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Hiking: Oregon

Rough and Roguish River Trails

September 01, 1996|JOHN McKINNEY

A river runs through it--and a trail does too. The Rogue has long been known as one of the Pacific Northwest's most renowned rafting rivers. Now its shoreline is fast gaining fame as a world-class walking destination.

In nature, as in art and industry, awards aren't always perfect indicators of achievement. In the Rogue's case, however, the river is most deserving of its considerable accolades. The river was designated wild and scenic, one of the first in the nation to receive this status when Congress created the Wild Rivers System in 1968. In later years, the footpath received National Recreation Trail status.

Rogue River National Recreation Trail is becoming increasingly popular for another reason: It offers lodge-to-lodge hiking for those who want great hiking by day and a hot meal and comfortable accommodations at night. A series of rustic Rogue resorts, spaced conveniently along the lower half of the trail and not-so-conveniently along the upper half of the trail, offer a Euro-style walking experience in an all-American setting.

The trail offers a pleasant backpacking trip too. Many small trail camps are located by the Rogue or near frisky creeks that flow into the river.

Wildcat Rapids, Blossom Bar, Devil's Staircase and the Coffeepot are among the wet and wild challenges faced by rafters and kayakers.

Rogue River National Recreation Trail follows the river's north bank for 40 miles. The path is sometimes known as the Upper Rogue River Trail, in part to distinguish it from a lower (and lesser) trail along the lower Rogue River.

For much of its length, the path stays 80 to 100 feet above the river, with occasional climbs to 300 feet and frequent dips to the river. It's slightly easier to hike downriver than up; there's an elevation loss of 400 feet in the 40 miles between Grave Creek and Foster Bar

The Foster Bar (lower, western) trail head is located about 30 miles upriver from the coastal town of Gold Beach. The Grave Creek (upper, eastern) trail head is located 30 miles downriver from the city of Grants Pass.

Neither Grants Pass on Interstate 5 nor Gold Beach on U.S. 101 will win your heart as a place to stay, but they are jump-off places for a Rogue adventure. Gold Beach excels at packing people onto jet-boats and shipping them upriver.

The only other way to reach the river is via Marial Road, which offers vehicle access to the Rogue's midsection. Within a short walk of the road's intersection with the river is the historic Rogue River Ranch, Tucker Flat Campground, Marial Lodge and Marial Forest Service Station.

In downstream order, the lodges are: Black Bar Lodge, Marial Lodge, Paradise Lodge, The Lodge at Half Moon Bar, Clay Hill Lodge, Wild River Lodge and Illahe Lodge. Reservations are virtually mandatory for a stay at one of these lodges. Expect to pay about $80 per night per person for lodging and three meals.

Rogue River's most hiker-friendly lodge is Paradise Lodge, P.O. Box 456, Gold Beach, OR 97444, telephone (800) 525-2161. Paradise meets hikers at Foster Bar and jet-boats them 13 miles upriver to the lodge. Paradise Lodge specializes in making arrangements and reservations at other lodges along the river.

Hikers can enjoy the Rogue River Trail in at least four ways:

Weekend lodge trip (one or two nights): From Foster Bar, take the jet-boat to Paradise Lodge. Spend the night. Day hike to Marial Lodge and Rogue River Ranch Museum (10 miles round trip), return to Paradise Lodge. Next day, hike 12 miles to Foster Bar. A night at Illahe Lodge would be a pleasant way to ease into or out of the weekend.

Long backpacking trip (four to five days, 40 miles one way): From Grave Creek, hike the whole length of Rogue River National Recreation Trail to Foster Bar. Numerous fine trail camps, some with developed water sources and bear-proof food storage facilities, are situated at convenient intervals.

Weekend backpacking trip (two days, 15 miles one way): Take advantage of the Marial Road entry to the riverfront and walk downriver to Foster Bar.

Long lodge-to-lodge trip: Alas, it's all but impossible for most lodge hikers to start at the Grave Creek Bridge trail head because it's a 24-mile hike to Marial, the first convenient lodge. (Black Bar Lodge is a perfect 9.6 miles down the trail, but it's on the opposite side of the river. If you can make arrangements to get over to the other side and back, you can walk lodge-to-lodge along the whole trail.)

Here's a capsule description of the trail: From Grave Creek, join the Rogue River Trail west of the boat landing. A small trail camp is located half a mile down the trail. The path's first five miles are quite rocky.

At mile 9.6, you'll see Black Bar Lodge opposite the trail on the south bank. The lodge is open from April through mid-November.

At mile 15.4 is Kelsey Creek Camp. Mile 23.0, the Rogue River Ranch Museum, is a highlight.

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