Oregon’s Rogue River flows from its headwaters at Boundary Springs within Crater Lake National Park westward for 215 miles to where it enters the Pacific Ocean near Gold Beach, Oregon. One hundred twenty-four miles of the river have been designated as Wild and Scenic and hiking trails follow it for approximately 100 miles. The most well know and justifiably famous of these is the Rogue River Trail, a National Recreation Trail which runs for 40 miles from Grave Creek to Foster Bar. In 2015, we backpacked this trail over four days and three nights, with camps at Bunker Creek, West Mule Creek, and Brushy Bar Creek (post). This year, we did short dayhikes to Rainie Falls (post) and Whisky Creek Cabin (post), having bypassed the cabin during our backpacking trip. After having walked the trail, we thought rafting the river would a complimentary (and less energetic) way to gain a different perspective on one of Southern Oregon’s most iconic features. We got our friends Wayne and Diane to join us and arranged for a 4-day raft camp/lodge package with Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness Adventures (based on our having used them previously to shuttle our car for the backpack and for a “family comes to visit” day of rafting on the recreational (Hog Creek to Grave Creek) section of the river). We were also enamored of the beer-carrying capabilities of a raft versus our backs (since freeze dried beer has proven to be the ultimate oxymoron).
Day 1: Morrison’s Lodge to Doe Creek
Early in the morning of our put-in day, we found our way to Morrison’s (at river mile (RM) 16.2) and did a final sort and stuff of our gear.
Then it was down to the beach to meet one of our guides (Mikey) and our sturdy craft. Much of our previous rafting experience has been on the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, where group size is typically 16-20 clients plus 5-6 guides and helpers. So a 6-person, one raft (plus gear raft) trip was a new (and pleasant) experience for us. We also brought along an inflatable kayak (a “duckie” or, more aptly, a “dunky”) which was much fun but ultimately gave all three of us who used it an unexpected ride through one rapid or another.
I used the duckie (and got to ride face-first through Argo Riffle (RM 24.8) for my troubles) as we cruised leisurely down river to our lunch stop at Grave Creek (RM 27.0). We had lunch in the shade of the bridge, which was a welcome relief from the intense sunshine and an air temp pushing toward 100F. We had hoped for sunny weather for our trip (who wouldn’t) but its first two days coincided with air temps 10 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year. Just sitting still set you to sweating…
Here we met Russell, our other guide, who would drive the gear raft for the duration of our journey. After lunch (yeah, we’ve heard it before: “float & bloat” – but have you tried freeze dried beer?!), we pushed (or were pushed) on downriver,
For us, seeing the Rogue River Trail from the river was one our goals for this trip. It’s readily visible for a few miles below Grave Creek and (because we knew where to look), we could just make out the trail and the plaque that marks the high water mark (55 feet above the river’s summer level) of the 1927 flood which destroyed Sandersons Bridge.
The biggest obstacle of this section of the river is Class V Rainie Falls (RM 28.8), which commercial trips run sans clients down the fish ladder along the right bank. So while we got out and walked, Mikey zoomed down the ladder and met us just downstream.
After some more bobbing and weaving and floating, we camped for the night at Doe Creek (RM 30.5 – right bank).
While Mikey and Russell set-up camp and started dinner,
we did a hot hike eastward back along the Rogue River Trail for a visit to Whiskey Creek Cabin (RM 30.1).
Then it was back to camp to find shade until the sun dropped behind the ridge – then we had drinks and dinner in the cool of the evening. And so to bed…
Day 2: Doe Creek to Battle Bar
Fortunately, it cooled into the 60s overnight, which made it a little easier to perform the kitchen magic associated with breakfast,
and for us to sit around watching the magic act. The result was so, so much better than our usual backpacking breakfast of granola and freeze dried berries!
And then we were off, through Tyee Rapids (RM 31.3),
Wildcat Rapids (RM 32.1),
Slim Pickins Rapid (RM 33.8),
and then around Horseshoe Bend (RM 37.5),
before finally washing-up for lunch at Telephone Bar (RM 38.1).
It was shaping-up to be another scorching, hotter-than-usual day, and we had to take extreme measures to cope with the heat.
This stretch of the river features benches covered with meadows on the right bank, now turning brown in the pre-summer heat. Telephone Bar is just upstream from the river and trail camps at Meadow Creek – which we’d noted as a very nice place to camp as we passed through it during our backpack.
Although the meadows were browning, there were still quite a few flowers blooming, including this Showy Milkweed hosting a beetle and a swallowtail butterfly.
Then it was back in the boats to run a few more Class II rapids,
before pulling into Camp 2 at Battle Bar (RM 41.4), with a view of the Rogue River Trail – the line through the brown meadow on the opposite bank.
The historic feature here is Robert Fox’s old fishing lodge. Fox had planned a fishing resort but was unable to complete it because Jack Mahoney, a neighbor (and escaped criminal), shot and killed him on May 6, 1947. The 1964 flood destroyed the walls of the cabin but the roof and supports remained. In 1991, the BLM and the White City Veterans Administration Domiciliary refurbished the shelter.
Then it was back to camp to find shade until the sun dropped behind the ridge – then we had drinks and dinner in the cool of the evening. And so to bed (again)…
Day 3: Battle Bar to Paradise Lodge
Overnight, high clouds rolled in and the air temp dropped into the low 70s – very pleasant even if it was no longer sunny. After breakfast, we got rowed across the river,
so we could hike a short distance west on the Rogue River Trail,
to Winkle Bar, site of Zane Grey’s fishing cabin.
Western writer Zane Grey bought the mining claim for this site from a prospector in 1926. Grey then had his cabin built and, until 1935, used it for a place to stay while he was fishing and writing. The BLM purchased Winkle Bar in 2008. Many believe real events and characters inspired his novel Rogue River Feud about the battle over fish at the mouth of the Rogue (more).
Then it was time for a few more rapids,
further enhancements to the LovedOne’s head gear,
and a view of what was reported to us as a petroglyph depicting a sacred turtle. Or at least our guide said this was true.
Michelle was the only ducky driver who hadn’t spilled yet but fate caught up with her at China Bar Rapids (RM 46.7), giving Morgan, her husband, yet another opportunity (he’d pulled me out of Argo Riffle) to demonstrate his rescue skills by heaving her back into the raft.
After that excitement, we pulled into East Mule Creek at Rogue River Ranch (RM 46.9) for warm clothes and lunch. While Mikey and Russell conjured up a taco bar, we wandered up to further explore the ranch (we’d walked around it during our backpack).
The ranch structures remaining today represent the center of the old Marial community, which had a trading post with upstairs lodging, a blacksmith’s shop, and numerous outbuildings that filled the early residents’ social and commercial needs. The two-story main house is now called the museum (currently closed for remodeling). The main house was built in 1903 by George Washington Billings.
George operated a trading post, post office and boarding house here with his wife, Sarah Ann. The ranch was a popular gathering place with a barn known as the “Tabernacle” serving as a focal point. The ground floor of the tabernacle was used to stable horses and mules and the top floor was used for storage, dances, parties and Sunday worship services. In 1931, George Billings sold the ranch for $5,000 to Stanley Anderson who expanded the house and added a caretaker house, bunkhouse, tackroom, woodshed and storage shed. The Andersons used the ranch as a recreational homesite until 1970, then sold it to the BLM.
After sightseeing and lunch, we continued on toward the two most significant rapids on the river: Mule Creek Canyon (RM 47.9) and Blossom Bar Rapids (RM 49.8).
The canyon is an collapsed lava tube which, from above, looks hardly wide enough to swim through much less get a raft through.
It doesn’t look a whole lot wider at river level!
After surviving the Guardian Rocks (IV) and the Coffee Pot (IV), we popped out of the canyon at Stair Creek (RM 48.7), which looks small at river level,
but is actually a beautiful, multi-level waterfall if viewed from the Rogue River Trail.
High water during last winter’s storms deposited a large tree trunk on a rock pedestal about 30 feet above the river. The Lost Creek and Applegate dams likely keep the Rogue from reaching the highs it experienced during the 1927 and 1964 floods but it can still pack a punch!
After Stair Creek, Mikey rowed us artfully through the twists and turns of Blossom Bar Rapids (RM 49.8),
then, feathers flying, we crashed down the Devils Stairs (RM 50.2),
before finially washing up at the oasis of Paradise Lodge (RM 51.0).
The sun broke through the overcast later in the afternoon and we spent some quality time on the deck nursing cold beers, while Michelle and Morgan, being young and spry, went off to climb some local highpoint. Later we enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Lodge and then called it a day.
Day 4: Paradise Lodge to Foster Bar
The next day started out sunny but still cooler and we had hopes it would stay that way for this, our last day on the river.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have made fun of the Spirit of the Sasquatch,
but by the time we’d finished breakfast, the overcast had returned and we gathered at the landing dock under a mild gloom. The dock is actually a wheeled platform that sits on rails and is winched up and down the slope to load and unload boats. There is no road to the lodge and all the heavy stuff has to come up from Gold Beach by boat.
Heading downstream, we passed Clay Hill Lodge at RM 56.3,
had a brief fling with Clay Hill Rapids (RM 56.6),
then drifted out into the Clay Hill Stillwater (RM 56.7), where we could see some hikers on the trail above.
About a mile further along, we came to Flora Dell Creek (RM 57.8), where we stopped to answer the last call of “float & bloat” with a quick lunch.
The rocks along the shore are dinged with various sized potholes which are – according to our guides – kept filled by propwash from the jet boats that run daytrippers up and down from Gold Beach.
At river level, the falls on Flora Dell Creek are small and empty into several pools, the largest of which harbored several dozen Rough-skinned Newts (Taricha granulosa).
Higher up, by the trail bridge, is Flora Dell Falls, a 30-foot waterfall that drops into a deep emerald pool to create one of Oregon’s great swimming holes.
After lunch, it was back on to the raft for the final float to the take-out at Foster Bar (RM 61.5),
followed by the sorting and loading of gear,
and then the sinuous drive on Bear Camp Road back to Morrison’s Lodge. Despite the vagaries in the weather (but wait, this is Oregon!), we had an excellent trip, with very companionable fellow rafters and great guides, fun rapids, and tasty meals both on-river and at the lodge. Guiding is hard work no matter what but having only two guides for six people seemed to make their work harder than usual, especially during the very hot first two days. Apparently, if we’d had just one more client, there would have been an extra guide and the workload would have been lighter. So deluxe kudos to Mikey and Russell for performing yeoman service both on and off the river!