A Brief History of Whitewater Rafting

By Charles Marion Russell - Humanities Texas, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=164966

Whitewater rafting has become a very popular water sport in Oregon and across the United States. It didn’t start out as a whitewater raft with professional guides. Instead, it has evolved over time as various cultures and generations have passed down their knowledge and techniques for navigating the whitewater of many a river.

The Fishing Rafts of Northwest Native Americans

Here in the Northwest, rafting has been an important part of the fishing techniques of several Native American tribes. For almost 15,000 years, the Nez Perce and other tribes navigated the many rivers that serve as tributaries to the Columbia River. They did not have flexible rubber rafts. Instead, they used wooden rafts to float down the river in order to get to their  plentiful fishing spots. When Lewis and Clark arrived in the West, it was from these tribes that they learned how to build rafts strong enough to navigate the whitewater of rivers like the Deschutes.

East and West Coast Rafts

Some of the original rafts used in the Northwest and across the US were very simple but effective. The pirogue was a flat-bottom boat that had a few different designs and it was most commonly used in the West. The Bateau was an Eastern-developed raft that was made of a simple frame with planks. Eventually, rafters combined the best qualities of these two boats to create the keelboat. Its most notable difference was that it had a streamlined hull, which was much better for controlling the direction of the raft.

A replica of Lewis and Clark’s pirogue.

The Invention of Rubber Rafts

Once whitewater rafting became commonplace, more rafting expeditions began to emerge. Most rivers, including the Snake River and Platte River, were still too rough for the keelboat design. That’s why in 1843, John Fremont designed the first rubber raft, which was later improved by Peter Halkett in 1844. These flexible boats made it much easier to navigate rough waters, making river expeditions across the US more successful.

The Rise of Whitewater Rafting as a Sport

It wasn’t until a full century later that whitewater rafting evolved into a recreational sport. In 1940, the Salmon River became one of the first to host guided rafting trips through its rapids. The popularity of the spot grew throughout World War II and began to spread to other rivers. In 1972, whitewater rafting became an official sport and made its first appearance at the Munich Olympics. Since then, whitewater rafting has thrived in rivers with great rapids and where communities embraced outdoor adventure.

Today, the Deschutes River is one of the most popular rivers for whitewater rafting in the Northwest. People come from across the country to experience the many outdoor wonders of the Deschutes River Canyon and to challenge themselves with Class III and IV rapids. Imperial River Company in Maupin is a well-known destination for guided rafting trips, where they carry on the proud tradition of navigating thrilling rapids for young and old rafters alike.


Imperial River Company, Maupin OR
Lodging and Rafting on the Lower Deschutes River
(541) 395-2404

A Firework-Free 4th of July

Oregon Fourth of July events take on a more relaxing feel here in Maupin. Maupin’s Independence Day is fireworks-free! While this may be disappointing to some, for others it’s a welcome alternative.

The Darker Side of Fireworks

When thinking about Independence Day, you often recall delicious food, family, and fireworks that light up the night sky. However, for some, fireworks can be a source of stress, especially for Veterans and others who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The loud and sudden noises can sometimes be a trigger. Although not every individual who lives with PTSD may be affected, many Veterans are stepping up to raise awareness of those who might be, the Marine Corps Community service explains.

While planned events like scheduled town fireworks can be prepared-for, unexpected late-night firecrackers and other noises can trigger negative reactions for Veterans such as flashbacks to the battlefield. Fireworks can also be stressful for pets and they interfere with the ability to sleep for people young and old. (Side note: we have some pet-friendly rooms at the Imperial, so bring your fuzzy buddy and enjoy a restful night’s sleep.)

Benefits of a Firework Free Zone 

Maupin’s geographic location prevents the use of fireworks and other fire hazards here during summer months. Our dry and sunny climate is perfect for rafting fun but leads to an increased risk of wildfires. In protecting the town and the surrounding area, our fireworks-free Independence Day serves as a peaceful escape for anyone wanting to skip the explosions and chaos.

Oregon 4th of July Activities from History 

Before fireworks were so easily accessible, Oregonians found other ways to celebrate the day and some may still be applicable. So if you’re looking for things to do on the 4th of July that don’t involve fireworks, here are five ideas drawn from Eastern Oregon celebrations.

  1. Grill-up some burgers

2. Enjoy a parade with your friends

3. Go horseback riding (not many horses here in Maupin- but you can ride one of our rafts instead)

4. If horses aren’t your style maybe a bike or motorcycle ride will do

5. Finally, take a nap and repeat (or just stick with the nap)

Photos from an Eastern Oregon 4th of July in 1941.


Wherever you spend it, we hope you have an amazing 4th of July!


Imperial River Company, Maupin OR
Lodging and Rafting on the Lower Deschutes River
(541) 395-2404