The Rogue River Trail is a beautiful and well-maintained route that runs the entire length of the Wild and Scenic stretch of the Rogue. The typical starting point is the Grave Creek boat launch, and the ending point is a small trailhead between Illahe Lodge and the Foster Bar boat launch (typical take-out point for the four-day float trip). Though the trail follows the river downstream, there are plenty of ups and downs that add a good bit of vertical climb to the trail.
There are a handful of lodges along the Wild and Scenic stretch of the Rogue, and most hikers choose to complete the four-day walk by staying the three nights at different lodges downstream. Lodges typically provide hikers with a dinner, breakfast, and lunch for the next day, so hikers can go relatively light. The primary “hiking season” on the Rogue is in the spring from late April through early June. After that, the lodges typically fill up with guest or commercial float trips down the Rogue. Lodge contact information is listed in the order of river flow:
Black Bar Lodge (RM 41.9) – 541.479.6507
Marial Lodge (RM 53.7) – 541.474.2057
Paradise Lodge (RM 57.4) – 541.842.2822
Clay Hill Lodge (RM 62.5) – 503.859.3772
Illahe Lodge (RM 66.9) – 541.247.6111
It is also possible to backpack the river and camp in many of the scenic riverside campgrounds. Hikers can easily hike the canyon upstream from Foster Bar to Grave Creek, which is a great way to follow up a spring raft trip down the Rogue.
This trip was actually done as a backpack upstream in the reverse direction of typical hiking traffic. It is written up, however, as a four-day trip from Grave Creek to Foster Bar in order to represent how most people will follow the trail. Mileages given are based on the popular Rogue River Guidebook, as this is one of the most comprehensive resources available to hikers and floaters.
For more comprehensive information about floating the Rogue River check out this Adventure Overview.
Prior to 1963, hikers accessing the Rogue River Trail had to climb over Mount Reuben and down the China Gulch Trail. Today, hikers can walk downstream directly from the Grave Creek ramp along a trail that has been blasted out of vertical bedrock walls. There are several impressive photogenic views within the first mile of the canyon. At 0.6 miles a concrete foundation is all that remains of the Sanderson Brothers Cabin. One mile downstream from Grave Creek, a sign above Sanderson Island indicates the high water mark of the 1964 flood. At 1.8 miles a short spur trail leads down to Rainey Falls, though the main drop is on the other side of the river. From here to Whiskey Creek Cabin the trail stays beneath dense tree cover with few river views.
The trail downstream to Tyee has two highlights. The first is exploring the remnants of the Big Slide landslide debris fan. At the high point of the debris pile it is possible to leave the trail and walk the edge of the fan for some nice views looking upstream. Regain the trail as the fan flattens out downstream. Here you will find spacious campsites on the flat bluff overlooking the river. The second highlight is the view from the cliffs overlooking Tyee Rapid and Tyee Camp. It is possible to access the beach at Tyee Camp for a nice lunch site and a dip in the river.
The trail downstream travels through dense forest until it climbs above Wildcat Camp. From this high point there are great views onto both Wildcat and Russian Rapid. Continue down to Russian Creek, where it is possible to access the river and explore the large gravel bar exposed along the right side of the river by Russian Rapid.
Once past Russian Creek the trail climbs back into the trees and stays 100 or so feet above the water. Hikers get only brief glimpses of Montgomery Rapid and Howard Creek Chutes along the way. The trail crosses a section of shattered black slate above Slate Slide Riffle. At Bronco Creek it is possible to scramble up the drainage and enjoy the endless moss-covered water features.
The trail from Bronco Creek to Bunker Creek climbs further above the river. At the high point above Plowshare Rapids and Windy Creek Chute it is nearly 200 feet above the water. There are several great views of the rapids in this section of the trail, so keep your camera handy. There is a gravel campsite on the upstream side of Bunker Creek. It is possible to scramble down to the river here as well. From here it’s 0.4 miles to the Black Bar turnoff, and another 0.2 down to the water’s edge across from the Black Bar boat landing.
From the Black Bar turnoff the trail climbs slowly up the steep west-facing canyon wall. It reaches a high point some 500 feet above the river across from Jenny Creek. The trail is carved into dramatic cliff terrain, but it offers only cursory views down onto the river. As the trail turns right into Horseshoe Bend, look for a feeder trail that leads down to the upper rafters camp. There is plenty of room on the spacious bar for backpackers and rafters alike.
From the junction with the feeder trail to the upper boaters camp, the trail contours into four creeks as it rounds the full turn around Horseshoe Bend and offers a cool, lush Oregon forest experience at each one. There is a mining diversion ditch coming out of Shady Creek that may offer some historical exploration. A small, one-man tent platform and feeder trail leads to the river at Francis Creek. Meadow Creek is 1.8 miles downstream and offers good mining history and meadow exploration hikes. There is a large meadow camp on the downstream side of the creek.
Take some time to explore the mining history and additional hiking options from Meadow Creek Camp. There is a beautiful photo viewpoint looking upstream onto Meadow Creek Canyon from a high point above Dulog Rapid. Downstream there are several openings in the trees that offer views onto the rapids in Kelsey Canyon. A large footbridge crosses Kelsey Creek before leading back to the river. A small hiker’s camp sits just off the trail, or you can drop down to the riverside campsite for a more spacious evening. There are several beautiful pools in Kelsey Creek. Climb the lower portion of the Kelsey Creek Ridge for some great views of Kelsey Canyon.
Next Day - Rogue River Trail – Day 2
Reference: Content excerpted from The Rogue River – A Comprehensive Guide from Prospect to Gold Beach. by Idaho River Publications.
Our mission is to inspire adventure with beautiful, comprehensive and waterproof map-based guidebooks. Owner, publisher, and photographer Matt Leidecker, grew up exploring and guiding on the rivers in central Idaho. His award winning Middle Fork of the Salmon River – A Comprehensive Guide is the standard by which other river guidebooks are measured. Printed on virtually indestructible YUPO paper, IRP guides are truly unique all-in-one resources for adventure. Each book is loaded with full-color maps, stunning photographs, and information on the history, geology, and wildflowers. Visit Idaho River Publications to explore our guidebooks to the Rogue River in Oregon and the mountains of Central Idaho.