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Deschutes River (Oregon)

Deschutes River
The Deschutes River near its mouth on the Columbia. Pioneers camped on the bluff to the left.
Name origin: From Rivière des Chutes, used by early-19th-century fur traders[1]
Country United States
State Oregon
County Deschutes, Jefferson,
Sherman, and Wasco
Source Little Lava Lake
 - location Cascade Range, Deschutes County, Oregon
 - elevation 4,747 ft (1,447 m) [2]
 - coordinates  [3]
Mouth Columbia River
 - location between Moody and Biggs Junction, on border between Wasco
and Sherman counties
, Oregon
 - elevation 164 ft (50 m) [3]
 - coordinates  [3]
Length 252 mi (406 km) [4]
Basin 10,500 sq mi (27,200 km2) [5]
Discharge for Moody, 1.4 miles (2.3 km) from mouth
 - average 5,824 cu ft/s (200 m3/s) [5][6]
 - max 70,300 cu ft/s (2,000 m3/s)
 - min 2,400 cu ft/s (100 m3/s)
Map of the Deschutes watershed
Location of the mouth of the Deschutes River in Oregon
Wikimedia Commons:

The Deschutes River in central Oregon is a major tributary of the Columbia River. The river provides much of the drainage on the eastern side of the Cascade Range in Oregon, gathering many of the tributaries that descend from the drier, eastern flank of the mountains. The Deschutes provided an important route to and from the Columbia for Native Americans for thousands of years, and then in the 19th century for pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The river flows mostly through rugged and arid country, and its valley provides a cultural heart for central Oregon. Today the river supplies water for irrigation and is popular in the summer for whitewater rafting and fishing.

The river flows north, which is unusual in the United States. Several other Oregon tributaries of the Columbia River, however, including the Willamette and John Day rivers, also flow in a northerly direction.


  • Description 1
  • History 2
  • Fishing 3
  • River use 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The headwaters of the Deschutes River are at Little Lava Lake, a natural lake in the Cascade Range approximately 26 miles (42 km) northwest of the city of La Pine. The river flows south into Crane Prairie Reservoir, then into Wickiup Reservoir, from where it heads in a northeasterly direction past the resort community of Sunriver and into the city of Bend. In Bend, much of the river's water is diverted for irrigation by the Central Oregon Irrigation District; as a result, the river is much smaller when it leaves the city. Mirror Pond is an impoundment in central Bend for electricity generation and to serve as a scenic area in Drake Park.

The river as it passes Sunriver, near Benham Falls

The river continues north from Bend, and just west of basalt cliffs. By the time it reaches Lake Billy Chinook, a reservoir west of Madras, the river is approximately 300 feet (91 m) below the surrounding plateau, the Little Agency Plains and Agency Plains. At Lake Billy Chinook the river is joined by the Crooked and Metolius rivers.

Beyond the dam, the river continues north in a gorge well below the surrounding countryside. It passes through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, including the city of Warm Springs and the Kah-Nee-Ta resort. The river ends at its confluence with the Columbia River, 5 miles (8 km) southwest of Biggs Junction.


Prior to 80,000 years ago, the river ran along the east side of Pilot Butte and a lava flow from Lava Top Butte filled in this ancient channel.[7] Previously, the Basalt of the Bend lava flow, associated with the Lava River Cave, had diverted the river westward to its present day location.[8][9]

The river was named Riviere des Chutes or Riviere aux Chutes, French for River of the Falls, during the period of fur trading.[1] The waterfall it referred to was the Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, near where the Deschutes flowed into it. (These falls no longer exist, having been inundated by the lake behind The Dalles Dam).

Lewis and Clark encountered the river on October 22, 1805, and referred to it by the Native American name Towarnehiooks; on their return journey they gave it the new name Clarks River.[1] Variant names include Clarks River, River of the Falls, Riviere des Chutes, Chutes River, and Falls River.[3]

During the middle 19th century, the river was a major obstacle for immigrants on the Oregon Trail. The major crossing point on the river was near its mouth in present-day Deschutes River State Recreation Area. Many immigrants camped on the bluff on the west side of the river after making the crossing. The remains of the trail leading up to the top of the bluff are still visible.[10]

In 1910, Mirror Pond was created by the construction of the Bend Water, Light & Power Company dam on the river in Bend. The dam provided the city with its initial source of electricity. The dam has been owned by Pacific Power since 1930 and still produces electricity that supplies approximately 400 Bend households.[11]

In 1964, on the Deschutes River, Portland General Electric (PGE) built the largest hydroelectric dam in Oregon. This dam, named Round Butte Dam, stands 440 ft (134 m) above Lake Simtustus; a 611 acre reservoir held up by Pelton Dam.[12]


The river is world-renowned for its fly fishing. It is home to Columbia River redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri) known locally as "redsides". The redsides grow larger than most and also have a distinct darker red stripe than most wild rainbow trout.[13] They are abundant in this stretch of the river, which has counts of 1,700 fish of 7 inches in size per mile (1,100 fish of 18 centimeters in size per kilometer) above Sherars Falls, and they are noticeably stronger than trout who do not have to cope with life in such a big, powerful river. The average catch for these fish is 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 cm), and some are much larger. These redside or redband trout are found throughout the river. Fishing for them is most popular from Warm Springs down to Macks Canyon. (Warm Springs Reservation owns the entire Deschutes West Bank from 16 miles (26 km) south of Maupin to Lake Billy Chinook and on up to Jefferson Creek on the Metolius River arm) below Pelton Dam.[14] Fishing from Tribal lands requires special permits. From Pelton Dam to the mouth the Deschutes is one of America's most productive trout waters and a top producer of summer steelhead, managed primarily for wild trout. This 100-mile (160 km) stretch of river drops 1,233 feet (376 m), carving a volcanic rock canyon 700 to 2,200 feet (213 to 671 m) deep.

The Deschutes in winter at its confluence with the Columbia

Fly fishermen come from around the world in the last two weeks in May through the first two weeks in June to take advantage of the hatching stoneflies, both salmonflies and golden stoneflies (Hesperoperla pacifica). These insects are in the river year-round; however their large adults are a major food source for the fish: artificial weighted stonefly nymph patterned tied flies are a staple for Deschutes anglers year round.

Sport fishing for Steelhead occurs in the river from the mouth to Round Butte Dam. Sport fishing for spring and fall chinook salmon occurs from the mouth to Sherars Falls. Tribal fishing for chinook and steelhead occurs at Sherars Falls.

In Lake Billy Chinook, there are fisheries for kokanee, bull trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, and several warm-water species such as large mouth bass and a very large population of small mouth bass. There are also periodic commercial fisheries for crayfish. The bull trout that are caught in this reservoir are some of the largest bull trout caught on the west coast. The numbers are scarce because the bulls are threatened; however, numbers have risen every year since they became protected. The lake allows an individual to keep a bull trout that measures more than 24 inches (61 cm). (This is included for a daily bag limit.)[15]

River use

Boxcar Rapids near Maupin

Much of the flow of the upper Deschutes River is diverted into canals to irrigate farmland; irrigation districts take nearly 98% of the river's flow in the summer months.[16] The growth of cities like Bend and Redmond also increased demand on the river's water, which is over-allocated. Because the existing canals lose about half of their water due to seepage,[17] there is pressure to convert these canals into pipelines, a move that is resisted by many locals for historic and aesthetic reasons.[18] Golf courses have also been an issue with water allocation. There are 13 golf courses throughout Bend, Redmond, and Sunriver.

There are primarily two sections of the river popular for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The upstream section known as the Big Eddy is a short segment upriver from the city of Bend between Dillon and Lava Island falls. The lower and more heavily used section is from the town of Warm Springs downstream to just above Sherars Falls. The densest use is from RM 56—about 4 miles (6.4 km) above Maupin—to RM 44, just above Sherars Falls.

See also


  1. ^ a b c McArthur, Lewis A.; McArthur, Lewis L. (2003). Oregon Geographic Names, Seventh Edition. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press. pp. 282–83.  
  2. ^ Source elevation derived from Google Earth search using GNIS source coordinates.
  3. ^ a b c d "Deschutes River".  
  4. ^ "Online Topographic Maps from the United States Geological Survey". TopoQuest. Retrieved October 13, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b "Water-Data Report 2013: 14103000 Deschutes River at Moody, Near Biggs, OR" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2014. 
  6. ^ The average discharge rate was calculated from USGS records from the Moody gauge of water years 1898–99 and 1907–2013.
  7. ^ Jensen, Robert A. (2009). "A field guide to Newberry Volcano, Oregon; The Geological Society of America, Field Guide 15". pp. 53–79. 
  8. ^ Champion, Duane E. (2002-05-14). "Mapping Newberry Volcano's Extensive North Flank Basalts". Retrieved July 19, 2009. 
  9. ^ Donnelly-Nolan, Julie M.; Donnelly-Nolan, J. M.; Lanphere, M. A.; Ramsey, D. W. (2004). "Magnetic Excursion Recorded in Basalt at Newberry Volcano, Central Oregon". American Geophysical Union 43: 861.  
  10. ^ "Oregon Trail Mileposts". Oregon-California Trails Association. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Mirror Pond". Old Bend Neighborhood Association. Retrieved April 20, 2012. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Milne, Brian. "Deschutes River Fly Fishing". Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Deschutes River - Below Lake Billy Chinook and Pelton Dam, Oregon Fly Fishing Reports & Conditions". Orvis. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Lake Billy Chinook". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved April 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Deschutes River".  
  17. ^ "Water Conservation Program: Permanent Streamflow Protection". Deschutes River Conservancy. Retrieved June 30, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Deschutes Conservancy, canal piping win funds". Bend Bugle. November 10, 2003. 

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Deschutes River flows and forecasts
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