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Hiking, rafting and always eating

Story and photos by Lee Juillerat   April 1, 2010

  Hiking, rafting and eating are three of my favorite activities. And the opportunities to hike, raft and eat were abundant during a four-day, 41-mile long trip along a wilderness section of Oregon's Rogue River. My hike-paddle gave me a new perspective of a section of the legendary river that's traveled only by boaters or hikers. On my previous Rogue trips I had enjoyed river's eye views while paddling my whitewater canoe. On those trips we camped along the river and, because we ate only what we carried, our meals had been little more than filling, and certainly not worth remembering.  
  Lee Juillerat kayaking the Rogue River  
The author paddling the Rogue River in the 1970s

This time was different. Very different.

Over four days I viewed and experienced sights camouflaged from the river. The Rogue River National Recreation Trail mostly parallels the river and reveals a cornucopia of sights, places and tastes—including a kaleidoscopic variety of wildflowers, the Zane Gray cabin, Rogue River Ranch, a series of one-of-a-kind lodges—that I had never seen.

The Rogue actually begins far upsteam at a bubblelicious spring in a corner of Crater Lake National Park, where it begins weaving its way 215 miles to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach. Of that distance, 84 river miles are classed as a National Wild and Scenic River. And of that, nearly 35 river miles are designated as wild.


Wild times begin at Grave Creek, where the river bends away from the road at Grants Pass, the nearest major city, and the riverside communities of Merlin and Galice. For rafters and kayakers the journey takes 35 river miles. For backpackers and hikers, the sometimes meandering trail translates to 41 miles.

For three of us, my new best friends Fred and Terry Hinners, the trek was a series of day hikes spliced with occasional hours on the raft. Our overnight necessities were packed on an oar raft skippered by our guardian watchdog, Greg Contreras, the lead guide for Rogue Wilderness Adventures. While we carried daypacks with snacks, water bottles, cameras and binoculars, Greg—our floating Sherpa—stayed in walkie-talkie contact while rowing ahead to set up riverside lunches and unpack supplies at the lodges. For three nights we showered, dined on hearty dinners and slept in cozy cabins. On two evenings we were joined by a quartet of backpackers who carried light loads because they stayed at and ate in outfitter-arranged lodges.

However it’s done—and outfitters like Rogue Wilderness Adventures, the company that booked my trip, offer a variety of package plans—trekking and rafting the Rogue is a sensory delight.

  Rogue River  
The wild and scenic Rogue
  Rogue River Trail   Rogue River Trail  
Following the Rogue trail

The pleasures actually started five quick minutes into the walk. The trail is carved in a cliff and offers views equally sublime and spectacular. Flowers, including brilliantly red and yellow broad leaf and stone, Indian paintbrush, goldfields, foxgloves, Henderson stars and the delightfully named Farewell to Spring decorate the rock walls, spurt from trailside springs and streams, and burst in showy displays in meadows and fields.

  Wildflower   Wildflower   Wildflower   Wildflower  
Flowers line the trail in spring
  Whiskey Creek Cabin   An hour into that first day, Fred, Terry and I made a brief detour to the 1880s Whiskey Creek cabin, one of the most easily accessible of several log structures that recall a time when the Rogue was populated by miners. The Rogue gets its name from French trappers who called the river “la Riviere aux Coquins,” or the river of the rogues, after Takelma Indians who fought and lost fierce wars with early settlers.  
The Whiskey Creek cabin
  Black Bar Lodge   Raft ferry on the Rogue River   Dinner at Black Bar Lodge  
The Black Bar Lodge
Ferrying the river
Chowing down at Black Bar

After nine miles, we angled to the river’s edge, where Greg ferried us to the rustically comfortable Black Bar Lodge, a place I had never seen from the river. There, as in the nights that followed, we were directed to private cabins where we showered before gathering on a lawn to slurp down pitchers of fresh lemonade. Soon the ringing dinner bell signaled the start of a sumptuous feast that featured platters laden with pork chops in gravy, freshly baked sourdough bread, steamed rice, a variety of salads, sautéed mushrooms and hearty meatballs. Drool!

Day 2 began in the raft, with Greg providing a spicy narrative as we glided past pond turtles, viewed soaring osprey and bald eagles and splashed through rapids at Horseshoe Bend, Telephone Hole, Dulog, Quiz Show and Kelsey Falls. At Winkle Bar we pulled ashore to visit the Zane Grey Cabin, which the legendary western novelist bought in 1926. He visited often, savoring the isolation while he fished and wrote, including the 1948 novel, “Rogue River Feud.”

  Rogue River Ranch   Zane Grey Cabin  
The Rogue River Ranch
The Zane Grey Cabin

Later that day, after returning to the trail with Fred and Terry, we ambled through the Rogue River Ranch, another sight I’d only glimpsed from the river. A National Historic Site, the ranch preserves what a century ago was a bustling community of about a hundred miners, trappers and ranchers. The era is remembered with a settlement of historic buildings, including a barn, tackhouse, chicken house, blacksmith shop, tabernacle and museum main-house. We relaxed on the outdoor deck’s rocking chairs before hiking the final mile to Marial Lodge. That night's meal included ribs, twice-baked potatoes, more homemade bread, asparagus in tomato sauce slathered with cheese and, for dessert, an ice cream sundae.

  Marial Lodge dining room   The next morning, after a breakfast that include a quiche, berry muffins, homemade jam and hickory-flavored bacon, we took a short walk to the several eye-popping views of Mule Creek Canyon, a two-mile stretch where the river squeezes through a steep-walled gorge that in places is only slightly wider than a good-sized raft.  
Eating again, at Marial Lodge
  Rafting in Mule Creek Canyon   Rafting in Mule Creek Canyon   Rafting in Mule Creek Canyon  
Rafts travel through Mule Creek Canyon

At Inspiration Point, a prominent perch that provides a sweeping canyon view, I watched as rafts picked their way through. Even the most heavily laden looked as springy as plastic rubber duckies as they were tossed by the canyon's weird hydraulics. Seeing the canyon from above was something new. Mule Creek Canyon is steeped in legend, with a healthy dose of fear and respect. When paddling, I had always focused on chunking my way through the canyon's unpredictable turbulence.

  Raft jam in the Rogue River's Coffee Pot   Rafting the Coffee Pot run on the Rogue River  
Picking though the Coffee Pot

From above, I recognized the percolating rapids known as the Coffee Pot where, one memorable trip, my boat had been violently flipped by colliding waves. I was sucked out of my canoe, tugged underwater and, as though trapped in an industrial-sized washing machine, twirled and swirled for 20 minutes until I desperately grabbed onto the rock wall and somehow climbed/clawed my way up and out.

  Rafting Blossom Bar on the Rogue River   Rafting Blossom Bar on the Rogue River   Rafting Blossom Bar on the Rogue River   Rafting Blossom Bar on the Rogue River  
Working through notorious Blossom Bar

Beyond Mule Creek Canyon, the sights kept coming. Next was Blossom Bar, the Rogue’s most notorious rapids, where rafts and kayaks pinwheel around house-sized boulders. I never dumped, but I had seen kayaks trapped in rocks and rafts that flipped as easily as pancakes on a griddle.

  Clay Hill Lodge   Mining era cabin on Rogue River   Bridge at Flora Dell   Flora Dell Falls  
Clay Hill Lodge
Mining era cabin
Bridge at Flora Dell
Flora Dell falls

Then came Paradise Lodge, an aptly named riverside haven, and Brushy Bar, where the trail briefly angles away from the river through a dense Hobbit-like forest. The day ended at our final overnight stop, Clay Hill Lodge. I walked a short spur trail along Clay Hill Creek past mining-era buildings and rusting equipment. Even prettier, 1-1/2 miles downriver, is sprightly Flora Dell Falls, named for Flora Dell Thomas, who grew up at Clay Hill.

  Clay Hill Lodge dining room  

Dinner at Clay Hill was yet another gourmet’s delight, this time highlighted by generous helpings of mahi-mahi and tuna covered with a scrumptious mango salsa, more freshly baked bread, flavored rice, a crunchy corn salad and, Terry’s treat, a bottle of Pinot Noir wine from, naturally, Oregon.

It's eight miles from Clay Hill to Foster Bar. Our raft was loaded on a waiting trailer for the twisty ride over the Klamath Mountains back to the Rogue Wilderness office in Merlin. But we didn’t think about that at dinner. That was a day away.

Dine and wine at Clay Hill
  That third night, from my top floor room that looked downriver to Clay Hill rapids, I gaped as the setting sun reddened the river in subtle tones that gradually transformed from crimson to red-violet to ruby to magenta. The gathering twilight filtered through the trees, softening the river-bordering oak forest. An osprey flew past, a fish clutched in its talons. I fell asleep to the sounds of a river rhythmically flowing wild and free.   Rogue River view  
The view from my window

When to go

The best hiking seasons are April through mid-June or September and October. On spring outings be prepared for poison oak. The summer months are too hot for comfortable hiking. Lodges fill quickly so book trips, either with or without an outfitter, well in advance.

For information

Northwest Rafting Company offers 2 trips per week down the lower Rogue and they do it with pride! Their web site is:

Rogue Wilderness Adventures offer a variety of trips, including four-day raft-supported hiking lodge trips like the one described, seven-day hiking and rafting lodge trips, 4-day non-supported hiking trips and other packages. Call 800-336-1647 or visit

Another outfitter offering Rogue trips is White Water Warehouse, 800-214-0579,

For maps and general information about the trail and river contact the Rogue River National Forest at (541) 858-2200 or

An excellent new hiking and boating guide is “The Rogue River – A Comprehensive Guide from Prospect to Gold Beach” by Matt Leidecker, available through Rogue Wilderness Adventures or

About the author

  Lee Juillerat lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he works for a daily newspaper. He writes for several regional travel magazines, has written and co-authored books about Crater Lake National Park and writes for historical journals. He can be contacted at  

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