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The Boathouse Blog

White Water River Spotlight: The Grande Ronde River

Looking for a whitewater rafting adventure that is rich in history, wildlife, and beautiful scenery? Allow us to introduce you to the Grande Ronde River! Cut into deep basalt canyons and boasting stunningly varied landscapes, the Grande Ronde River is one of the most beautiful and unique adventures you can take in Oregon.   

Read on to learn more about its incredible landscape and history, plus what to expect from rafting the Grande Ronde River. 


Natural & Cultural History

The Grande Ronde River is a naturalists’ paradise in the lower reaches as it flows through towering basalt cliffs and beautiful Ponderosa Pine forests. These steep cliffs are made up of Columbia River Basalt which is the worlds’ largest basalt flow both in extent and volume. Lava oozed from a series of feeder dikes called the Chief Joseph Dike Swarm starting approximately 16 million years ago. When floating the Grande Ronde, one can see the horizontal layers of the basalt flows are interspersed with vertical feeder dike columns. Interestingly, in more recent history, civil engineers building bridges across this river used these feeder dikes as foundations for bridge abutments because of their strength.

Native Americans tribes, like the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce, spent winters in the lower reaches of the Grande Ronde canyon. Legend has it that the young Chief Joseph was born in a cave near the confluence of the Grande Ronde and Snake Rivers. The native americans in this region practiced vertical migration during the course of a year. In the fall, the tribes would travel down into the canyons for the winter where temperatures were predictably warmer. In the spring, the tribes would travel up out of the canyons into the Wallowa and Blue Mountains country where they could hunt and gather for food.

In more recent homesteader history, the Grande Ronde played a central role in logging and ranching. Irrigation water is pulled annually from the river to provide a range of crops in the region. The river was also used to move logs downriver to now defunct mills. In the early 20th century, Minam was a mill town.


The Course of the Grande Ronde River

The Grande Ronde River headwaters in the Blue and Wallowa Mountains and runs through northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. It is a tributary of the Snake River. The full length of the river runs 182 miles and ends where it meets up with the Snake River in Rogersburg, Washington, just five miles north of the Oregon border. 

In the lower reaches below Minam, this river corridor is managed by both the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service. In 1988, 43.8 miles of the Grande Ronde were recognized for its remote wilderness, roadless sections, and the subsequent intrinsic value to wildlife and recreation and were added for conservation purposes to the National Wild and Scenic River System. 


White water rafting the Grande Ronde River

Grande Ronde Rapids

While the entire river is a great adventure, here at Winding River Expeditions, we raft the wild and scenic section of the Grande Ronde River. This 46 mile trip provides some easy, class II & III white water rapids, making it a perfect fun-filled 3-day adventure for the family. 


On this 3-day expedition on the Grande Ronde River, you can expect:


Breathtaking scenery

We might be biased, but we think the Grande Ronde River is one of the great hidden gems of Oregon. Because much of the Grande Ronde River is only accessible via the river, the views remain largely untouched. The landscape spans from heavily forested ponderosa pine and steep basalt canyons to sparsely forested open fields and wildflowers. The river itself is largely mellow, making it easy to soak in the sun, views, wildlife, and spend time exploring land that few people get to see. 


Abundant wildlife

Because the landscape is so diverse, the Grande Ronde River boasts a wide array of different wildlife. Look forward to opportunities to view deer grazing alongside the river bank, bald eagles soaring through the air, river otters splashing around in the water, or mountain goats making bold jumps off their rocks. Plus, you might also catch a glimpse of herons, bighorn sheep, and even black bears and cougars (all from the safety of your raft!) 


Great fishing

The Grande Ronde River is known for offering some of the very best fishing and fly fishing in the Pacific Northwest. It is a great fishery for rainbow trout, and in the fall and winter, a superb place to catch steelhead. 

Interested in fishing on your expedition? Don’t forget your fishing license! You can purchase one at our Boathouse Shop before launch. 


An all-inclusive experience

Our expert guides will handle all of the details for you! On this expedition, we’ll provide:  

  • • Round trip ground transportation originating in Joseph, OR
  • • Professional river guides with years of white water rafting experience under their belts 
  • • The option to float in guided oar rafts, paddle rafts, inflatable kayaks, or stand up paddle boards during some sections of the trip 
  • • A campsite that will be set up and taken down for you each day 
  • • All meals for the entirety of the trip. These are locally sourced gourmet meals that can accommodate most dietary needs 
  • • All necessary rafting equipment and camping gear you will need for a comfortable trip, including tents and sleeping pads
  • • All permits needed to float the river 

Not sure what personal items to bring? Check out our recommended packing list here


Book your adventure today!

Are you ready for a fun-filled adventure on the Grande Ronde River? We’re now accepting reservations! 

Reserve your spot now by contacting us online or by calling us at (541) 432-0747. Or, learn more about our other whitewater expeditions here