Oregon River Experiences
Est. 1978
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Help me Choose a River and Trip

Which is the best river? There really is no one best river or trip: The best river is the one that best meets your needs. To help decide which trip is best for you, start by reading the questions below and follow the links to the answers that follow. Then review our at-a-glance river comparison chart and read more about each river and trip. Or you can always give our office a call.  We'll be happy to help you find the trip that's best for you (even if the best trip for you is a trip we don't run).

Which river trip offers the best whitewater?

There really is no one river that is best for white water. But here are a few suggestions.

When it comes to one-day trips our most thrilling river is usually the Clackamas. To find the biggest rapids in spring on a one-day trip your best bet in most cases will be the Clackamas (or occasionally the Umpqua or Santiam, at certain water levels). On the other hand, for the biggest waves in the middle of the summer your best bet is usually the Deschutes river. (This does not mean the Deschutes has the most challenging mid-summer rapids. The Clackamas is more challenging, as is the Umpqua. But the Deschutes usually provides the biggest mid-summer splash.) For September and October day trips your best bets are the North Santiam or the Deschutes.

For multi-day trips your best bet for big waves in the middle of the summer is the Salmon River. However, rapids on the Rogue River tend to be more challenging (they just don't get you as wet). Probably our most exciting multi-day white water experiences are provided during high water years by the first one or two Owyhee and Salmon trips of the season.

Want to know more? Here are a few additional details.

In most cases the rapids on a given river will get more exciting as the water level rises. However, there are exceptions to this rule: on a given river, a few rapids may actually be milder at higher water rather than more exciting.

The international scale of river difficulty rates rapids from one through six. Class one rapids are quite mild while Class six rapids are very, very dangerous. Most of the challenging and enjoyable rapids you will encounter on an O.R.E. trip will be rated two through four. (And by the way, the scale tells you something about how difficult a rapid is, not necessarily how much fun it will be. You may find that a few of the easier rapids end up being more fun than the tougher ones.)

Two rapids on two different rivers (or even on the same river) may both be rated at the same level - say class 3 - but be quite different in character. For instance, rapids on the North Umpqua river may present a challenging, rocky slalom course, while rapids on the Lower Salmon of equal difficulty may instead feature large, roller-coaster style waves.

I'm a thrill-seeker. How do I make my river trip as exciting as possible?

Each of our class III and IV river trips offer exhilarating whitewater. For most individuals, families and groups, these trips provide all the excitement they need. But we know that some of you are looking for a more intense experience, a stronger rush of adrenaline. If you're looking for maximum excitement, read on. 

There are three steps you can take in search of whitewater thrills: choose your river, choose your water level, and choose your river craft.

Choose your river. Select a river that offers at least some class IV whitewater. (For extreme thrills choose a class V trip. We don't offer this sort of trip, but we can direct you to outfitters who do.)

Choose your water level. For the most part this means choose a springtime trip. The level of whitewater excitement varies on every river as each river's water level changes. On some rivers the whitewater changes in subtle ways, but on other rivers the change is striking.

For long trips, consider a high water Owyhee or high water Lower Salmon trip. The Salmon's flow is typically high - but not too high to raft - during the first week or two of July. Owyhee peak flows can be difficult to predict, but generally occur in late April or early May.

For short trips consider a high water Clackamas half day or 1 day or a North Umpqua 1 or 2 day trip. Clackamas flows are generally at their highest in May. North Umpqua flows are at their highest during the winter months, but for optimal high water Umpqua flows during the boating season we recommend a trip during May.

Choose your river craft. Paddle rafts and guided oar rafts are popular options, and are available on most of our trips. But for maximum involvement and excitement, take charge of your own boat! At ORE we offer two hands-on options: one-person and two-person inflatable kayaks and 2-3 person "row-your-own" catarafts.

Safety is my primary concern. I want to bring my children out for their first raft trip, and I want the whitewater to be as mild as possible. Which trip should I choose?

With the exception of a few high water trips, all of our trips are suitable for children. However, if you are looking for the mildest possible whitewater your best bets are the McKenzie River (or the North Santiam River during the summer months) for a one-day trip, or the Grande Ronde or John Day rivers for a multi-day trip.

I'm in Portland, and I want to get away for a quick river trip. What's my best bet?

Plan on a Clackamas River trip. It's our favorite one 1/2 and 1 day trip, and it features Portland's closest whitewater. After Labor Day choose the North Santiam, or possibly the Deschutes


It has been cloudy for days, and I want to get away from Portland for a quick one day raft trip in the sun. Where should I go?

While there's never a guarantee when it comes to the weather, your best bet for a sunny one-day trip under these conditions may be the Deschutes. In the spring, there are days when it is cloudy in the Willamette Valley but sunny on the east side of the Cascades, where the Deschutes flows.

I love the beauty of pristine desert canyons. Which river trip should I choose?

Your first choice should be the Owyhee. The beauty of the the Owyhee is spectacular! The John Day River is also quite beautiful.

My idea of ideal river scenery is blue-green water and a lush, thickly forested canyon. Which river trip should I choose?

For a 1/2, 1 or 2 day trip choose any of our rivers except the Deschutes (which features desert scenery). For a 3 day trip choose the Grande Ronde or the Rogue. For a 4 or 5 day trip choose the Rogue.

Which river has the best beaches? Which river is best for swimming?

The Salmon River wins in this category, although the Rogue's warm water is also great for swimming. The best one-day trip for swimming is probably the Deschutes (although the water there is cooler than what you will find on the Salmon or the Rogue).


Other sources of information:

River Comparison
Rivers and Trips
Frequently Asked Questions

Oregon River Experiences
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