Goin' Rogue

Hikers cross a footbridge over Whisky Creek about a quarter-mile from the old miner's cabin built above the Rogue River more than 130 years ago. Nancy McClain photo

The Rogue River beckons those with a sense of adventure and a desire to test their mettle in Oregon's true backwoods, even if they can't tell the difference between an oar and a paddle.

The 35-mile float through one of America's original Wild and Scenic rivers long has been a top-drawer destination for the highly skilled rafters and driftboaters able to traverse the Class III and IV rapids.

For Wild and Scenic Rogue River permits and information:

Call: 541-479-3735

Visit: Smullin Visitor Center at Rand, 14335 Galice Road, Merlin

E-mail: or110rr@blm.gov

Check out: www.or.blm.gov/Rogueriver

Download: the 60-page brochure, "Rogue River Float Guide," www.mailtribune.com/floatguide

But the remaining 99 percenters still can get a taste of what Outside Magazine called the 2010 Trip of the Year and Sunset Magazine dubbed the Best Cell Phone Free Vacation of 2010.

You can check a Wild Rogue float off your bucket list regardless of your whitewater prowess, thanks to a cadre of guides and outfitters who do the heavy lifting for you.

"Literally, I got a call from someone who said this was on their list," says Brad Niva, owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures, the largest of the 17 outfitters with permits to work the stretch, known commonly as the Lower Rogue Canyon.

"People save their pennies for years to do this," Niva says.

Most of the activity focuses on the Wild and Scenic sections between Grave Creek near Galice and Foster Bar near the outpost of Agness about 27 river miles east of Gold Beach.

Though so close to Medford, the float's wilderness aura belies its proximity and that's one of the reasons the Lower Rogue Canyon has a reputation as one of the best multi-day floats in the lower 48 United States.

The stretch not only is boatable year-round (unlike many others), it has a mix of wildlife, wild water and remoteness that lures whitewater enthusiasts to its lair.

Calm canyon waters are dispersed between roiling rapids in such famous stretches as Mule Creek Canyon and the boulder-strewn Blossom Bar.

Private boaters need a permit year-round and they are available at the visitor center at Rand between Galice and the Grave Creek launch. However, May 15 through Oct. 15 is the limited-entry season, in which no more than 120 commercial and noncommercial rafters are allowed.

These noncommercial permits generally are doled out through a lottery process, or available on a first-come, first-served basis.

In most cases, boaters take three or four days to travel from end to end, giving them plenty of time to soak in the sights.

"If you're going to see the Rogue, do it in three or four days," Niva says. "Rogue trips are pretty magical. Don't rush it."

For those without their own boats, there are plenty of options through licensed outfitters.

In most cases, rafters or anglers spend the day in boats with their guides, who can do all the rowing if that's what the customers want. Their gear is stowed in special dry bags and sent on separate rafts that meet the rafters along the way. The rowers of these rafts are outfitter employees who often also take care of making lunch and dinner and setting up camps that are ready when the tired rafters arrive.

The top summer raft trip is a fully guided four-day, three-night trip in which rafters camp two nights and stay one night at a lodge on the final day. Even cushier are the three-day, two-night trips in which floaters spend both nights in lodges. Both trips go for around $1,000 apiece.

Three-day whitewater camping trips are about $800. All are available through outfitters licensed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which manage the section.

Others float the stretch during the fall in driftboats to go steelhead or fall chinook salmon fishing ala Zane Grey. The top fall trip is a four-day excursion with a guide in a driftboat, where two people will fish all day and spend the nights in lodges. These all-inclusive trips can run as high as $4,000 for two people.

Another way of experiencing the Lower Rogue Canyon is by hiking the Rogue River Trail from Grave Creek to Foster Bar, stopping to camp or stay in lodges along the way.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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