Flowing through a dry sagebrush canyon lined with basalt cliffs, the lower Deschutes River, from the U.S. 26 bridge outside Warm Springs down to the Columbia River, is one of the most popular stretches of white water in Oregon. This section of the river provides lots of Class III rapids, and 1-day rafting trips here are very popular. However, at almost 100 miles in length, the lower Deschutes also provides several options for multiday rafting trips.
Popular 1-day splash-and-giggle trips, which are offered by dozens of rafting companies, usually start just upstream from Maupin and end just above the impressive Sherar's Falls. Some companies also offer 2- and 3-day trips. Rafting companies operating on the lower Deschutes River include All Star Rafting (tel. 800/909-7238; www.asrk.com), which also rents rafts and offers kayaking lessons; Imperial River Company (tel. 800/395-3903 or 541/395-2404; www.deschutesriver.com), which operates a bed-and-breakfast inn for rafters in Maupin; and Rapid River Rafters (tel. 800/962-3327 or 541/382-1514; www.rapidriverrafters.com). Expect to pay around $70 to $95 for a day trip up to around $345 to $445 for a 3-day trip.
If you're just passing through the region but would like to catch a glimpse of some of the lower Deschutes River's more dramatic sections, you can visit Sherar's Falls, which are at the Sherar Bridge on Ore. 216, between Tygh Valley and Grass Valley. Native Americans can sometimes be seen dip-netting salmon from the waters of these falls, which can also be reached by following the river road north from Maupin for 8 miles. Just west of Sherar Bridge, you'll also find White River Falls State Park (tel. 800/551-6949; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), where there are more waterfalls.
Twelve miles south of Madras, you'll find one of the most unexpected and unlikely settings in the state. Lake Billy Chinook, a reservoir created by the construction of Round Butte Dam in 1964, fills the canyons of the Metolius, Crooked, and Deschutes rivers, and seems lifted straight out of the canyon lands of Arizona or Utah. Here nearly vertical basalt cliffs rise several hundred feet above the lake waters, and sagebrush and junipers cling to the rocky hillsides. The lake is most popular with water-skiers and anglers who come to fish for kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon) and bull trout (also known as dolly vardens). The Cove Palisades State Park (tel. 541/546-3412; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), which is on the south shore, offers easy 3-hour sea-kayak tours of the lake. These inexpensive tours are offered throughout the summer and on a few weekends at other times of year. Reservations are recommended. At the state park, you'll also find boat ramps, a marina, campgrounds, picnic areas, and swimming beaches. There are even houseboats for rent, and at the marina you'll find a restaurant atop a hill overlooking the lake. The park day-use fee is $3.