Oregon's Wild and Scenic Rivers

The National Wild and Scenic River Act


Created by Congress in 1968, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was enacted “to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The Act aims to protect and preserve the unique character and attributes of these the nation's most pristine rivers while still acknowledging their potential for use and development and encourages public participation for developing goals for river protection.

Rivers that fall under the parameters of the Act include rivers that possess outstanding scenic, recreational, geological, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other like values. Protection under the National Wild and Scenic River Act includes the prohibition of damming or otherwise altering the river in any way including hydro-power projects, bank alternation, as well as any mineral, gas, or oil extraction.

Benefits of Wild and Scenic Rivers

Aside from breathtaking views, Wild and Scenic rivers provide many benefits for wildlife and humans. Protection of these pristine waters also means protection of vital fish and wildlife habitat as well as a source of clean drinking water for humans. Prohibition of mining and dam building ensure that the river remains not only clean and intact, but is also left to flow naturally and freely so as not to disrupt wildlife. After a river is designated, a comprehensive management plan must be put into place to develop goals for the river's present and future preservation. Athough the rivers are managed by federal agencies, they rely heavily on the involvement of the surrounding community.

Wild and Scenic Rivers in Oregon

There are approximately 110,994 miles of river in Oregon, of which 1,916.7 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic—almost 2% of the state's river miles. Some of these 58 designated rivers include the Clackamas, Deschutes, John Day, North Umpqua, and Sandy Rivers.

Oregon’s very own Rogue River was one of the original eight rivers designated in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Known for its salmon runs and rugged beauty, the Rogue River was designated October 2, 1968. Only a segment of the river, extending from the mouth of the Applegate River downstream to the Lobster Creek Bridge, was initially given protection. The Wild designation was given to 33.3 miles, 


the Scenic designation to 7.5 miles and the Recreational designation to 43.4 miles, making it a total of 84.5 miles of protected river. It wasn’t until October 28, 1988 that the remainder of the river, starting at Crater Lake National Park boundary downstream to the Rogue River National Forest boundary, was designated. This designation included a total of 40.3 miles of both Wild and Scenic protection.

Designations Included in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

  • Wild River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.
  • Scenic River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.
  • Recreational River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past.

Rivers may be given any one of these designations by Congress, or if certain requirements are met, the Secretary of the Interior. The protection may include the whole river or a section. For federally protected rivers it also includes a quarter mile of land on their side on either bank.  Programs of federal, state, local, or tribal governments regulate protection of designated rivers.

National Statistics
The National System protects 12,598 miles of 203 rivers in 38 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; this is less than one-quarter of one percent of the nation's rivers. By comparison, more than 75,000 large dams across the country have modified at least 600,000 miles, or about 17% of American rivers.

Metolius River by Leon Werdinger, Rogue River by Greg Burke