Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend!

Every time people come to visit here in Bend, Oregon, there’s always one thing we MUST do: FLOAT the river!  This is a Bend rite of passage, & it’s suitable for all ages & fitness levels, as it requires almost zero effort ~ all you have to do is sit your butt in a raft for a couple hours, & float down a gentle river…until you get to the “mini-rapids” section in the Whitewater Park!  This part is soooo fun & never ceases to bring giggles to the group, but the rapids are small enough for young kids to enjoy.  In this “Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend,” I’ll tell you everything you need to know so you can enjoy the float to the max!

Guide to Floating the River in Bend, Oregon, Girl Who Travels the World

Floating the river in Bend is a classic summertime rite of passage….when my high school friends came to visit, it was a top priority!

Super Comfy Rafts

Waterproof Action Cam

4-Person Raft

Map of River Float in Bend

Most people bring two cars for the float: park Car #1 at Drake Park; keep your clean towels & clothes here.  Then pile everyone into Car #2 (the bigger car) & head to Riverbend Park ~ where you’ll start the float.  You’ll need ALL the rafts in this car, sunscreen, & anything you need for the float.  

Riverbend Park (Start Here)

Drake Park (End Here)

Quick Facts About Floating

  • Starting Point for Bend Float: Riverbend Park. Some people also start across the river, at Farewell Bend Park (directly across from Riverbend). Riverbend Park has several nice, large (private) restrooms, a big parking lot, & an overflow dirt parking lot across the street.
  • Ending Point for Bend Float: Drake Park, which is very close to downtown Bend. All the parking around here is on the street.
  • How Long Does the Float Take? About two hours. You can make it shorter by getting out at McKay Park (right after the rapids), & walking back to Riverbend Park from here.
  • Where Do We Park? And Do We Need Two Cars? If you’re going yourself (not renting innertubes from Tumalo Creek & using their shuttle for transportation), then yes, it’s ideal to bring two cars: park Car #1 at Drake Park & keep your clean towels & dry clothes here; this is your “ending” car. Then pile everyone into (the bigger) Car #2 & drive to Riverbend Park; Car #2 needs to have ALL your rafts/tubes, drinks, sunscreen, Chapstick ~ basically, anything you’ll need on the river. Don’t forget your car keys…& a dry bag to put them in! 
  • We Don’t Have Two Cars ~ What’s Another Option? Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe has a Park & Float Station (at 1000 SW Bradbury Drive); leave your car here, & Tumalo will rent you an innertube & shuttle you to & from both parks. The cost last year was $21; in the summer, you may need advance reservations. Your only other option would be to bring one car, then walk back from Drake to Riverbend Park (a 35-minute walk).
  • Can You Drink Alcohol on the River? I’m not sure what the city’s “official” stance on this is, but as a local: EVERYONE drinks on the river!! Cider & beer are the typical choices. And always bring water…
  • Do You Bring Shoes with You? I always do ~ especially if you have to park across the street at Riverbend. Just bring a pair of cheap flip flops (or nicer water shoes) & either stash them in your raft’s cooler, or keep them on your feet. The better rafts have a mesh bottom; so you can also keep them in there.
  • What are the Best Rafts to Use? Anything with a head rest!! Without a head rest, it starts to get reallyyyy uncomfortable reallyyyy quickly! The River Run 2-person rafts are great (I have one) ~ they’ve got comfy head rests, mesh bottoms (so you won’t lose your shoes), drink holders, & a cooler that sits between the two seats. It’s basically perfect.

List of What You Need for Float…

  • Rafts, ideally ones with drink holders & “coolers,” like this one;
  • Ropes to tie your raft(s) together, if multiple rafts; 
  • Air pump with a port for the car charger (this will make your life SO much easier!!);
  • Sunscreen & chapstick;
  • Any drinks & snacks you’ll want;
  • A dry bag, to put your clothes & car keys in;
  • At least one camera or phone to capture the memories ~ if it’s a phone, make sure to enclose it in a watertight case, or just bring a waterproof action camera
  • If you want your drinks SUPER cold, bring this ingenious freezable bag to hold them in;
  • A stack of beach towels ~ but remember to leave them in Car #2 at Drake Park;

Waterproof Speaker

Soft Beach Towels

Dry Bag

Photos of Floating the River in Bend

These photos will take you thru the float from start to finish: from “putting in” at Riverbend Park, to the float itself & the rapids, & the mellow finish in Drake Park.  Some of these photos are stills taken from videos ~ so they’re not the clearest, but they’ll give you a good idea of the overall float & rapids.

How to Float the River in Bend, Girl Who Travels the World

This is the scene at Riverbend Park: you’ve got nice, big bathrooms here, large grass areas, & a beach area where everyone “puts in” their boards. You can also typically rent boards & innertubes right in the park.

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, Girl Who Travels the World

This is the very START of the float: you can see the “put-in” area here, behind my friend Elisa.

How to Float the River in Bend, Girl Who Travels the World

The first 45 minutes of the float are just easy, mellow fun…

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, Girl Who Travels the World

About 20 minutes into the float, you’ll start passing the Old Mill District (look for three tall stacks). This is one of the prettiest stretches, so grab photos here with either the bridges or the Old Mill behind you…

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, Girl Who Travels the World

Floating the river is a fantastic bonding experience…

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, Girl Who Travels the World

A shot of the FIRST rapid at Bend’s Whitewater Park. (Yes, that’s a cider in my drink holder ; ) You can see, the rapids aren’t big at all, but they’re still sooo fun!

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Girl Who Travels the World

This is near the end of the rapids: we kept all our rafts tied together during the voyage. You can also untie them & go down solo ~ but it can be hard to find each other after!

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, Girl Who Travels the World

After the rapids, you’ve got more gentle floating, past some of Bends’s finest riverfront houses….(people also jump off that bridge in the distance ~ so watch out for that)!

How to Float the River in Bend, Girl Who Travels the World

Drinking isn’t *technically* allowed on the river ~ but everyone does it anyway, soo….(Also note: That little turquoise raft in the photo is a TERRIBLE raft to float in! No head rest, no drink holder ~ makes for a very uncomfortable ride).

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And this is where your float will end: in Drake Park. You can’t miss everyone veering to the right & pulling out of the river…

Guide to Floating the Deschutes River in Bend