Feb 13, 2015

Packrafting the Chewaucan River

We finally got in our boats last weekend...warm rainy weather is making snow levels suck, and besides, rain on the snow means water in the creeks! Especially since a lot of our high desert creeks only run once a year...we looked East to find a potential river to run.

Load up the adventure-mobile!
Enter the Chewaucan River. At just over a 2 hour drive from Bend it was close enough, but without a gauge on the river we weren't sure if there would be enough flow...and since it had been raining throughout the state last week we thought chances were good.

I had been up there backpacking a few months ago, and noted that the 10-mile stretch along the road would be a pretty little section to try when water levels were good.

Kirk had decided to take his hardshell creek boat, but I'm faithful to my little yellow packraft, so we loaded up the car with a bike to run shuttle and took off on Saturday morning.

Sure enough, when we turned right into the river canyon at Paisley, OR, we saw water! Actually, the river was pumping. All that rain and snow melt had swollen the river, and we noted the lack of eddies, several munchy holes and what looked to be a channel primarily free from trees or hazards. Score!

We drove up to where the road started to leave the river, about 10 miles in, parked the car and hiked our boats down to the water, having decided to just boat a few miles back to our camp at Jones Crossing.

But a quick look at the map told us there was a least another 10 miles up stream we could try next time. The road was too muddy for my little Honda Fit, but we could walk in if needed. There's a reason they call them packrafts!

Note the barb wire Fence crossing the river, we paddled under three that were passable.

The wide meadow where we started meandered through what looks to be primarily a cow pasture, and I couldn't help but think as we boated down and got into some bouncy Class II rapids, that all those cow paddies were churning in the water that was now splashing of my face. Ugg.

It was a quick run, and before we knew it were back to camp, no hazards, a clear channel, and some fun bouncy waves right before camp. Nice!

Sunrise with coffee. Yes please.
A nifty little trick Kirk taught me: put a stick in the ground were water levels are, and you can see if the river is rising or falling. The next morning water levels had dropped quite a bit.
We're digging our new Hyperlite Mid
And then what did I spy across the river? Why a National Recreation Trail! The Fremont Trail meanders a beautiful 175 miles in these mountains. One day I will return for you.

It was a beautiful day on the water. The forecast called for rain all weekend, but we didn't see a drop.

The river was mellow for the most part.

It started to get a bit choppier as we got a few miles within range of Paisley. Boulder gardens and such...

Don't drink the cow dung water!

All and all a very successful weekend, considering we weren't sure if we would find enough water to boat. Without a gauge, it's a gamble, and spring is the most likely time for success. Or a crazy warm and dry winter like we're having this year.

And as luck would have it, we were right around the corner from Summer Lake Hotsprings. A soak after our paddle? Don't mind if I do.


  1. Hi,
    could you tell me if your cruiser deck is still strong since your purchase.Velcro is still o.k?dry enought with a forward seated position?

  2. The deck does take a beating, primarily when bushwacking and pushing my boat through the brush. When we did our trip on the Minam river, the velcro became so matted with moss and dirt that it didn't stay closed well. I've cleaned it out and now it's sticking much better, but it can be a concern.

  3. I am so happy to see your trip report. I drove through here in September and am looking forward to canoeing this river from the 3510 crossing down to Paisley. I see you took out at your camp, but do you know how far you can go down before hitting all the weird irrigation diversions? My scouting indicated that there could be decent rapids just above town, below the campgrounds. Thanks! Erik

  4. Hey Eric,
    We took out at out camp day one and boated down to town (before diversion area) the next day. There are a couple of good rapids in that section at the flow we had just above the diversion area and one stretch above where we camped. We went down to the gauging station and used that as out take out about 1-1.5 miles above town (on a right hand bend going up river, small green building). There was maybe one other place further downstream you could take out before the diversion area, but this was easily recognizable from the water and had good access.
    Fun trip, wish we would have put in higher.

  5. Do you recall the gauge reading?

    1. The internet gauge was not operational, but I would guess 700cfs day one and 450-500 day two. But I do not totally recall what the ft. gauge at the gauging station said, may have been 2.5ft day two but not positive.

  6. I ran from the 3510 road to Paisley bridge last weekend with about 760 cfs. Lot's of new wood in the river from this years raging flows. Really fast with a lot of blind corners. The rapids below the gauging station at this flow are probably borderline class III. Don't bother going past the diversion if you can help, the river turns into a municipal death trap downstream.

  7. Glad to hear someone else has tried this!