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…