Tour the Upper Deschutes

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Yesterday I helped to lead a nine-person kayak tour of the Upper Deschutes from Slough Camp, up to Benham Falls and down to the take-out just above Dillon Falls. Visitors who come to Bend usually experience the Deschutes on a relaxing tube float through the Old Mill to Drake Park, or on a wild whitewater adventure down the Big Eddy Rapid. Tumalo Creek’s half-day tour from the Slough Camp put-in gives paddlers a glimpse of both a pristine and peacefully calm section of the river close to town, but far enough away to offer an escape into wilderness: the perfect trip for a family with a 1 p.m. T-time or the desire to explore Bend’s trails or Breweries by foot in the afternoon.

Our tour explores the moving flatwater section of the river between two major rapids on the Deschutes River between Benham Falls and Dillon Falls. Both of these Class IV – VI rapids are only run by expert kayakers and at the end of our journey we took a walk down to see the massive power of the cascading river over lava rocks and down falls.

After put-in we enjoyed the uncrowded stretch of calm moving flat water, where even the most novice kayakers had no problem paddling up the gentle current. We are the only permitted guide service for this Upper Deschutes stretch of river and we only saw a few hikers and fishers during our two hour exploration. We are psyched to be able to offer an experience that feels so far away, but is yet so close to the amenities of Bend.

Our group consisted of nine family members reuniting at Black Butte Ranch for a family reunion and many of them were kayak enthusiasts, but some had never paddled a boat before. The newbies (athletic teenagers, go figure) easily picked it up and made their way to the front of the group soon after we departed. We worked our way upstream to the bottom of Benham Falls where we could see a little whitewater water ahead and could feel the strength of the current close to the falls. We took a short rest in an eddy behind a fallen tree where  Tumalo Creek kayak guide Bob Marsch gave us a naturalist talk about Newberry Crater and the volcanic history of Central Oregon. Bob is a retired member of the forest service and has a wealth of knowledge about the environmental geography of the land.

Our group then turned around and floated downstream to a river trail, which leads to the “slough,” or swamp-like area, hidden from the rest of the river. The water was clear and we could see part way down a long lava tube, which was formed at the same time as Newberry Crater National Monument. The family posed for a family reunion pic and then passed around sandwiches and fruit. There was a light breeze, which kept the bugs away, and baby ducks flirted around our boats in search for lazy crumbs.

We continued down river and took in the magnificent Cascade Mountains to the west which has been the site for many “Old West” movies, and grouped up to talk about how to spend the next hour: more paddling or a hike down to the falls and a quick and cold swim in the river. We had a lot of kids in the group who were happy to play in the waters by the take out, and we all eventually headed down the well-defined trail to view Dillon Falls. The Deschutes River near Bend is a place of extremes and our journey is a perfect metaphor for this river’s moods, lazy, to intense to lazy again.

Tumalo Creek’s 1/2 day Slough Camp tour can be done with kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards and is a great option for groups looking for something more scenic, active and peaceful than the Old Mill tube float with the added bonus of guides who will keep you safe and provide interesting facts about the great and wondrrous landscape that makes up Central Oregon.