Southwest Oregon’s Lower Rogue was one of eight rivers originally designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The 84 miles of federally-protected river corridor that cut through the Klamath Mountains, however, are just a portion of the nearly 215-mile system that flows from the west rim of Crater Lake in the Cascades to Gold Beach on the Pacific Coast.
Just about 10 miles from Grants Pass the Rogue makes an abrupt turn to the north, sweeping around the layered sedimentary rocks at Finley Bend. It is here that the Rogue leaves the upper valleys of Medford and Grants Pass to begin its tortuous course through the Klamath Mountains on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Downstream to Grave Creek the river is punctuated by many Class II rapids.
The rocks between Finley Bend and Grave Creek are laced with gold. Miners began exploring the creeks and bars downstream as early as 1854. They almost immediately found “color,” and the burgeoning communities of Galice, Taylor Bar, Hanksville, and Almeda were soon established. As the river slips through Hellgate Canyon, by open grassy benches, over bedrock riffles, and past gravel bars desiccated by hydraulic mining, you'll find that the history of the region is intertwined with the roiling waters of the Rogue.
Boaters at Almeda Bar or Grave Creek who are preparing to enter the Wild and Scenic corridor pack their boats in anticipation of the beautiful canyons and turbulent whitewater that lie in wait downstream. In addition to the excitement of rapids like Horseshoe Bend and Black Bar Falls, the river passes through a region rich with history. As the Rogue presses deeper into the Klamath Mountains, flowing over Kelsey Falls through Mule Creek Gorge and Huggins Canyon, it passes through a landscape that is as beautiful and complex as the history of the people who lived along its banks.
By the time the Rogue pours into the Pacific Ocean it has carved through nearly 90 miles of rugged mountainous landscape. The thrilling whitewater at Blossom Bar is balanced by the placid waters in Copper Canyon. Along its lower reaches the river spreads over long riffles and gravel bars, seeming to relax after the deep, turbulent canyons upstream. The river’s long journey to Gold Beach flows through spectacular canyons, past abandoned miner’s cabins and Indian camps, and next to battle sites and modern lodges built on private land and passed down from the original homesteaders.
This remote corner of southwest Oregon was, in many ways, the final frontier of the American West. Men and women came from all directions to seek their fortunes or find isolation in the rugged canyons along the Rogue River. For the early Native Americans, white settlers and miners, and even modern-day rafters and fishermen, the Rogue River was and will always be the centerpiece of the region.
A brief list of some of the notable rapids on this run follows, but please consult a river map for specific locations and information.
The stretch of river from Grants Pass to the Pacific Ocean covers just over 100 miles of river, though this adventures focuses on the 37 miles of designated Wild and Scenic river between Grave Creek and Foster Bar.
The public lands along the Rogue River are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In addition to the Wild and Scenic protection, a portion of the corridor along the Lower Rogue River is also designated as federal wilderness. The Wild Rogue Wilderness was created in 1978 and is managed by the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.
The BLM issues permits to float parties in addition to managing the river corridor downstream to Marial. The Wild Rogue Wilderness and river corridor between Marial and Lobster Bar is managed by the National Forest Service. More information for these agencies is available on their websites:
Special-use float permits are required to float the Wild and Scenic stretch of the Rogue River between Grave Creek and Foster Bar. The popularity of the Wild and Scenic corridor requires that the number of annual floaters are regulated to protect the river’s scenic, natural, and cultural resources.
Permits for the “Control Season” between May 15 and October 15 are issued by a computerized lottery. The BLM issues permits based on “user-days,” allowing a total of 120 commercial and non-commercial boaters to launch every day. The use between these two groups is generally split 50/50. The maximum group size is 20, but any combination of group sizes can fill up the allotted non-commercial user-days. For example, a daily quota of 60 user-days could be filled with 3 groups of 20 or 20 groups of 3.
In general your odds of drawing a permit are improved if you apply for a smaller group size and/or request dates in the shoulder seasons (May through early June and late September through October). The application period is December 1 through January 31. Permits and more detailed information is available at:
Smullin Visitor Center at Rand - 14335 Galice Road Merlin, OR 97532
Smullin Telephone and Fax - 541-479-3735 and 541-479-0535
Smullin Web Address - www.or.blm.gov/rogueriver
Smullin Email Address - [email protected]
The Rogue River is a spectacular resource for the communities of southwest Oregon as well as the thousands of people who visit the river from outside the state. Recreational users at every level should utilize minimum impact camping practices and follow Leave No Trace ethics when hiking, floating, camping, and motor boating in the canyon.
In addition to following the Leave No Trace ethic, the NFS and BLM have a few additional requirements:
Fire Pans - In order to prevent the proliferation of fire rings in popular campsites, fire pans are REQUIRED for all open fires within 400 feet of the river’s edge. There are no minimum specifications for firepans, but river users are expected to leave the beaches clean and pack out their ashes. When having a fire, keep the fire pan elevated to keep from scorching the sand and other soils and plants.
Human Waste - For river users, urine can go in the river and solid waste must be packed out. The BLM and NFS maintain pit toilets along the river in many campsites. It is not guaranteed, however, that these sites will be available for your group. Floating parties are REQUIRED to carry a toilet in order to pack out solid human waste. The toilet system should have enough capacity to accommodate the entire group for the length of the trip. BLM rangers will ask to inspect your toilet when checking in at Smullin.
A SCAT machine is available at Foster Bar for disposal of your human waste. It costs one dollar per cycle (bills or quarters). PLEASE keep handy wipes, feminine hygiene products, and paper towels out of your toilet as they can clog the SCAT machine.
Wastewater - Current Leave No Trace ethics recommend dilution in the river as the best practice for disposing of wastewater. Please strain your kitchen wastewater to remove any solid foods before dumping it in the river. Other liquids from bathing, brushing teeth, canned foods, and beverages should also be disposed in the river.
The town of Grants Pass has several big supermarkets for groups that are traveling from outside the state. The Safeway downtown (115 SE 7th Street) is conveniently located near the area’s only liquor store (210 SE 8th Street), so it may be a logical shopping choice for some parties. Historic G Street is nearby and offers many dining options.
The small community of Merlin is spread along Merlin Road. There are a few restaurants and a small grocery store that should have any last-minute food items. There is no liquor store in Merlin, so this may necessitate a trip into Grants Pass depending on your group’s predilections. There are a handful of rental and shuttle companies along the way, and the SOTAR factory carries a variety of boating equipment from repair parts to dry bags.
Galice is the hub of the river community downstream of Merlin. They have a large deck for riverside dining, a small store for last-minute items like sunscreen and river guide books, and a shuttle and commercial guiding service.
All Wild and Scenic float trips MUST check in with BLM rangers at Smullin 10 days prior to launching AND on the day of their launch to pick up their permit. Parties launching upstream can pull into the beach below the Rand boat landing and follow stairs up to the visitors center. The facilities at Rand have a history dating back to the discovery of the “Big Yank Ledge” in 1874. Plan some extra time to visit the cabins and other historic features of the site.
One important consideration when dealing with the river shuttle is the safety of your vehicle and belongings. Rangers at Rand report an increase in vehicle break-ins along the Rogue River, especially at Grave Creek. If you choose to leave your car unattended for several days, don’t leave any enticing items inside.
For floaters who choose to run their own shuttle, there are three options. The southern route via Bear Camp Road is the most commonly used. The northern road via the Kelsey Mule Road and Eden Valley Route is slightly longer. Both of these routes follow steep and winding mountain roads that often narrow to one lane. Some commercial shuttle operations:
The Rogue is a multi-use river. You will encounter other floating parties, driftboats, and motorboats. Your interaction with other river users begins at the various boat ramps and put-ins along the river. Please be courteous, friendly, and helpful when interacting with other users both on and off the water. Here are a few things to consider at the boat ramp:
• Use the ramps for loading and unloading only. Move any gear quickly to the side and leave the ramp open for others to use. 5 to 10 minutes maximum!
• Pack and rig your boats off to the side of the ramp. If there is not adequate space to do this, consider choosing another access point or rethinking your packing technique.
• Let other groups who are simply unloading and launching (driftboats/motorboats) go ahead of you on the ramp.
Management of the Rogue allows for motorized use along the river. Driftboats with motors, power boats, and commercial jetboats all enjoy portions of the river corridor. Please share the resource respectfully with these user groups. Downstream traffic generally has the right of way, BUT commercial jetboats heading upstream through long rapids on “plane” cannot stop safely until the top. This can create a potentially dangerous situation when the top of the rapid is not visible from below.
Float boaters need to recognize this dynamic when interacting with jetboats. Often it is courteous to wave the jetboat upstream rather than force them to wait for an entire party of five rafts to float through a rapid. Finally, it is not necessary to row your boat to the bank with every jetboat encounter. They need a safe channel to pass, not the entire river. If you don’t mind the wake, provide a clear channel and wave the jetboat through at full speed.
Wild and Scenic floaters should be aware that Jerry’s Rogue runs commercial scenic tours to the base of Blossom Bar Rapid. Their schedule is such that the boats reach the base of Blossom Bar in the morning before heading back downstream to Paradise Lodge or Agness for lunch. If you want to limit your encounters with jetboats, run Blossom Bar sometime after lunch and they should be well downstream.
The Rogue River has a worldwide reputation for its anadromous fish runs and aquatic resources. When you encounter a fishing party on the river, please be respectful and don’t float through or over their lines. Conversely, fishing parties should not unduly block passage downstream. Courteous hand signals and verbal communication are important for a pleasant interaction.
Covering the details of the Rogue River fishery is beyond the scope of this report. Please help protect the fishery by following minimum impact practices along the river. It is also important to avoid disturbing shallow gravel beds that may contain salmon redds during the fall and spring spawning seasons. Contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for details on statewide fishing regulations.
The lower wilderness canyons of the Rogue River are home to a healthy black bear population. While these creatures are beautiful to see along the river, they can become an annoying and dangerous problem when attracted to food in your camp. It is problematic for both humans and bears when they recognize us as a reliable food source. Some camps are equipped with an electrified bear fence. Here are a few guidelines on bear “proofing” your camp.
• Never take food into your sleeping bag or tent.
• Always keep a clean camp. Poorly rinsed kitchen surfaces and loose garbage around camp are sure-fire attractions for bears.
• Wash your boats regularly. To be extra cautious, remove any food coolers or boxes from your boat to prevent damage from hungry bears.
• Strap coolers and boxes together. Booby trapping them with noisemakers like empty pots may deter the bear from destroying your equipment. Plus, it can warn you of the scavenging beast.
Bears are not the only wild animals you are likely to see along the Rogue. Eagles, ospreys, great blue herons, Canada geese, and ducks are likely to soar above your boat. River otters, salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon glide through the water and sometimes put on a leaping display. On shore the bears are joined by raccoons, squirrels, deer, and other scurrying forest dwellers. Enjoy the wildlife along the Rogue, but please DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS.
There are no guaranteed safe drinking water sources along the river, so your group should be prepared to boil, filter, or treat their drinking water.
If you get good at identifying only one plant along the river corridor, it should be poison oak. This lurks nearly everywhere along the Rogue River, so if you plan to do any exploring or off-trail hiking, here are a few suggestions:
• Cover up – Bring along a pair of long pants and a shirt to hike in. When you are finished hiking, keep them separated from the rest of your gear.
• Rinse off – As soon as you expect exposure, rinse aggressively with cold water (i.e. dunk in the river). This doesn’t break down the oil, but can carry it away before the compound bonds with your skin. If soap is available, use it liberally.
• Avoid contact – If you are good at identifying the plant, it is possible to avoid most contact by moving carefully through the woods.
• Treatment – Check out www.poisonivy.us to learn more about preventative products and treatment of the itch.
Reference: All content excerpted from The Rogue River - A Comprehensive Guide from Prospect to Gold Baeach 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.