Let’s be honest: There’s really only one reason to come to this friendly, sunbaked town in north-central Oregon — the mighty Deschutes River.

We submit that in August, when the flows are low and the temperature is hot, there’s no better place in Oregon to introduce your kids to the joys of river rafting. (They’ll need to be at least 4 years old to go with a rafting company, though.)

A scenic drive of about two and a quarter hours gets you there. Sign up in advance with one of the rafting outfits in town — we like All-Star and River Drifters — and settle in for a fun, splashy ride. The highlights are the swooping class-3 rapids known as Boxcar and Wapinitia. Brave older kiddos can “ride the bull,” perched astride the bow of the raft — but smaller kids will want to stick in the rear of the boat near your guide. Make sure to ask your guide to bring along some water guns so you can retaliate in kind if you get ambushed by other rafters, and be on the lookout for slower moving stretches of water where you can take a dip.

You could make it a day trip, but we recommend staying the night at the Imperial River Company’s hotel, which has family-friendly connecting rooms, a huge grassy lawn that slopes down to the river, a fire-pit for s’mores and a kid-pleasing menu. 

Gear Guide
All gear available at Next Adventure or online at Click on the image for more details.

Water sandals: Protect tiny toes on slippery surfaces.

Youth paddle: Smaller shaft and grip for young paddlers.

Sunscreen: Long-lasting, water-resistant prevention is step one.

After sun moisturizer: Relieve the pain and dryness of exposure to the sun.

Youth personal floatation device: Grown-up fit and features sized for kids.

Raft: Inflatable raft for quick trips around the lake or waterfront

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