The Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) follows the Rogue River for about 47 miles from near its headwaters at Boundary Springs in the northwest corner of Crater Lake National Park to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area outside of Prospect, Oregon. The trail can be day hiked in sections between readily accessible trailheads. Today we did the short (~7 mile) Foster Creek to Big Bend section and allowed for slow going due to winter storm damage and limited trail maintenance.
We parked one car at the Big Bend trailhead along Forest Road (FR) 6510 about one mile off Highway 230 and were planning to park the other car a mile up FR 6530, also off of Highway 230, and walk the short ways to the actual trailhead. But we found FR 6530 still closed due to fallen trees for as far along it as we could see. So we had to park on Highway 230, right at the trailhead. All those fallen trees on FR 6350 were an omen – one we blithely ignored. The sad condition of the sign at the trailhead was yet another omen – also ignored. To be fair, trail maintenance in this area doesn’t really get going until early June but we could tell from the start that this section of trail hadn’t seen much maintenance for quite a while.
Yet, if we remained vigilent, we could pick out the tread fairly well and were able to follow it down to an anticipated wet crossing of Foster Creek, just before the creek enters the Rogue. By judiciously scouting out shallow areas and gravel bars, we were able to wade across without mishap. [Note: This creek is much smaller in mid-summer; a simple walk-across.]
One thing this section of trail gives you – beyond navigation practice and a full body workout – are views of the Upper Rogue that you’re not going to get from any other location. This is a “quiet” section of the river – all the tourist-exciting falls and roaring chasms are further downstream – and it’s humbling to watch masses of water glide past in silence.
We’re pretty much past the snow season now at this altitude but there were a few patches right on the trail (of course).
This snow wasn’t an issue except where it held the cougar tracks – which seemed to be going directly along the trail we were following. That, along with seeing a hardy bear poop about every mile, kept us a little on edge with respect to encounters with wildlife. We also found (and carried out) some discarded Coors cans – indicative on yet another kind of “wildlife” (or idiots – our preferred term for trash-spewing vandals).
There were places were the river’s winter flows had done the job of scouring away the bank, toppling whole trees into the current.
The topo map showed several footbridges along the trail, presumably crossing tributary creeks or boggy areas that we might otherwise have to wade across. We were soon disabused of the idea that we could count on these bridges being where the map said they were – this one had been blown clean out of the channel it was crossing!
In some places, the trail had really suffered and was only discernible if you really, really looked for it.
But just when we would start getting a little discouraged about trail conditions, we’d get another unique view of the river, this one of the eroded pumice bluffs from the pumice avalanche that buried the Rogue’s channel during the eruptions of Mt. Mazama.
So we continued, passing over (or often around) yet more badly abused bridges,
and a trillium with insect visitors.
There were a few nice, carefree stretches of trail – you could see that, back in the day, it must have been an easy cruise along the river, but these days we had to sometimes crawl through the blowdown,
or up and around were a falling tree’s rootball had exploded the tread.
But then, a another soothing view of the Rogue (sigh),
followed by another (unexpected) wading opportunity. We could tell by the remnant abutments that a footbridge had once been here but probably was carried away downstream at some point in the past. There was some concern that that water was deeper than the LovedOne was tall but she made it across – but we were NOT pegging the fun meter on this one.
A little further along, we came to a massive logjam stretching across the river and several hundred yards downstream. Reportedly a great place to find cutthroat trout.
About 5 miles from the trailhead, we reached on open area of informal, seemingly drive-in campsites where an abandoned 0.5 mile trail (looks more like a road) goes west to the old Brown’s Cabin trailhead. Brown’s Cabin was the site of an early day Forest Service ranger station. It took some searching to find the continuation of the #1034 as it ducked off the bluff (under a solid cover of ravel, fallen limbs, and large trunks) to continue along the river.
Another suffering bridge to cross,
and we were in the home stretch to the Big Bend trailhead. Fortunately this piece of the trail (from Brown’s to Big Bend) was in good shape and mostly free of ravel or blowdown – which was a welcome change from what we’d dealt with for most of the previous 6 miles. One last look at the river and the hike was over.
We managed to cover 7.7 miles on this section, with very little elevation gain (~200 feet). It was definitely worth doing, if for no other reason than those unique views of the pumice bluffs. But the going was slow – 6 hours to cover those miles – well off our usual pace – oh, hindsight, where art thou sting! It was also pretty discouraging to see that a National Recreation Trail, along a National Wild & Scenic River, had slipped into such disrepair. If the High Cascades Ranger District doesn’t get on this pretty soon, you can say good-bye to this section of the #1034 (and eventually the #1034 itself) – it’s also worrisome that this section is not on their website. So, with sadness once again creeping up on us, we stopped at Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek to pick up one of their justifiably famous (and totally delicious!) pies to take home with us. Nothing like a piece of pie to banish that sadness (and maybe launch an epic poem)!