With 90,000 river miles in the state and hundreds of outfitters to choose from, neophyte rafters have an embarrassment of riches. To help navigate the tricky currents of brochure jargon and select the experience that’s right for you, here’s a list of rivers to run and questions to ask before going.
Raft the famous Rogue River  June–September to avoid the rainy season and be spared current fluctuations due to dams upstream. This run is characterized by gentle stretches broken up by abrupt and occasionally severe drop-offs as well as swift currents. In fact, Blossom Bar is often cited as one of the state’s consummate tests of skill for rafters. The Rogue is ideal for half- and full-day rafting trips, with most outfitters putting in near the town of Merlin and continuing downstream as far as Foster Bar.
Water turbulence on the Rogue is often intensified by constricted channels created by huge boulders. Depending on the season, rafters can expect Class II, III, and IV rapids interspersed by deep pools and cascading waterfalls. At day’s end, superlative campsites offer repose and the chance to savor your adventures.
Despite the dryness and isolation of Oregon’s southeast corner, the Owyhee River has become a prime springtime destination for white-water enthusiasts. The 53 miles from Rome to the Owyhee Reservoir have two sections of exceptionally heavy rapids, but the many pools of short intense white water alternating with easy drifts make for a well-paced trip. The best times to come are May–early June. Before going, check conditions with the Vale Bureau of Land Management District office (541/473-3144, www.or.blm.gov/vale ), because the Owyhee can only be run in years with high snowmelt. Access to rafting takeout points in this part of the state is greatly facilitated by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The John Day River in northeastern Oregon offers an even-flowing current as it winds 175 miles through unpopulated rangeland and scenic rock formations. Below Clarno, the grade gets steep, creating the most treacherous part of the state’s longest river (275 miles). The 157-mile section of the John Day that rafters, canoeists, and kayakers come to experience also has falls near the mouth that require a portage. The special charm of this Columbia tributary is the dearth of company you’ll have even during the river-running seasons of late March–May and then again in November. Just watch out for rattlesnakes along the bank, and remember that the silt load in this undammed river reduces it to an unboatable trickle in summer months. Contact the Prineville Bureau of Land Management office (541/416-6700) for more information.
Unlike the John Day and the Owyhee Rivers, the Deschutes River rapids  aren’t totally dependent on snowmelt, and it is the busiest vacation waterway in the state. The 44 miles between Maupin  and the Columbia River contain sage-covered grasslands and wild rocky canyons where you might see bald eagles, pronghorn, and other wildlife. If there’s a good run of salmon or steelhead, you might also encounter plenty of fishing boats. This area averages 310 days of sunshine annually, so weather is seldom a problem except for excessively hot summer days.
Typical rafting outfitter services include meals, wetsuits or rain gear, and inflatable rafts and kayaks. Guided raft trips begin at about $50 for a half-day trip and increase to $200 and up per day for longer trips. Groups can get volume discounts. To ensure an intimate wilderness experience, ask about the number of people in a raft and how many rafts are on the river at one time. Are there any hidden costs such as camping gear rental or added transfer charges? What is the cancellation policy?
Another consideration is the training and experience of the guide. Can he or she be expected to give commentary about history, geology, and local color? You might also want to check about the company’s willingness to customize its trips to special interests such as photography, bird-watching, or hiking.