru as they make their way thru the rapids. This unique race combines whitewater paddling skills with strength and endurance as participants navigate powerful river currents all while attempting to remain upright. The race has been part of the Subaru Outside Games, an event in July, though some years the race is on a different date due to river flows. There will be no race this year due to COVID 19, though you still might see kayakers on Meadow Camp as social distancing is very easy to practice in rapids. Hopefully the race will be back next summer.
For folks who are interested in learning how to whitewater kayak, Tumalo Creek Canoe and Kayak and Bend Kayak School offer rentals and basic lessons. One very important skill to learn is a combat roll, or the ability to flip an upside down kayak right side up while in rapids. Juniper Swim and Fitness in Bend and Redmond offer practice roll sessions Sunday evenings during the winter months, which is a great place to learn to roll. Availability may be impacted by COVID 19, so check with each organization individually if you are interested in lessons or rentals.
If you want to experience whitewater without learning to kayak, the Big Eddy rafting trip is a great option. Local rafting guides Sun Country Tours and Seventh Mountain River Company are popular choices and offer convenient trips from Bend and Sunriver.
The unique experience of paddling whitewater on the beautiful Deschutes is a memorable one and we are fortunate to have it so close by. Being immersed in the rapids creates a thrilling experience. Please make sure to put safety first and know where you are on the river. The Bend Paddle Trail Alliance Facebook site is a great resource for information on the Deschutes Paddle Trail and the rapids on it. Deschutes River Guidebooks are also available for purchase at local shops including Tumalo Creek Canoe and Kayak. For whitewater kayakers the Facebook group Bend Whitewater is a great site to check out what’s running currently and who maybe up for a whitewater adventure. Whether you want to run Meadow Camp, huck off Dillon Falls or raft the Big Eddy, may your Deschutes River adventure be a memorable one with lots of grins, and paddle high fives. See you on the river.