The trails along the Upper Rogue River are a fine place to walk off some of those extra Thanksgiving calories.

The trails along the Upper Rogue River are a fine place to walk off some of those extra Thanksgiving calories.

Foot paths follow the river for more than 40 miles, starting near its source and continuing nearly all the way to the little mountain town of Prospect. A number of forest roads provide access to various sections of the trail, making shuttle hikes easy if your party travels in two vehicles.

Much of the trail disappears under snow from around Thanksgiving until April or May, but the stretch from Union Creek downstream often remains open, closing only when the snow level drops below 3,000 feet. There's little early season snow this year, so nearly all the trail is still open.

The section of trail around Natural Bridge is one of the more interesting, especially if you have some out-of-town visitors. You can show them where the river disappears into the lava and reappears again downstream. There's a trail on both sides of the river and a footbridge about a mile upstream from Natural Bridge, so a 2.5-mile loop is an easy option.

These are short scenic hikes, with little elevation gain, perfect for young hikers who might not have the endurance or patience for a longer expedition.

To get there, take Highway 62 from Medford past the Prospect Ranger Station (the cluster of buildings on the left side of the road where the big trees start). Turn left at the Natural Bridge Campground sign near milepost 55. (The campground is closed for the season.) Continue to the Natural Bridge parking area, where the trail begins.

There are trails on both sides of the river in this area: the Rogue Gorge Trail (No. 1034A on the left bank as you face downstream; the Upper Rogue River Trail, No. 1034, on the right bank).

It's a short walk downstream to where the river vanishes into underground lava tubes. The trail continues across the river and goes upstream on the west bank, where there are some nice big old Douglas firs that serve as reminders of just how big these trees are willing to grow if given enough time.

A stout wooden footbridge crosses the river about 1.3 miles upstream, just after the trail forks. Take the right fork to reach the bridge, or you could continue upstream for a while if you want to see more of the river as it cuts a narrow gorge through the lava.

If you cross the bridge and walk downstream, it's just slightly more than a mile back to your car in the Natural Bridge parking area. Or you could follow the Rogue Gorge Trail upstream for a while until you have the urge to turn around and head home for some tasty turkey leftovers.

For a description of the route and directions, see William Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon" or Art Bernstein's "Hiking Southern Oregon's Cascades and Siskiyous."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com