: Novum Visuals

Get Out on the Water in Grants Pass

With three rivers and many mountain lakes and creeks to explore, it’s easy to make waterside memories in Southern Oregon.
May 15, 2023

It’s impossible to separate Grants Pass from the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, one of the West’s most majestic and storied rivers — it flows right through the center of town. But the Rogue isn’t the only place to play. Nearby waterways include the Applegate and Illinois rivers as well as lush mountain lakes and burbling creeks, all ripe for adventure. Whether you crave the thrill of whitewater rafting or prefer to float, fish, paddle or stroll along the streamside, Grants Pass is the perfect base for water-focused fun.  

Hellgate Jetboat Excursions

Get Out on the Iconic Rogue & Illinois Rivers

An expert-guided jet-boat excursion is the most accessible way to experience the rugged beauty of the Rogue. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions offers short excursions and longer outings including brunch or dinner at a historic riverside lodge. The experienced pilots are always entertaining, bringing to life local lore and pointing out sights and wildlife along the way. Reservations are a must in the summer months; the tour is best suited to kids 4 and up (check the website for more details).

A more adventurous option is guided whitewater rafting on the Rogue or on the Illinois River through rugged gorges in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. With many seasoned outfitters based in the area, it’s easy to find a trip tailored to your group’s experience and comfort level — from multiday trips over raging whitewater to mellow, flat-water floats punctuated with a gentle rapid or two.

In the mood for something a little different? Rogue Rafting Company puts a unique spin on a river trip, combining zip lining with an afternoon of whitewater rafting followed by wine tasting at Del Rio Vineyards, just a few miles west in Gold Hill. Or book a trip with The Paddled Pub to enjoy two classic Southern Oregon delights — rafting and local craft beer — at the same time.   

Fly fishing (Photo by Novum Visuals)

Angling for a Reel Good Time

Excellent recreational fishing is available year-round at just about every turn in the Grants Pass area. Experienced local guides can help you hone your angling skills and steer you to the best fishing holes on rivers and lakes. Gear up and enjoy the scenery and conversation while fly-fishing on the Applegate or aboard a drift boat on the Rogue to land a chinook salmon, steelhead or trout.

If you’d prefer to go it alone, grab your pole and head to one of many popular bank-fishing spots along the Rogue, like Finley Bend at Matson Park. Kids will enjoy fishing for largemouth bass and stocked rainbow trout at Lake Selmac, a 160-acre lake near Selma, a community between Grants Pass and Cave Junction. (Be sure to consult ODFW fishing regulations for information on licensing, seasons and catch-and-release rules.)

Rogue River in Grants Pass (Photo by Cate Battles)

Chasing Waterfalls and Wildflowers

If you prefer to keep your feet on terra firma, waterside walks and hikes are plentiful in the area, starting with several parks in downtown Grants Pass. Explore paved riverside paths and playgrounds at Riverside Park or at Reinhart Volunteer Park, where a pedestrian bridge over the Rogue connects to the peaceful Tussing Park.

Take a scenic drive west of downtown to the mile-long Limpy Botanical Interpretive Loop Trail. The forested creekside hike is lush with mossy waterfalls and wildflowers as well as benches and interpretive panels along the way.

Wildflower enthusiasts can find Oregon’s largest concentration of rare and special-status plants at Rough & Ready Botanical Wayside, a short trail system just south of Cave Junction. Be on the lookout for native grasses and wind-gnarled Jeffrey pine along with buttercup, Douglas’ monkey flower, California poppies and rare violets. Pack a picnic and enjoy it on one of the new hand-carved benches overlooking the Rough & Ready Creek.

Applegate Lake (Photo by Cate Battles)

Spend an Afternoon or Overnight at a Forested Mountain Lake

Nothing says summer like bobbing in a mountain lake watching treetops sway in the distance. The Resort at Lake Selmac has an old-school vibe with rustic campgrounds, cabins, teepees, a general store and boat rentals. Applegate Lake, south of town in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest offers camping, a sandy swim beach, forested hiking trails and kayak and paddleboard rentals at Hart-Tish Campground.

Boatnik (Photo by Novum Visuals)

Head to Farmers Markets and Festivals for Local Flavor

Stock up on picnic provisions at the Grants Pass Growers’ Market, where vendors sell everything from fresh produce, cheese and artisan bread to smoked wild salmon and foraged mushrooms. Look for the market downtown in summer and at Josephine County Fairgrounds during the winter. Spring to fall, weekly markets pop up in Cave Junction, the Applegate Valley and Murphy.

After a fun day on the water, check out the local festival calendar brimming with family-friendly events. The Boatnik festival, held in Riverfront Park every Memorial Day weekend, includes a lively parade, live music and speed-boat races down the Rogue River. Other popular annual events include the neighborly Porchfest and Back to the ’50s. In the fall, Art Along the Rogue brings live music and talented chalk artists to historic downtown.

About The

Rachel Bucci
Rachel Bucci is a writer based in Oregon's Willamette Valley. She enjoys exploring all four corners of the state with her husband and son, who are always game for adventure whether it’s hiking in the Cascades or crabbing along Siletz Bay. She has a soft spot for museums and roadside attractions, as well as the scent of juniper in Oregon’s High Desert.

Trip Ideas