Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.
Spanning 215 miles from Oregon’s Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean, the legendary Rogue River commands attention — and deserves it. For thousands of years, the treasured waterway provided sustenance to native Tututni tribes. Today its watershed covers parts of Klamath, Jackson, Josephine, Douglas and Curry counties.
This Southern Oregon gem was one of the first designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, recognized for its outstanding natural, cultural and recreational assets. To visit the Rogue River is to begin to understand its glory. Getting up close to its pristine waters and surrounding habitat is when a lifelong love for the river really unfolds.
Ready to explore? Here are five favorite ways to play on the Rogue River.
1. Hike the Rogue River Trail
The Rogue River National Recreation Trail stretches 40 miles from the Grave Creek trailhead outside Grants Pass to the Big Bend trailhead upriver of Gold Beach. The entire trail traverses the wild section of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River and 16 miles of the Wild Rogue Wilderness. Along the trail are boat ramps, campsites and the Rogue River Ranch National Historic Site. Around mile 17.3, note the Historic Kelsey Pack Trail, a former route for Takelma tribe members, and Winkle Bar, where acclaimed Western author Zane Grey’s log cabin still stands.
Of course you don’t need to hike the entire national recreation trail to enjoy it. The moderate 7-mile Whiskey Creek Cabin section features Oregon’s oldest known still-standing mining cabin. If you prefer not to hike there and back, Galice Resort, Orange Torpedo and Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures all offer shuttles. For an easy day hike, consider the shaded but sometimes narrow Rainie Falls Trail across the river.
2. Cast a line for salmon and steelhead
For centuries, the Rogue River’s legendary steelhead runs have drawn anglers to Southern Oregon. Nearly year round you’ll find the elusive game fish in the Rogue, notably with light but active half-pounders in the summer and hefty winter steelhead in late fall. They’re notoriously fun to catch on a fly fishing line.
The river is home to other native fish — both wild and hatchery — like Chinook salmon, cutthroat trout, Pacific lamprey and sturgeon. Chinook salmon are particularly productive in spring along the Rogue and often tackled with bank or drift fishing. With local outfitters, you can get geared up and find where the fish are biting — so soon enough you’ll have your own legendary Rogue River tale to tell. For the latest fishing openings and bag limits, check out the ODFW Recreation Report.
3. Paddle on a guided rafting trip
About 58% of the Rogue River, 124 miles (200 km), is designated Wild and Scenic. The 84-mile Lower Rogue River was part of the original Wild & Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. For a truly wild experience on the Rogue, consider a whitewater rafting trip on the Lower Rogue — and down its Class II and III rapids — with outfitters and guides from May to September.
Along the rafting route, several spots will imprint in your memories. The river spreads out at Rainie Falls, splitting into a fish ladder, class V falls and a class IV chute. At Tyee Rapid, a class III named after the Chinook word for chief, the channel curves and begins a fun stretch of rapids that includes Wildcat, Washboard, Windy Creek and the steep drop of Upper Blackbar Falls. Then there’s the infamous Blossom Bar, where a strong eddy line makes for a tricky and exciting move. Camps like Horseshoe Bend, Kelsey Canyon and Tacoma offer scenic stops and easy access to hiking trails.
Of course there are plenty of Rogue detours that aren’t advertised, too. Get the insider’s scoop with outfitters like Northwest Rafting, Orange Torpedo Trips, OARS, Indigo Creek Outfitters and Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness Adventures. Due to the river’s challenging whitewater, it’s recommended to only float with a permitted guide (and noncommercial boats are subjected to a lottery system anyway).
4. Cheer along a wild jet boat tour
No paddling required: Oregon’s jet boat tours showcase the Rogue River scenery at exhilarating speeds. Feel the spray of water on a whitewater excursion with Hellgate Jetboat Excursions and Rogue Jet Boat Adventures near Grants Pass. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions also offers slower-paced trips themed after wildlife or with meals at its lodge, while Rogue Jet Boat Adventures hosts music concerts from a floating stage. Outside Gold Beach on the Oregon Coast, Jerry’s Rogue Jets provides whitewater excursions to the limited-entry Wild section of the Rogue River as well as tours along a historic 1895 mail boat route that the company still uses to deliver mail to the town of Agness.
5. Get to know the river’s communities
The Rogue River flows from the Cascade Mountains near Crater Lake to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, with its watershed stretching through the Applegate and Rogue valleys. Each community is uniquely connected to the river — and worth visiting and supporting when the time is right.
Along the Upper Rogue, the city of Prospect boasts the Prospect Historic Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in the 1880s that once hosted guests like President Theodore Roosevelt and novelist Jack London. Situated along a bend in the river, Gold Hill is home to the mysterious Oregon Vortex and Ti’lomikh Falls, where a shoreside marker indicates the Takelma tribe’s famed Storytelling Stone. Year after year, Valley of the Rogue State Park is noted as the most visited Oregon state park due to its scenic trails, campsites, boat launch and easy access off I-5. Billed as Oregon’s whitewater rafting capital, Grants Pass has a colorful downtown filled with cute shops, noteworthy eateries and life-sized, fiberglass bears displayed as public artwork. Further downstream, the community of Agness rests at the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois rivers, while Gold Beach sits at the river’s mouth where it rushes into the Pacific Ocean and near the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.