Take Me to the River

 Epic adventures on our Wild and Scenic Rivers

With nearly 60 Wild and Scenic Rivers, Oregon has more than any other state. It’s no surprise that the Cascade region boasts its fair share of these waterways, and you’re probably familiar with the Wild and Scenic headliners around us. Many of us have hiked along the Metolius, or gone rafting down the Deschutes. But have you fished the stately canyons of Crescent Creek or paddled a kayak through the narrows of the Little Deschutes River? Have you gone sightseeing in White River Falls or panned for gold in Quartzville Creek? This summer, discover these lesser-known top adventures on Central Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rivers.


The White River

Waterfall watching

The White River is born from Mt. Hood’s White River glacier and travels a scant 53 miles through some remarkably diverse Columbia Plateau landscape before its confluence with the Deschutes. Along the way, the river tumbles in dramatic fashion. White River Falls is one of Oregon’s finest and easily accessed cascades, residing in a fairly unsuspecting landscape outside of Maupin. While technically two separate cascades, White River and Celestial Falls produce a one-two punch that will leave waterfall hunters slack-jawed. White ribbons of water slice through eroded wedges of basalt, collecting into a splash pool before spilling over a second punchbowl cascade. Due in part to its remote location and relative obscurity, the falls sees far fewer visitors than other Oregon showstoppers, and requires just a short hike to access.

To visit White River Falls State Park, drive north from Maupin on US 197 for 9.6 miles. Turn right onto OR 216 and drive four more miles to White River Falls State Park. Follow a short but steep-ish dirt path a quarter-mile down to a viewing area of the falls.


North Fork of the Crooked River

Canyon exploring

The high desert east of Prineville is home to some of the state’s best high prairie hiking. Carved through the prairie is a section of river canyon that will inspire anyone with an appreciation for unspoiled wilderness. This is the North Fork of the Crooked River. It’s remote, but not too remote—the price of admission is some dirt road driving and off-trail scrambling. The rewards will make you feel like you cheated the outdoor gods. Imposing basalt cliffs, sprawling meadows, waterfalls and ancient stands of ponderosa pine all act in concert to produce a wild Oregon experience. Traverse the trail-less area like an old-time explorer under the wide-open sky of the high desert.

Travel National Forest Road (NF) 42 to NF 4225. Drive south and pick a spot that’s to your liking. For explicit directions contact either the Prineville BLM at (541) 416-6700 or the Ochoco National Forest office at (541) 416-6500.


Quartzville Creek

Gold mining

The Wild and Scenic section of Quartzville Creek is a narrow creek pouring through a canyon in a lush and green old-growth forest of pine, fir and alder. It’s also a prime spot for recreational mining. Yes, gold panning! Dip your pan into the soil and swirl the water in hopes of seeing that speck of gold flash in the summer sun. You might just end up padding your retirement savings. This place is great for kayaking, camping and fishing, too.

From Highway 20, take Quartzville Road past the Green Peter Reservoir and cross the Rocky Top Bridge. From there all the way up to Galena Creek, roughly 12 miles, you can rockhound and pan for gold all you want. Contact the BLM Salem Office at (503) 375-5646 for guidelines.


Little Deschutes River


Kayakers who enjoy winding turns, calmer water and wildlife sightings should check out the Little Deschutes River, which coils its way along the landscape southwest of the city of Bend. This tributary of the well-known river that bisects Bend is a can’t-miss, close-in option for paddling. Birds sing, meadow grasses sway, and ancient Cascade Mountain peaks come peacefully into view along this somewhat overlooked and very scenic waterway. Dip that paddle!

A number of put-in and take-out options exist along 26 miles of paddle-worthy water from LaPine to the confluence with the Deschutes near Sunriver. For rentals, guides and more info on river segments, contact Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe at (541) 317-9407.


Crescent Creek

Fly fishing

The world-class fly fishing available in Central Oregon is hardly a secret—visiting popular waters at prime time means you’re likely to encounter as many rods as fish. Crescent Creek south of La Pine is an excellent tributary affording anglers the chance to cast a bit more unfettered. One of the best destinations is a canyon section just off of Crescent Cutoff Road. Here you’ll feel the cool air following the creek commingled with the smell of warm pine needles, the creek water and the desert in summer. Wait until you get a glimpse of the sizeable brown and rainbow trout that just happen to dwell in this gorgeous little creek. Fish on!

From the town of Crescent on Highway 97, take the Crescent Cutoff Road towards Highway 58. As the road begins to round the north side of Odell Butte, it crosses the creek. Continue another 1.5 miles to a long shoulder on the south side of the road. Park here and scramble down to the creek. Check with Oregon Fish & Wildlife at (503) 947-6000 for information on licensure and fishing regulations.


Upper Rogue River


Spring-born north of Crater Lake, the Upper Rogue flows fast and clean, squeezing through and exploding from narrow chasms, skirting pumice flatlands, and meandering lazily past open meadows. The Rogue River is perhaps the most renowned rafting destination in Oregon. But the Upper Rogue is an entirely different waterway than the one that brings paddlers from around the globe. And since most visitors in the area are racing each other to Crater Lake, the Upper Rogue River Trail remains mostly hidden in the welcome shade of incense cedars and ponderosa pines. It’s a wild and scenic treasure trove that might just be all yours, even on a summer day.

The Upper Rogue River Trail follows the river closely. Easy access is available at the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge Trail along Highway 62. A more secluded option is between the Crater Rim Viewpoint and the Hamaker Campground, along Highway 230. If you begin at the Crater Rim Trailhead, take the Boundary Springs Trail to see the headwaters of the river.


Popular adventures on three more Wild and Scenic Rivers

Metolius River Hiking

The Metolius somehow always seems to be playing second chair to other rivers in the region. And that suits those that covet the pristine waterway just fine. The clean, cold waters of the Metolius run almost unimaginably blue. Heaven for hikers, a 15-mile trail winds through ponderosa pines and alongside a river accented by swirling cobalt pools and hillside springs. There are a number of trailheads, but the one at Wizard Falls also sports a fish hatchery and a pleasant picnic area.

From Sisters, take Highway 20 north and make a right onto SW Camp Sherman Road. Make a slight right onto NF 14, continue for 6 miles and make a left onto NF 1400, arriving at the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and trailhead.

McKenzie River Mountain Biking

Striking a perfect balance between remote and accessible, the McKenzie is the very definition of a Wild and Scenic River. Blue pools, thundering cascades, lush old-growth, and dramatic cliff views seem to punctuate every turn, and leave you with the impression that this was what Oregon was like before anything bipedal came along. The 26-mile long McKenzie River Trail showcases the scenery with aplomb, and is one of the most revered mountain biking paths in the U.S.


Deschutes River Rafting

Perhaps Central Oregon’s most iconic waterway, the Deschutes River is a magnet for a number of recreational pursuits, not the least of which is whitewater rafting. The Lower Deschutes affords a great variety of easy paddling mixed with bursts of class II – III whitewater rapids through deep, river-carved gorges. There’s also a lot of human history in this area including occasional pictographs and sections of an abandoned railroad.


The Making of Wild and Scenic

The Wild and Scenic Rivers act of 1968 was created by Congress to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. As of December 2014, less than one-quarter of one percent of the nation’s rivers, in only 39 states, were protected by the act. Two percent of Oregon’s waterways have received designation—a relatively large amount that is indicative of the treasured wild beauty around us in this state.

No Comments

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.