Outdoors

Grande Ronde River boating tips

Following are considerations for matching vessels with flows before floating the lower Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers.

The flow information and details on negotiating notable rapids are from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management river rangers, Pete Zimowsky’s river journal and Rich Landers’ river notes.

Recommended flows: The Grande Ronde River is runnable April through November. June through summer is the high-use season. River runners must contend with low or high water and cold weather during shoulder seasons.

Watercraft suggestions: Up to 1,000 cfs, very low: hardshell and inflatable kayaks, whitewater canoes, small paddle or row rafts and catarafts. Note: All river levels demand experienced canoeists and canoes suitable for swift rivers. 

• 1,000 to 2,000 cfs, low: same as above, but you can use larger rafts. Expect some bumping and grinding over rocks. 

• 2,000 to 6,000 cfs, medium: most craft; however, experienced drift boaters will like 5,000 cfs and up. Below that there is more busy rock dodging, which isn’t fun in a drift boat. Note: Maneuvering small fishing cats loaded with gear can be difficult in rapids. 

• 6,000 to 10,000 cfs, high: good for experienced drift boaters and medium to large rafts. Rapids start to wash out and rocks get covered.

Note: Water gets a lot more swirly for paddlers in canoes and kayaks.

• 10,000 cfs or more, very high: medium or large rafts; experienced drift boaters. Very swirly for canoes and kayaks.

Note: Some rafters like a higher flow because it means more time in camp and less time on the river with possible layover days in camp. 

Rapids

The lower 10 miles of the Wallowa can be busy. Although there are plenty of mellow sections on both rivers, look out for these rapids (get a river map, which is available at the Minam Store): 

Minam Roller, Class I to III; Red Rock, Class III; Blind Falls (memorize it on your river map because you can’t see it), Class II to III; Sheep Creek, Class II to III; and Martins Misery, Class II to III.

Note: A creek washout last summer created a new Class II-III rapids near river mile 64, downstream of Elbow Creek.

If you float all the way Heller Bar, you have to contend with The Narrows, a Class III-IV rapid between Schumaker Access and the Grande Ronde River Road up from the Snake River. The difficulty of all rapids varies with river flows. 

Campsites

There are limited campsites on the Lower Wallowa. Most floaters try to get down to the Grande Ronde where more campsites are available. The competition for campsites is high on busy summer weekends, so plan your strategy.

Most of the good campsites have nice shaded areas on river benches with possibilities to go on bushwhacking hikes.

Beware of rattlesnakes when climbing through the area.


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Rich Landers

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