ELGIN, Ore. — The Grande Ronde River in Northeastern Oregon offers an excellent day trip for beginning rafters as it snakes from open farm country around Elgin into the shady canyons and steelhead waters near Lookingglass Creek.
The roughly 13-mile float provides long stretches of nice scenery and relaxing travel, as well as places to ratchet up the heart rate and send a few splashes of water onto paddlers.
Like any early-season rafting, this trip is very dependent on weather and water flow. In just a few days’ time, this could turn into a rip-roaring ride, easily sending you traveling at 8 mph without even dipping an oar in the water. On low-water years or too late into the summer, you might find yourself bumping along the bottom just as often as floating unencumbered.
An excellent public boat ramp is located in the city of Elgin on Cedar Street, just a few blocks off Main. It’s a simple place to put in. It’s also just down the street from Joining Waters (541-437-1794), which offers shuttle services and raft rentals for those not totally equipped for the day.
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If you don’t need a shuttle and have an extra vehicle, it can be left near a public boat ramp access point about two miles past Lookingglass Creek near Palmer Junction.
That allows you a half-day float (again, very dependent on water flows) through country that cannot be seen or accessed from a road.
Depending on the water level, there is one bend in the river serious enough to require some planning and whitewater experience. Somewhere between a Class III and Class IV (the most difficult and dangerous rapids are Class VI), the sketchy spot is located at the head of a tight canyon about four miles downstream of Elgin.
Known by boaters as Andy’s Rapid, the short section can be run straight while dodging boulders if in a larger raft. Though it would not be an easy portage, those who don’t feel comfortable with that level of river danger could walk the boat around the short section.
Once past Andy’s Rapid, the river is often surrounded by public lands, offering excellent places to stop for a picnic lunch, a few casts for trout or steelhead, or to just enjoy the view. The Grande Ronde is known for its excellent summer steelhead fishing, especially around Troy, but the area near Lookingglass Creek can be very productive and often has less fishing pressure.
On a recent mid-March weekend, there was excellent waterfowl bird-watching throughout the float, as well.
It would be feasible to turn this float into a multiday trip with riverside campsites located throughout. The 182-mile Grande Ronde runs to the Snake. Kayakers, especially, could cover ground quickly enough to see both rivers.