Discover the 6 Best Rivers for Whitewater Rafting in Oregon

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Published: September 12, 2023
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Oregon summers can be an absolute delight. Although the weather can feel great, sometimes it’s just too hot! Thankfully, there are a plethora of ways to cool off in Oregon. 

We have a number of incredible swimming holes, but if you’re looking for something more exciting, consider whitewater rafting. There are leisurely floats down the Deschutes River. Adrenaline junkies can take on the waters of The Rogue! 

 Either way, you’re bound to have a good time. Check out these top rivers to go whitewater rafting in Oregon. 

1. Upper Klamath River

The Klamath River empties into the Pacific Ocean.

©randy andy/Shutterstock.com

The Boyle Powerhouse Dam here serves as the Upper Klamath’s beginning and finishing points. In addition to the thundering river, there is breathtaking scenery teeming with wildlife and the unusual disused mine, cottage, or ancient Indian hamlet. 

Before entering the five-mile-long Hell’s Canyon canyon, there are numerous easy class II and III rapids to ease you into the experience. Then comes the IV+ Caldera rapid, which is steep and lengthy with foreboding rocks and deep pits.

After a few class III rapids, Satan’s Gate, an adequate and enjoyable IV, gives you a chance to breathe before what comes next. Hell’s Corner, a half-mile IV+ that is going to have you gasping for air and giving you an adrenaline rush you won’t soon forget, is the final portion of this run!

2. Owyhee River

Owyhee River rock formations with blue sky above

Unique rock formations along the Owyhee River bring in visitors from all over the country.

©Charles Knowles/Shutterstock.com

The Owyhee is a massive five million-acre nature area with only three paved roads. There is a river that Oregon is fortunate to have with the same name. Imagine canoeing alongside gorges with walls that tower in a region described by the Bureau of Land Management as the most isolated, challenging high desert canyon system in the country.

Although this river is simple to navigate by yourself, three and 10-day guided trips are available. The Owyhee River provides both locals and tourists with magnificent beauty along the entire run. 

Middle Owyhee is excellent in the springtime and is 39 miles from Three Forks to Rome. There are IV and V rapids on this shorter run, which will quickly give you an adrenaline rush like no other! 

3. The Rogue

Grand Canyon National Park - Rafting

Novice paddlers should stick to class I and II rapids.

©Jim Mallouk/Shutterstock.com

In Oregon, white water rafting involves more than simply the river itself. Their rivers are among the most beautiful in the world. This is a terrific river for people at all skill levels. Options include a three-to-four-day float through the untamed and gorgeous section, which is only accessible by lottery or guide. 

There is also a two-day trip on a riverbank beach. You can enjoy an entire day on the river through the Hellgate. Lastly, you can enjoy a half-day trip here that will be nothing short of memorable. There are a few major holes, such as the Class IV Nugget Falls and the almost impossibly low Powerhouse spillway that slowly emerges before plummeting 10 feet below it. 

For short excursions, kayaks are incredibly popular and ideal for young people. The half-day guided tours typically cover seven miles and last three hours in the water. Running 14 miles in six hours makes up the full-day run. 

4. The Upper Clackamas River

Clackamas river

Surprisingly, the Clackamas River is a popular cycling destination.

©Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock.com

There are numerous locations to put in along Oregon Highway 224, which follows the Clackamas River from Three Lynx to North Fork. Despite the fact that this river receives a lot of traffic due to its popularity as a white water rafting destination close to Portland, it feels relatively unspoiled.

Something to note is that this river is not suitable for recreational floaters. With constant class II and III rapids for 13 miles and plenty of class IV rips along the way, it’s an adventure. It kicks off at Sandstone Bridge with a boom, and before you know it, you’re knee-deep in Powerhouse. 

You quickly find yourself in a nearly two-mile-long tight gorge. Roaring River Rapids is where the Roaring River meets the Clackamas River. Here you will find class III rapids where the flow significantly increases. 

Hole in the Wall, a truly large IV, is then suddenly directly in front of you as you brace for the most exciting run of the river.

5. North Santiam River

north santiam park

Chimney Peak is the most prominent part of the Santiam River.

©Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock.com

Approximately 36 miles east of Salem, you’ll find North Santiam. This is a great spot for paddlers of all ages. There’s an eight-mile section from Packsaddle to Fisherman’s Bend that’s plenty of fun. 

Then, Fisherman’s Bend to Mehama Bridge, a six-mile portion of this beautiful river, is another main portion that paddlers enjoy. Stay around Packsaddle Park and let loose if you’re looking for some entertaining thrills and a little challenge.

There’s a strong class II wave the locals call Swirlies. These are in the river throughout early summer. Thereafter, you will get three miles of reasonably consistent wave riding, interrupted only by vistas of forested areas. 

Swirlies are the ideal location to practice. Spencer’s Hole, a genuine III+ rapid is also an excellent spot in this river.

6. McKenzie River

Goodpasture Covered Bridge over the McKenzie River

Along the McKenzie river in Oregon the well-preserved Goodpasture covered bridge is visible.

©BurneyImageCreator/ via Getty Images

There are only Class II and III rapids here, yet it is one of Oregon’s most exuberant rivers. The 42 miles of the McKenzie are raftable, but the 10 miles from Finn Rock to Prince Helfrich are the most well-liked section. Kayakers are everywhere since there are so many places to play.

The river, which is populated by a variety of watercraft, is chilly even in August. The McKenzie is an immaculate treasure of Oregon with a stunning shade of blue. There are many surf breaks that offer demanding enjoyment and an adrenaline boost.

Although Brown’s Hole and Marten Rapids, class III rapids are popular and have thrown several rafts around.

Summary of the Best Whitewater Rafting in Oregon

RiverLength
Upper Klamath River263 miles
Owyhee River280 miles
The Rogue215 miles
The Upper Clackamas River82.7 miles
North Santiam River92 miles
McKenzie River90 miles

The photo featured at the top of this post is © PPstock/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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