When the frost has thawed and the stoneflies make their debut, it’s go-time in the Lower Deschutes River canyon. This part of north-central Oregon is sleepy in the winter, but wakes up in the late spring as the big bugs emerge from the water. While anglers mark the season change with their annual pilgrimage to the river with the hopes of landing a native redside, there’s a host of other activities to enjoy in this part of the region, from rafting to kayaking to hiking. It’s a magical time of year on the Deschutes River, and this season, this river, and all that they offer may convince you to stick around in the canyon for good.
Easy Treks to Stunning Waterfalls
Near Terrebonne, a half-mile hike to Steelhead Falls is well-worth the trip to see this stunning natural display of geology and gravity. The trail is open year-round, but without many trees or shade, the sandy trail is best trekked before summer heat starts to bear down. You may spot some anglers in the area, but it’s most popular as an easy day-hike that suits the whole family.
Just outside of Maupin, White River Falls is equally stunning and significantly less busy than other waterfalls in the region. Before it became a state park, the falls used to be the power source for mid-century hydroelectric dams. Some of the dam structures remain along the river (though the buildings have been boarded up with “No Trespassing” signs), and it’s worth visiting to see and read about the history of the place. Today, the park is mostly accessible, with paved pathways that lead to a view of the falls and grassy areas with picnic tables. A steep path a little less than a mile long will take visitors down to the river, where they can explore the shallow water and cool off in the local watering hole.
A few tips to make the most of the day: Get started early to get to the trailheads before it gets crowded. These are less traveled than other waterfall hikes in the area, but still draw plenty of people on a weekend. Pack a lunch to eat at the falls or make a plan to visit one of the local restaurants afterward. Apply sunscreen and wear a hat. Though it’s not the peak of the warmer seasons, there are few places to hide from the high desert sun out here.
Rafting & Kayaking & Paddleboarding
Maupin is the last town on the 100-mile stretch of the Lower Deschutes River and the basecamp for river recreation. Local river outfitters are just getting their seasons started by May, and on warm and sunny weekends the river will start to fill with rafters, kayakers and paddleboarders. Book a guided trip from one of the companies in town if you’re new to the sport or looking for a low-impact, high-energy family adventure. They will take care of the entire trip—gear, shuttles, lunch and more—so you can enjoy the day. Outfitters such as All Star Rafting, Deschutes River Adventures, and River Drifters are just a few of the companies in town that cater to families. The most popular full and half-day trips take rafters through the classic rapids and on extra excursions, like the natural rockslides below White River Falls.
Many companies in Maupin also rent gear for those who want to enjoy the river without a guide. Some experience in kayaking or paddleboarding is encouraged, but one of the draws of the Lower Deschutes is that it contains stretches of water that don’t require any technical whitewater skill. Rent gear from one of the local shops, book a shuttle and drive downriver past Sherars Falls to get away from the crowds. Floating from one of the boat ramps down to Macks Canyon, the last takeout on the access road, is a memorable experience. You’ll spot wildlife, practice your paddling skills and see fewer other boats on the water.
May is the busiest time of year for fly fishing in this region, because the stonefly hatch draws anglers from around the Pacific Northwest who are addicted to watching big fish bite dry flies on the surface. Trout are eager to feed on large bugs after a winter of measly rations, and anglers take full advantage of the conditions.
If you’re new to the sport, you’ll have much better luck finding fish when you book a guided trip with a local outfitter, who can get you set up, take you to the best spots on the river and help you land a native rainbow trout, named for its striking rouge body. Fly & Field Outfitters in Bend, Fin & Fire in Redmond, Deschutes Angler and Little Creek Outfitters in Maupin, and Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters all book day and overnight trips. One of the draws of booking with a guide—besides learning from the experts—is to experience the river from a drift boat and to fish the sought-after left bank of the river, which gets much less pressure from anglers. Out of Warm Springs, Littleleaf Guide Service is well-known and guides above Maupin.
Don’t be surprised by the crowds on the river access road in Maupin. There are thirty-two miles of river access available to the public by car, and on weekends in May it will be filled with anglers looking for a place to cast. Stay patient and persistent, and you’ll find some water of your own—and the work is well worth it when you finally land a native redside. Fly fishing can often be about the journey as much as is about the result, but in spring you can have it all. Everything is alive on the river this time of year. Wildflowers and grasses are blooming along the river, ospreys have returned from their winter homes, and a multitude of insects and animals emerge, signaling that the seasons have changed. The confluence of all this just might make a Lower Deschutes believer out of anyone.
Overnight Lodging in Maupin
Oasis Cabin Resort
This historic cabin resort was run by the same family for more than fifty years. In the past few years, it’s undergone substantial upgrades by new owners. Book a cabin for a retro-inspired stay and to hear live music on weekends. oasiscabinresort.com
River Run Lodge
This quiet lodge is tucked within walking distance of the river and the best restaurant in town. Small rooms can accommodate couples, and a larger suite can host the whole family. riverrunlodge.net
Imperial River Company
Located on the water, this hotel offers an on-site bar. Sip drinks and enjoy the firepits alongside the meandering river and wave to rafters as they pass by. deschutesriver.com