Ask Zimo: Floating Oregon's Malheur River sounds intriguing

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJune 20, 2013 

Q: Do you have any experience canoeing or floating on the Malheur River, either from Beulah Reservoir to U.S. 20 or from Warm Springs Reservoir to U.S. 20?

What time of year is best?

Is this all flatwater? What is the best flow and is there a gauging station to check for the flow?

VINCE MATTHEWS, email

A: The Malheur River in southeast Oregon sounds like a really wild float - in spring and early summer.

I've never done it, but according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, there's a 20-mile, pretty much roadless stretch from the agency's Riverside Wildlife Management Area to near U.S. 20 at Juntura.

The river leaves the WMA, which is downstream from Warm Springs Reservoir, and goes through a high-desert canyon.

The word I got is that once you are committed, you are committed for about 20 miles. It's a very long day trip with flows around 500 cfs.

Flows below 300 cfs are too low for rafts. It was running 460 cfs this week. For current flows, you can go to http://levels.wkcc.org and click on Oregon and then Malheur.

There are Class II rapids in the stretch, and it does take maneuvering around boulders.

The float season usually starts in April, when irrigation season starts, and usually through the summer with good snowpack and runoff.

Biologists have seen flows as high as 1,200 cfs in the spring.

I got out my trusty river guide books for Oregon -"Paddling Oregon" and "Soggy Sneakers" and didn't get any good information on the Malheur River.

If you're thinking of floating the Malheur River, I'd scout the area before I made a run. You need to camp down there for a few days and scout the canyon, the put-in at the WMA, and also where the heck you can take out on public land.

You definitely peeked my interest in this river and I'll be scouting it next year for what sounds like an intriguing high-desert run.

You get to this stretch of the river by driving U.S. 20 to Juntura and taking the Juntura-Riverside Road west and south to Riverside Wildlife Management Area.

There is private land along the road and river, and you'll have to find the public road along the way to Riverside WMA where you can leave a shuttle rig.

Anyway, if anyone has more info on this river, let me know.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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