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How to Float the Deschutes River: A Guide to Tubing in Bend, Oregon

How to Float the Deschutes River: A Guide to Tubing in Bend, Oregon

Floating the Deschutes River is a quintessential summer activity in Bend, Oregon. On a hot summer day, the river is THE place to be, and tubing down the Deschutes River is a must-do! Here, we’ll break down everything you need to know to have a fun and safe tubing adventure in Bend. 

Guide to tubing the Deschutes River

I’ll admit — when we organized our first float on the Deschutes River, we were total novices. River floating was simply not something either of us had ever grown up doing. Should we join a tour? Can we float on our own? Where do we even start? Once we got past all of that, we had an absolute blast!

So to help make your floating adventure a little bit easier, we wrote this guide on what you need, where to go, and how to have a fun (and safe) time when tubing the Deschutes River in Bend.

Bend, Oregon - Deschutes River
Photo credit: VisitBend.com

What you’ll need

First things first: there a few essential items you’ll need for your Deschutes River tubing adventure. 

  • High-quality, sturdy tube: You’ll want to get a high-quality tube like this two-person one from Intex . You can also use single tubes and tie them together, which is what we do. Also, look for tubes made for river floating. While we’ve seen people use pool floats, you’ll be bumping against rocks and branches and will want a float that can handle it!
  • Water sandals: Ok, let’s talk footwear. You’ll want water sandals with straps for getting in and out of the water. Strappy sandals are important so that you don’t lose your shoes in the river, which is easy to do if you are wearing, say, flip flops. I love Keen sandals for floating (and any water-based activity, really, like canyon hiking, boating, etc.), but any similar type of sandal will do. Merrell, Teva, and Chacos are other popular brands. As a plus, you can use your sandals to double as paddles!
  • Life jacket/personal floatation device (PFD): If you tie inner tubes together, by Oregon law, this counts as a boat and you’re required to wear life jackets. Plus, it’s just good safety practice. You can find relatively inexpensive ones on Amazon or rent them locally.
  • Dry bag: We bring our dry bag when we’re out on the river, and we love it! It helps keep all of your important personal items (like your wallet, keys, phone, etc.) dry.
  • Sunscreen: You’ll be out floating on the river for a good 2-3 hours under the sun, so water-resistant sunscreen is a must.
  • Two cars (if organizing your own float): If you don’t plan to take the shuttle, you’ll want to have two cars. Park one car at your beginning point (Riverbend Park, if you follow this guide) and another car at your final destination (Drake Park). That way, you won’t have to worry about walking back with your tube once you’re done floating.

Where to rent tubes and floats

If you don’t have your own tubes, you can rent them locally. We’ve rented tubes from Powder House, which we recommend, but you can also rent from Tumalo Creek Kayak and Paddle Board Rental, located right in Riverbend Park. Renting from Tumalo Creek Kayak and Paddle Board Rental is nice since they are directly on the river, and you don’t need to worry about transporting the tubes.

Where to start and end your float

To start your Deschutes River tubing adventure, head to one of several parking areas at Riverbend Park, which is where you’ll launch. A common route is to end up at Drake Park. For a shorter float, you could get out earlier just before Whitewater Park. The Riverbend Park-Drake Park route takes about 90 minutes in total.

Note: If you only have 1 car, you can walk back. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be wet and lugging a tube with you. If you’re game, walking back from Whitewater Park to Riverbend Park will take you roughly 20 minutes. It’s over 1.5 miles from Drake Park, so it’s easiest to have a second car if you plan to go all the way there.

Drake Park, Bend Ore
Caption: Bend Parks and Rec

What to expect when tubing the Deschutes River

Again, this is a must-do summer activity in Bend! It’s so incredibly fun, and on a hot summer day, you’ll see tons of people floating along the Deschutes River. You’ll be jealous if you’re not out there with them! 

When you get to Riverbend Park, it’s pretty simple to get going. Walk your tube into the water, then hop in! The river will very gently take you from there. This is the perfect opportunity to relax, read a book (yes! we’ve seen people reading physical books out on the river!), listen to music, or chat with friends. If needed, you can paddle your way closer to the middle of the river using your hands or sandals.

Between Riverbend Park and Drake Park, the water is anywhere from 3 ft. to 8 ft. deep. If you’re feeling adventurous, you will pass right through the man-made Bend Whitewater River Park, where you’ll find a series of slow, medium, and fast rapids.

If you go through the rapids, be sure to hold onto your stuff! It’s completely common to flip out, and glasses, keys, rings, and wallets do go missing. Overall the rapids are very shallow (you can easily stand in them) and super fun.

If you’re not up for the rapids, you can easily navigate to the left bank of the river and hop out. From there, if you wish to continue, you can walk your tube around the rapids and get back in. There is plenty of signage overhead as you near the area so you’ll know when the rapids are coming up.

Tips for floating the river

  • Alcohol and cannabis are prohibited in parks and on the river.
  • Go early or late to avoid crowds. On a hot summer day, there will be tons of people out on the river!
  • There are no lifeguards, making PFDs all the more important.
  • If you do lose your personal belongings in the rapids at Bend Whitewater River Park, there is a local group of divers who run an Instagram called Loot the Deschutes. Keep an eye out in case they find your stuff! If they do, reach out to them and they’ll find a way to get it back to you! Honestly, this is a GEM in Bend.
  • Relax and have a great time! We absolutely love tubing the Deschutes River in Bend and couldn’t be more excited to share this experience with you!

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