McKenzie River rafting is possibly Central Oregon’s most popular guided river trip due to its beauty, the variety of whitewater, and its proximity to Bend, Eugene and other Oregon cities. The headwaters of the McKenzie seep out of the Great Springs at Clear Lake, about 18 miles east of McKenzie Bridge and flow westward nearly ninety miles towards the Willamette Valley and joins the Willamette River just southwest of Coburg.
The McKenzie River cascades over several large waterfalls and through an old growth forest before it is finally tamed by a small dam above Olallie Campground. McKenzie rafting begins deep in the Willamette National Forest.
Native Americans have lived along the McKenzie River for nearly 8,000 years, wintering in the lower valley and summering in the high Cascades. In the 1850’s most of the Native people who lived along the river were sent to federal reservations. The first explorers in the area were a team of trappers from The Pacific Fur Company which had established a post in 1811 near the mouth of the Columbia River at Fort Astoria. Donald Mackenzie (or McKenzie), one of Astor’s partners, led the group of explorers and trappers up the Willamette River, and explored a fork of the river which they later named McKenzie’s Fork in his honor.
In 1871 a toll road was built over the mountains connecting the eastern and western slopes of the Cascade Range. The first automobile passed over the McKenzie road in 1910, but the McKenzie Valley became a dead end during the winter months as heavy snow falls blocked the road. Today, Oregon State Highway 242 is called the McKenzie Pass/Santiam Pass National Scenic Byway; it is still closed during the winter.
The river is home to heavy stands of Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock, which supplied the first sawmills of the Willamette Valley and provided employment for thousands of valley residents. For many years, before the highway and railroad were built, the river was used to float the logs to the sawmills.
McKenzie rafting is a jewel waiting to be found here in Oregon. With many different whitewater sections and easy access, there is something for every level of boater. This is rafting in Oregon at it’s finest!