How Long Is the Deschutes River From Start to End?

Written by Telea Dodge
Published: October 15, 2023
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There are 55 rivers in the state of Oregon, all of which deserve some kind of mention or praise. Oregon, a state in the Pacific Northwest, is prodigious for its rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, and coastal access. The Oregon Coast is the only coast in the United States that ensures that every single mile is open to the public. As you can tell from just a few sentences, the state cares deeply about water and access to it. In fact, 70 percent of the population of Oregon relies on one river – the Willamette River.

Today, we’re going to talk about a different Oregon river. Flowing through the Deschutes National Forest and draining the eastern side of the Cascade Range, this impressive river is nothing to scoff at. Today, we’re going to dive right into it. How long is the Deschutes River? Where does it start and end? We’re going to explore all of that – and more!

How Long is the Deschutes River?

looking north on the deschutes

The Deschutes River is 252 miles long from start to end.

©garytmarsh/iStock via Getty Images

From start to end, the Deschutes River is 252 miles long. This is an impressive length for a smaller river. We can compare it in length to the 363 mile coastline of the state. If you took the Deschutes River and laid it out in parallel with the Oregon coast, it would run for just over 2/3 of the distance. How does this compare to other important rivers in the state? We’ll argue that four of the most important rivers in Oregon are the Willamette River, the Rogue River, the Umpqua River, and the Columbia River. We’ve created a helpful table of these rivers and their lengths to compare them to the Deschutes River. Of the rivers listed on this table, only one of them flows outside of Oregon – the Columbia River.

RiverLength
Willamette River187 miles
Rogue River215 miles
Deschutes River252 miles
Umpqua River111 miles
Columbia River1,243 miles

How does the Deschutes River stack up against other rivers in the nation? It’s actually a relatively short river in comparison to the greats of the United States. The two longest rivers in the nation, for example, are the Missouri River (2,341 miles) and the Mississippi River (2,340 miles). It is kind of unfair to compare this river to these two. The Missouri River takes the title for longest river in all of North America, while the Mississippi River claims the title of North America’s largest watershed.

The Course of the Deschutes River

Benham Falls

The Deschutes River starts in the Cascade Range and ends when it meets the Columbia River.

©Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images

The Deschutes River originates at Little Lava Lake in the Deschutes National Forest. Little Lava Lake sits about 26 miles northwest of La Pine, Oregon. This is on the east side of the Cascade Range, where it helps to drain the entire region. Interestingly, this northerly-flowing river begins by flowing in southerly direction. It first flows into Crane Prairie Reservoir, a reservoir formed by a dam. It then makes its way another two miles to another reservoir – Wickiup Reservoir. Wickiup Reservoir is the second-largest reservoir in Oregon at 2.6 miles long. It is fed entirely by the Deschutes River.

After filling this reservoir, the Deschutes still has a long way to go before it reaches its end. After Wickiup, the river flows northeast into La Pine State Park and meets Sun River before flowing into the city of Bend. This is the largest city that the Deschutes River will meet. Newport Dam blocks some of the river flowage at Bend to create Mirror Pond, then the river flows through Tumalo and west of Redmond. Another dam rises shortly after – Round Butte Dam. This dam actually dams three rivers – the Deschutes, the Metolius, and the Crooked Fork. Another dam further on creates the Lake Simtustus Reservoir.

The Deschutes River will only encounter one more dam before it achieves free flow for the rest of its course. This dam, the Pelton Regulating Dam, creates the Pelton Regulating Reservoir. After this dam, the Deschutes will go on to define one boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. At this point, it flows entirely north. This section of the river is a world-class fishing destination and very popular white-water rafting destination. It is protected from more dams and alterations by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The river passes through the town of Maupin and then drops 15 feet at Sherars Falls. It then flows 42 miles before it meets the Columbia River.

Tributaries of the Deschutes River

There are nine or more tributaries of the Deschutes River. We are going to briefly touch on a number of these tributaries before moving on. Knowing about the tributaries of a river helps us to define the shape of a drainage basin and understand how a river flows. Let’s begin!

Snow Creek

Snow Creek reaches a length of 7.9 miles and is a small tributary of the Deschutes River. It has an elevation of 4,449 feet and rests in the Three Sisters Wilderness, which is a part of the Deschutes National Forest in the Cascade Range. This creek is close to the headwaters of the Deschutes River.

Crooked River

This is the longest tributary of the Deschutes River, with a length of 125 miles. It is a spawning ground for two iconic species of Pacific Northwest fish – the Chinook salmon and the Columbia steelhead. The crooked river begins at the confluence of the South Fork Crooked River and Beaver Creek and flows all the way to its confluence with the Deschutes River at Lake Billy Chinook.

Cultus River

The Cultus River, contrary to its name, is actually just a stream. It rests in the high Cascades near the headwaters of the Deschutes River. This stream originates at Cultus Lake in Oregon and flows only three miles before emptying into Crane Prairie Reservoir and joining the Deschutes River.

Fall River

The Fall River, much like the Cultus River, is actually just a stream. It is spring-fed and flows magically through pine forests. This stream is a massive contributor of brown trout to the Deschutes River and is a popular fishing destination during certain seasons. This stream is only 12 miles long but it is an important part of the local ecosystem and of the Deschutes River as a whole.

Little Deschutes River

The Little Deschutes River is another lengthy tributary of the Deschutes. It spans 105 miles a flows through a glacial canyon to meet the main river near Sunriver. This little river alone has a drainage basin of 1,020 square miles! It is one of only three streams in the Deschutes Basin that is listed as parts of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. It is also a critical habitat for a number of wild endemic fish species.

Tumalo Creek

Tumalo Creek not be as long as some of the other tributaries of the Deschutes River, but it is important to the overall experience. This mighty creek flows 20 miles, from rising in the Cascade Range to falling 97 feet down Tumalo Falls (and several other smaller falls) before meeting the Deschutes River. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it is the primary drinking water source for the City of Bend, Oregon.

Summary

A helpful infographic shows some of the most important information about the Deschutes River.

The Deschutes River is an impressive 252 miles long and is fed by several important tributaries before flowing into the largest river in the Pacific Northwest – the Columbia River. Parts of this river are protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This is only one of 55 beautiful rivers in the state of Oregon, and it plays host to several important spawning grounds for fish species.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © steve davis/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Telea Dodge is an animal enthusiast and nature fiend with a particular interest in teaching a sense of community and compassion through interactions with the world at large. Carrying a passion for wild foraging, animal behaviorism, traveling, and music, Telea spends their free time practicing their hobbies while exploring with their companion dog, Spectre.

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