The Rogue River National Recreation Trail is a beautiful hike traversing the right side of the Rogue River. Stretching a total of 40 miles, the trail passes through gorgeous side creeks, steep canyons, and provides plenty of river access. I hit the trail in mid-September and found amazing Fall colors, enjoying the cooler weather.
Season: May through September
Water: Plentiful from side creeks – bring a water filter
Toilets: Available at certain campsites. For those without, plan to pack it out or bring a trowel
Wildlife: Prepare for bear activity by bringing materials for a bear hang or staying at sites with bear precautions
Shuttle: Organize a shuttle before you go, usually through Galice
Exploring the River Corridor
As a Rogue River guide I am familiar with parts of the trail but was surprised by many other sections. The river has carved through a steep landscape. Each small fold in this canyon collects its own side creek, some obvious from the river (like Tate Creek) but many best accessible from the trail itself. I walked right next to waterfalls I had never known existed and hung a hammock almost in the water to enjoy an afternoon. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act recently protected many of these tributaries and I can see why.
Between creeks I walked through diversity. Lava flows and oak stands intersperse old growth forest (old growth forests are natural forests undisturbed by humans or natural disaster for at least 120 years). The end of the trail has a Jurassic feel with ferns, lichens and mosses in every direction.
This lack of disturbance is apparent on the trail: giant trees, a huge variety of plants, layers of growth and decomposition. While some historically important areas were carved out of the forest such as riverside ranches and old Native American farming terraces, it’s a lot of fun to walk through an old and natural place.
Appreciating the Rogue River
As a rower, walking the trail sometimes felt strange! But as a boater there was still a lot to enjoy from the trail’s perspective. The track provides a birds-eye view of most of the major rapids. I could pick out my line as well as more creative lines I never realized before from the raft. Simply, the rapids were pretty and impressive when viewed in their entirety from above.
While hiking I saw the beginnings of many major Rogue rapids. When a creek floods, it pushes rocks and debris into the river, obstructing the flow and creating a rapid. Areas abundant with side creeks such as Howard or Kelsey Canyon combined with the steep gradient can create the multitude of fun rapids we enjoy on river trips. Finding the subtler side creeks solidified this connection for me, making it fun to do the Rogue the slow way.
Corresponding to a raft trip, Mule Creek Canyon is a special place for a hiker too. It is beautiful, narrow, dramatic, and entertaining. I made my way down to a rapid known as The Coffeepot for a quick lunch stop and enjoyed watching boats wrestle the boils and currents. The trail travels on a ledge high above the canyon. In this section it culminates at Inspiration Point, a lookout onto a double waterfall. Here the land and water intertwine. The water carves into rock, the rock dictates waters’ momentary flow.
The Nuts and Bolts of Hiking the Rogue River Trail
On the Rogue River trail, there are plentiful camps, good signage, and great opportunities to see wildlife. Some camps are directly on the river (which are sometimes shared with boaters), while others are set back next to creeks or off the trail. It is even possible to stay at a few of the lodges if you are looking for a bed at night. The BLM and National Forest Service have done a good job marking the trail, but watch out for poison oak. Along with a map, I found it easy to navigate.
Wildlife such as osprey catching fish, deer, eagles, and salamanders are common. But it is also possible to see black bear which necessitates a few precautions. Be ready to hang packs, lock food in bear boxes, or put things in fences for the night. If you want to learn more about hiking the Rogue River Trail, check out the Rogue River Trail Guide and map from the BLM and Forest Service.
Rogue River Trail Highlights
Mile 0.0 – Grave Creek Trailhead and Boat Ramp. Consider parking and shuttling your car through Galice Resorts.
Mile 1.7 – Rainie Falls. Early campsite opportunity and upstream view of one of the largest rapids on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River.
Mile 3.2 – Whiskey Creek. Great campsites located just before and for another half mile after the bridge crossing. Consider visiting the historic cabin at the juncture past the bridge.
Mile 9.1 – Bunker Creek. A fantastic creek and small campsite for hikers only.
Mile 13.2 – Meadow Creek. A large campsite set just above the water before Kelsey Canyon.
Mile 15.0 – Kelsey Creek. A large creek with a beautiful, shaded creekside campsite just before crossing the bridge. A fun scramble downstream to the river and upstream to explore the creek.
Mile 22.7 – Rogue River Ranch. A historic ranch with a museum and opportunity for camping at Tucker Flat campground. Here the trail joins a road for about a mile until Marial Lodge.
Mile 23.5 – Inspiration Point in Mule Creek Canyon. A narrow section of trail that affords a view of the Stair Creek waterfalls on river left.
Mile 26.5 – Blossom Bar Rapid. A large rapid on the Rogue river. There is a campsite available for hikers here. Consider stopping to watch boats navigate the technical rapid.
Mile 27.4 – Paradise Lodge. The largest river lodge on the river, the path skirts to the right of the property.
Mile 30.2 – Brushy Bar Guard Station. A peaceful section of the trail slightly off the river with a pit toilet available.
Mile 32.5 – Tate Creek. A great scramble to a natural waterslide, many camps available starting at this point into Tacoma down the trail.
Mile 39.5 – Big Bend Trailhead. After navigating fenced pasture, the trail ends at a road just past Illahe Lodge.
Mile 40.6 – Foster Bar Boat Ramp. Follow the road and signs for Foster Boat Ramp for the raft take-out.