Oregon getaway: Bend’s splashy water sports scene – The Mercury News
BEND, OREGON — It may sound odd to speak of water sports in Oregon’s high desert region. But the Deschutes River flows from the Cascade Mountains to the south through the center of Bend, whose very name pays homage to a significant bend in the river. More than a dozen lakes dot the mountains to the west. And whether you’re seeking a zenlike calm, an adrenaline rush or something in the middle, Bend’s abundant water sports await.
You’ll find stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) enthusiasts paddling these rivers, lakes and streams. Anglers line the riverbanks. Kayaks zip through the reeds. Bend even has surfers, who ride an endless wave in the city’s year-old Whitewater Park, which draws the kayak crowd as well.
“We have flat water, whitewater and surfing water, so there’s a great diversity of experiences available,” says Krystal Marie Collins, from Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. “The Deschutes, near the Old Mill District, has great flat water for an urban SUP experience. Further upstream, you can find a more ‘wild and scenic’ flat-water experience; you can float along from one point to another and take in nature.”
The Cascade Lakes offer many more paddling options, including SUP and kayak lessons and rentals from several outfitters, including Tumalo Creek. Guided tours are also available.
For a little less core body exercise — and perhaps a bit more excitement — you might consider whitewater rafting on the Deschutes. Multiday trips are available on the Lower Deschutes below Pelton Dam (roughly an hour north of Bend), where guides lead you through Class IV rapids and spoil you in riverside camps.
Less than a half-hour south of town, you can wet your whitewater whistle with the Big Eddy Thriller, from Sun Country Trips. After running a few mild riffles, you reach the real deal — Big Eddy — which is actually a series of four Class III rapids. Guests on either side of the raft paddle as the guide calls out instructions and the craft bucks through the waves, flumes and drops. It’s not quite white-knuckle for those who’ve rafted before, but the ride through Big Eddy was enough to have my daughters laughing and crying simultaneously their first time through — afterwards, they wanted to do it again.
Playing atop the water is certainly joyous, but trout anglers will tell you that immersion in the water (preferably in a pair of waders) is equally so. Among the fly-fishing cognoscenti, greater Bend is considered one of the West’s most attractive destinations. Rainbow trout are the primary target here, though brook, brown and bull trout, largemouth bass and steelhead are also present in some waters.
“Bend is special, because of the variety of fishing options nearby,” says Caleb Rieder, manager of The Patient Angler fly shop. “We have an almost unlimited number of waters — dozens of lakes, small creeks, the big Lower Deschutes, technical spring creeks. Bend has fishing experiences for beginning anglers as well as experts.”
I spend a good deal of time fly-fishing near Bend. Two of my favorite spots are roughly a half hour’s drive from downtown. The first is the Metolius River, a spring creek that flows gin-clear through a forest of lodge pole pine; you can visit the spot where it bubbles up from the ground, near the town of Sisters. You likely won’t catch many trout on the Metolius, as the fish are quite “educated” about the sport, but those you do catch will be well-earned. The setting — with the snow-capped Three Sisters mountains in the background — makes it all worthwhile.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Crooked River, which runs through an intimate canyon in the high desert east of Bend. The Crooked runs perpetually off-color, but don’t be put off by the unclear water; it’s full of rainbows and whitefish. The Crooked gives those unfamiliar with the region a taste of the arid canyon lands that make up much of eastern Oregon. It’s also almost sure to produce fish for newcomers to the long rod.
The Patient Angler provides year-round introduction to fly-fishing classes; other shops, including The Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters, provide guide services. And the 12-station casting course — the nation’s first — in Bend’s Old Mill district provides ample opportunity to refine your skills.
WATER SPORTS OUTFITTERS
Tumalo Creek Canoe & Kayak: On the banks of the Deschutes River just upstream from the Bend Whitewater Park; with a second location in the Sunriver Business Park. tumalocreek.com
Sun Country Tours: Five Central Oregon locations, including Bend’s Riverside Park; www.suncountrytours.com
Patient Angler: 822 S.E. Third St., Bend; www.patientangler.com
Fly Fisher’s Place: 151 W. Main St., Sisters; flyfishersplace.com
Travel writer Chris Santella is the author of 11 books in the “Fifty Places” series, including last year’s “Fifty Places to Camp Before You Die.”