As I wrote the other day I’ve had a great summer so far. I love my time in central Oregon doing all the things that are so easily accessible that fit my lifestyle. But many of my fun adventures (and most of my paddling) in recent years has been in the Santiam canyon. Like many “Bendites” who have lived here since it was an itsy bitsy undiscovered town, I see the advantages to the growth. Working at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, I’d be unable to do what I do without that growth…as just one example. However, I’d be lying if I said I enjoy all that comes with the high density of people now living or visiting this area.
My haven has become my “other life” in Gates and Mill City (I tend to lump them together even though they are, in fact, two different towns 3 miles apart). There, I can enjoy stunning hiking trails that I might see just a handful of people, if anyone at all. The Santiam river is not only gorgeous and uncrowded but also a perfect river for all levels of paddlers. It’s actually the Santiam river that I’ve learned most of my whitewater SUP skills because it has a perfect progression (moving backwards). What I mean by this is that a beginner can begin their paddling experience downstream and move their way upstream since the farther up you go, the more advanced it gets. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve had access to a paddling shop right at the put in and take out of two awesome sections of the river.
Mehema to Camp Taloali (a private camp that rents out their cabins to groups) is an excellent class I/II stretch for beginners and was, in fact, my very first run on the Santiam on a paddleboard. Upstream is the Mill City to Mehema stretch which is also class I/II with some stout II’s (more challenging than downstream). Packsaddle to Mill City is probably the most popular stretch on the north Santiam. It boasts class II/III’s with Spencer’s Hole, Carnivore and Mill City Falls the most “noteable” rapids. I’ve never stood Spencer’s Hole all the way through but I’ve only fallen in the first time, typically taking a knee midway. I will never run Carnivore on a SUP but rather run the right side of the river (where you can’t even see the rapid) however I’ve been on a raft many times through it. Mill City Falls I’ve also never stood through but Sam has many times. Typically I go down to at least one knee through it and full disclosure…last time I swam. It ends in flatwater right above the take out…no worries.
Above this is Niagra Falls which solid class 4 kayakers do all the time and above that, with some river in between including a dam, is the Bruno run. I’ve never run it…way above my level of paddling…but I hear it’s a hoot, from those boaters that have the ability. Remember I’m a Frisky Ripples kind of gal…ha!
Once you’ve paddled whatever stretch you’re going to run, it’s almost sacrilegious to not eat at Papa Al’s. The place is always busy in the summer because it’s good, clean and reasonable cafe food (burgers, sandwiches and tots…oh the tots!!). In fact, I’ve rarely been to Gates without eating at Papa Al’s at least once. It’s right upstream from eNRG Kayaking, the paddle shop at the put in/take out where I visit constantly because of my relationship to Sam, but also because the crew is great. They’ve got equipment to rent and “oooops I forgot this” retail products (sunscreen, dry bags, basic spray skirts, etc) and a clean, new bathroom. Yup, no more using the public restroom across the street with cement floors…not that I’m complaining.
The Santiam canyon is no Bend…thank God! It’s been a respite and savior for me to escape the crowds. My home away from home and a blessing. If you’re looking to try something new and haven’t paddled it, give it a try. Message me! I’ll paddle with you. And then maybe go home…haha…after eating some cheeseburgers.
Thanks for listening and happy paddling!