Trail to the source
There's a river — and then there isn't.
For 2½ miles, the Boundary Springs Trail mostly follows the Rogue River on a narrow, undulating path through a forest scarred by 2015's National Creek Complex fire. From clearings, the view from the trail down into the river canyon variously offers teasing, tantalizing and, often, truly terrific, full-on views of the rumbling Rogue.
It's a noisy river, one that powers and cascades its way through and around velvety green, moss-covered trees lacing the river like neatly aligned pick-up sticks. More than halfway along the trail, a 15-foot tall waterfall explodes through a channel carved through rocks and trees. During summer months, meadows are colored with fields of yellow monkeyflowers.
The trail bends, briefly moving away from the river, then curls back to its watery path.
Then — poof! — it ends.
Actually, it's a matter of perspective. If you're standing above the 15-foot-wide section where the waters gush like an avalanche of flushing fire hydrants, it's where the Rogue River begins.
Boundary Springs, the headwaters of the Rogue, is where the river begins its 215-mile rumble to the Pacific Ocean. On its way west, it passes through a series of Jackson County communities — Union Creek, Prospect, Trail, Shady Cove, Gold Hill and Rogue River — before slicing past Grants Pass, Galice, Agness and Gold Beach. The river's flow increases from tributaries, including Ranger Springs in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, along with Bear Creek and the Applegate and Illinois rivers.
But the Rogue begins at Boundary Springs, just within the northeastern section of Crater Lake National Park. The Rogue's waters don't spring from Crater Lake. According to geologists, Boundary Springs is fed by snowmelt that seeps into a labyrinth of underground lava fields that collect and eventually exit from the main and smaller springs. The Rogue doesn't begin as a trickle, but as a true tumbling river. Zane Grey, the Western author whose books included the "Riders of the Purple Sage" and "Rogue River Feud," reportedly described the Rogue as "a river at its birth."
The hike to the Rogue's birth place begins from the deceptively named Mount Mazama Viewpoint between mileposts 18 and 19 along Highway 230. There are no views of Mazama, the mountain-that-was. It was Mazama that literally blew its top about 7,700 years ago and created Crater Lake. Helpfully, one interpretive sign shows the how Mazama's explosion compares with other eruptions, while a second explains how the volcanic upheaval would have "vaporized" anyone seeing the event from the viewpoint.
From the trailhead, the route mostly meanders downhill the first half-mile through a forest of mixed mountain hemlock, lodgepole pine and Shasta red fir and crosses a creek before reaching an easy-to-miss "Boundary Springs" trail sign. The path goes nearly another half-mile until reaching a dirt road, where a short right crosses a bridge and quickly turns left, following the narrow river canyon. It leaves the Siskiyou-Rogue River National Forest, enters Crater Lake National Park and, about two miles from the trailhead, passes the waterfall.
Shortly after, the river disappears. Continue to an unsigned trail junction. The uphill trail leads deeper into the park, while the left fork quickly reaches the vent where the Rogue emerges.
The trail into Boundary Springs and the surrounding area was torched by last year's lightning-caused National Creek Complex. It burned more than 20,960 acres, mostly within in the park, making it the largest in Crater Lake park history. The trail was closed most of the summer and originally wasn't expected to reopen for several years. Excellent work by trail crews removed trees from the path and potential danger trees. With winter looming, it's a hike to take sooner than later, or wait until next year.
With a 400-foot elevation gain, including some undulating up-and-down hills, the Boundary Springs Trail is an easy to moderate hike. It's an opportunity to see and experience the impacts of fire and, in sharp contrast, appreciate the beauty of the delightfully dancing, boisterous Rogue River.
— Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He is also a regular contributor to the outdoor-travel website High On Adventure at www.highonadventure.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.