The Elk River

by Zachary Collier

The Elk River is one of the five federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers located in the Siskiyou Mountains (Rogue, Illinois, Chetco, Smith, and Elk). It's the smallest and least known of the group but has the same "oustandingly remarkable values" of the other four.

This section of the Elk has the Grassy Knob Wilderness to the North and unprotected land to the South. There is a road along most of its length, but it's hardly noticeable much like the road along the Cal Salmon. In fact, the Elk feels a lot like a smaller version of the famous Cal Salmon with steep bedrock walls, clear water, and dense forest.

Lower Gorge of the Elk River

Lower Gorge of the Elk River

There are a number of put-ins and take-outs along the way, but I suggest doing the 11.5 mile run that starts at Butler Bar and ends at the Elk River Fish Hatchery. After a short warm-up section, you enter the first of three gorges. This short gorge is one long rapid that can easily be scouted from river left.

First Gorge of the Elk River

First Gorge of the Elk River

Below the first gorge are several fun Class IV rapids with a few long sections of Class II and flat water in between. About half way down is an alternate river access on the left.

The biggest rapid of the run is at the entrance to the second gorge. There was a somewhat hidden, dangerous log at the bottom of this rapid so please scout this on the right side. There are a few easier rapids in the remainder of the second gorge.

Coming out of the second gorge of the Elk River

Coming out of the second gorge of the Elk River

Below here are a few miles of fun Class II to IV rapids before the third and final gorge. There's a nice eddy on river left above the gorge to stop and take in the beauty. From there you can scamper up to the road and scout most of the back to back Class IV rapids in the gorge.

Entering the lower gorge of the Elk River

Entering the lower gorge of the Elk River

After the gorge is about a mile of Class II rapids to the take-out at the fish hatchery.

The Grassy Knob Wilderness and nearby Copper-Salmon Wilderness exist in large part because of the efforts of Jim Rogers. He first came to the Elk River as a logger and eventually became an advocate for preservation of this special canyon. He founded the Friends of Elk River and was featured in the following OPB Oregon Field Guide about the Elk River.

Logistics: Get on Highway 101 near the town of Port Orford in Southern Oregon. Three miles north of Port Orford, head east on Elk River Road. Leave a car at the Elk River Fish Hatchery about 8 miles up Elk River Road. You can check the river gauge there. We had about 4 feet, which was on the low end of good.

To get to put-in, keep driving up Elk River Road until you see a suitable place to launch your boats. I'd suggest starting at the well-marked Butler Bar Campground.


Zachary Collier

Zach is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company and has led groups throughout the U.S. as well as Siberia, Bhutan, Nepal, Honduras, and Chile. His passion for wilderness shines through how he runs both his trips and his company. He's as confident on the oars as he is on the chess board, while he delivers a truly memorable experience in the most amazing places on the planet.

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