Rafting the Grande Ronde River

Grande Ronde RiverOregon’s network of rivers is a gold mine for rafting enthusiasts, with a wide variety of rapids ranging from mild to highly technical. Whitewater rafters travel to the Northwest from all over the world to navigate the region’s renowned rapids and scenic rivers. For beginners, or rafters who want a more laid-back experience, the Grande Ronde offers a stunning combination of mild rapids and scenic beauty.

Located in eastern Oregon, the Grande Ronde River winds through evergreen forests and rugged basalt canyons that are rich with wildlife. Sections of the upper river, between the towns of Minam and Troy, have been designated by Congress as parts of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. Visitors can expect to see Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep and golden eagles, as well as blankets of colorful wildflowers.

About the Rapids

Rafting trips on this lesser-known waterway typically begin in Minam and last 2-3 days, although both shorter and longer trips are possible. This section of the Grande Ronde River features numerous rapids, primarily rated Class II-III. However, it’s a free-flowing river, which means abrupt and drastic changes in water level can occur, increasing the difficulty of the rapids.

Water levels during popular rafting times generally range between 2,000 and 10,000 cubic feet per second. Visitors can expect to see high, fast waters from snow melt in spring and early summer, while the river becomes slower and shallower around mid-July. If you’re considering rafting the Grande Ronde, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on water levels as well as weather conditions while planning your trip.

Camping Conditions

Primitive campsites are available along the river on a first-come, first-served basis. Because no water, bathrooms or garbage services are available, you’ll need to bring a portable toilet, plenty of water for drinking and sanitation, and a means for hauling out your trash. Other items to pack include:

Plenty of light. When you camp on the Grande Ronde, you’ll be in the middle of nowhere, which means it’s especially important to bring lots of lighting. Each person should carry a personal LED flashlight or headlamp, and you may also want to set up an LED lantern or two in common areas. An extra LED lantern or glow stick is useful for marking the location of your portable bathroom at night, as well.

Sturdy sporting knife. A dependable sporting knife is an essential wilderness tool that should always come rafting with you. You never know when you may need a sporting knife for cutting rope – especially after the knots have become soaked with water.

Fishing gear. The Grande Ronde offers plenty of great fishing spots, so be sure to bring poles, tackle and any necessary permits. Your sporting knife will come in handy for cleaning and gutting dinner.

Fire pan. All fires along the river must be contained in a fire pan, and you’ll be expected to pack the ash and charcoal out with you.

Sunscreen. Protection from the sun should always be included when packing for any outdoor trip, but it’s especially important when rafting. Water reflects the sun’s rays back to you and can cause a nasty sunburn if you aren’t careful.

Permits. Rafting the Grande Ronde requires a self-issue boating permit for each boating party. These are free and available at all major river access points. The river is regularly patrolled by a river ranger program administered by the Bureau of Land Management, so it’s a good idea to follow the rules and make sure all of your permits are in order.

Because of its leisurely pace and mild rapids, the Grande Ronde makes an excellent introduction to rafting and is an ideal choice for families. It also provides breathtaking views you won’t see anywhere else in Oregon. Whether you visit in the early summer for a more thrilling ride or later in the year for a slower, quieter float, this under-appreciated river won’t disappoint.

[photo by: Will Simpson ]

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