Okay, so you’ve heard of the Rogue River. You’ve seen the news footage of the recent dam removals, you’ve heard about the jet boats that zip up from Gold Beach, you’ve probably even eaten the cheese and drank the beer that are named for this famous Oregon icon. But have you actually BEEN there? If not, I suggest you open a new tab (go ahead, I can wait) and start planning your trip down to Southern Oregon.
Why such enthusiasm you wonder? Well, I grew up in Kansas where whitewater rivers and dense forests are only in faraway, distant lands; somewhere over the rainbow perhaps. So when I was a kid, we had to visit our local amusement park in order to experience any sort of thrill ride. When I was about 10, I can remember standing in a seemingly never-ending line for a ride called “Fury of the Nile”. It was a particularly hot day, and I couldn’t wait to get some splash-relief from the rapids. The line snaked around and you could see and hear the blue-tinted water raging below. When we finally boarded the large, circular “boat” and were lowered into the “river” my enthusiasm was palpable. However, as the raft bounced to-and-fro down a heavily-bumpered causeway that seemed designed to miss each “rapid”, my frustration mounted. I emerged barely damp, extremely dismayed and moved on to the roller coasters just for the breeze they could offer.
It would take 20 years for me to discover what rafting real whitewater was like, and despite realizing the inferiority of my simulated childhood experience, I was grinning ear to ear as I journeyed down the Rogue River. My trip took 4 days to travel through the Rogue’s wild and scenic section: no roads and only a few lodges meant that I may as well have been in the Land of Oz. The towering Douglas firs certainly rivaled the Emerald City, and there were even a couple of bears (no lions or tigers though). The osprey, bald eagles, egrets and herons soaring overhead seemed much less menacing than the wicked witches and flying monkeys.
I’m happy to report that I got wet, drenched really, multiple times each day. The Rogue’s water is surprisingly warm for what I had come to expect from the Northwest’s rivers. I even jumped overboard and swam along the rafts one afternoon through a long, deep section known as the Battle Bar flats. We camped riverside each evening with millions of stars sparkling overhead. The guides prepared delicious meals morning, noon and night. Drifting off to sleep and knowing that I got to do the whole thing over again the next day (free of long lines!) was one of the best parts of the trip.
I think the thing many people (myself included) get wrong about a rafting trip is that they are only for thrill-seekers looking for an adrenaline rush or hard-core outdoorsmen. For me, it is about the experience of immersing yourself in nature for a few days, and the perspective you gain when you’re transported out of your everyday life and into another world. The rapids can be as exciting as you want them to be, depending on which type of boat you choose to ride in (big oar boat, paddle boat or an inflatable kayak), and if your guide opts for the “wet-line” or “dry-line”. Paddling through the Rogue’s stunning corridor makes you feel like you’re on a true journey of discovery. Dorothy learned that there’s no place like home on her journey. I realized how lucky I am to call Oregon home now, and to remember that the Rogue River is just down the yellow-brick road, otherwise known as the I-5.
Janda Rhea moved to Portland in 2001 from Lawrence, Kansas. After a childhood spent sans rivers, oceans and mountains she was thrilled to find her new home, where nature abounds and conservation rules. She currently resides in Hood River and has worked for ECHO River Trips, a leading outfitter on the Rogue, since 2007.