Rogue River, OR

Just did the 4-day, “Scenic Wilderness” portion of the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Beautiful wilderness river, steep canyon.

General Beta:

  • Technical Level: Class II with some IIIs and a couple III rapids (depending on who you ask). [the main route at Rainie Falls can apparently be turned into a V by not running the fish ladder). All serious rapids can be portaged in a packraft.
    Technical Complexity: Low. Most of the rapids on the Rogue were dynamited, blowing straight lines through them. Hell or highwater, if you stick to the big line / wave train, you’re probably good. The two memorable exceptions for me are Rainie Falls(where the non-C-V run is a fish ladder which even big rafts use) and Blossom Bar which is a C-III big rapid with strong bones.
    Predominant Hazards: A few packraft-portageable rapids that are best to run without swimming (Blossom, Mule Creek, the entrance to Rainie Falls). You could in particular have an unfortunate encounter with some Volkswagen-sized rocks. The Rogue is an extensively run river. That said, there are fatalities on it, as on many well-run rivers. Mule Creek (really a defile, not an rapid) is a long, fun chasm of pushy water with one very noteworthy eddy that can pull a swimmer under.
    Permit Needed? Yes
    Length: 4 Easy days. Aggressive paddlers could easily do it in 2.
    Do-Able with Just Packrafts? Yes.
    Do-Able as Big Expedition? Yes. In our case, we had 3 oarboats, 6 kayaks, 4 packrafts, 2 IKs, and 20 people, including 3 babies and 1 toddler.
    Rapids are Baby-Hikeable? YES! Kid-carrying parents took the hiking trail which crosses the side of the river gorge, thus bypassing all the III rapids.
    Volume: Variable. We did at (I believe) 5,000 to 7,000 CFS. The week before it was 17,000 CFS.
    "Quality": The Rogue is a proper river, with large volumes of water, substantial mid-river obstacles in places, and big “push.” Eddylines can be substantial, but I know of only one place on the river (Mule Creek’s “coffeemaker”, in a canyon narrows) where the Eddyline really looks like it would suck you down (and it did suck down a friend’s father, once. He came back up). In its steep canyon, the Rogue has a remote feel.
    Climate: Southern-Temperate. The Rogue is close to the Northern border of California. Ran in Mid-June; never wore more than a fleece coat and wool pants, even at night. That said, it can rain, rain, rain.
    Good Stuff Nearby: The Oregon Coast, Oregon Sand Dunes.
    Bailout Options: Several. Although the river has a remote feel, on 2 of our 3 days we camped in close proximity to riverside lodges.

We made a generally very chill run of the scenic wild section of the Rogue. It’s a substantial river, the sort where - if you keep your head about you - it’s a great trip with low drama, but the key being “don’t take it for granted.”

Coming to the “keep your head about you”: the water looks deep in a lot of places. As with ANY body of water, I personaly suggest sounding it thoroughly. A gentlemen in our group elected to do an unsounded cliff-jump. Broken femur. Hauled out on a 50 foot line under a helicopter (which is a very dangerous operation, and unreliable). He got to experience an 10 on the 1-10 pain scale. Other than that, it was an safe, chill, no-drama trip with little kids in which no experienced person ever felt anxious to my knowledge.

Note: Intermittent Poison Oak grows on the shores. After over-exposure in my last career, I consider any path with poison oak be C-V to VI, and generally take my chances with the alligator-infested waterfall leading into the power turbine surfaced with flaming BP oil and mousetraps.

I have done this section of the Rogue three times in our packrafts, twice with my husband, once with a friend, one of those times also with an IK and a hardshell kayak. All around 2000 cfs in the summer. It was a great run! So beautiful, with lots of side creeks for drinking water (avoid drinking river water), lots of side hike potential (up side creeks, or along the Rogue River Trail & it’s side trails), a few historic sites. Plenty of small beaches for a small party. 2 of 3 times we hitchhiked the shuttle back to the put in, the other time we only needed to shuttle one passenger car for four people and all our gear–the benefits of small boats and packing light! Last minute permits are pretty easy to get for a small group, especially if you can go on a weekday. 2 days is possible, 3 or 4 allows time for lounging, swimming, and hiking.

The Fish Ladder at Rainey Falls is actually really fun in a packraft! Just go as far right as possible, and that’s it (it is hard to scout the ladder). Mule Creek Canyon can be really swirly depending on water level, and we had one short swim there. It is mostly about squaring up to the boil lines and bracing as needed. Blossom was smooth for us, but you don’t really want to swim there.

Have fun!