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Rogue River Trail to Whisky Cabin

You could hike the three miles from Grave Creek to Whisky Creek many times in any season of the year and never find the Rogue River or the wildlife in quite the same mood. Rafters begin journeys down the Wild and Scenic Rogue here, and hikers begin multi-day trips from this trail, which runs on the north side of the river from Grave Creek to Foster Bar.

To reach this busy trailhead, exit I-5 at Merlin and travel 22 miles west and north on the Merlin-Galice Road. Cross a bridge over the Rogue and look for a steep paved road down to the boat ramp.

For all its entertainment value, including views of rafters negotiating the riffles, the path challenges families with young children. The unstable rubble banks and the oily presence of poison oak preclude stepping off the trail. Dogs should be leashed or stay by you as if leashed. A hat, lugged soles and binoculars will serve you well.

The path immediately heads uphill on an exposed cliff, where strong wire keeps the trail from falling into the river. The wildflowers start and shrivel in springtime waves of fleeting glory. Ferns grow out of rock crevices and anchor in the moss on the live oak trees. Bay-scented myrtle trees grow large in the shade and shrub-like on the cliffs. The river stays with you throughout this hike — sometimes quiet, sometimes a roar. The voices of rafters drift up the canyon walls.

The trail climbs and falls throughout its length, but you will face slightly more climb than fall (about 300 feet) going out. The side streams get larger and closer together as you go. Each one announces itself with a downhill slant into dappled shade. On a warm day, try dipping your bandana in the cool water and wrapping the soaked cloth around your neck.

At just under a mile, the river splits to go around Sanderson's Island. At two miles out, past a small stream, a path on the left (the second one on this stretch) leads down to the river. If you follow a way trail west from a small campground, you reach the cascading base of a fish-diversion channel that boaters use to line their boats around Rainie Falls. A shady two-mile trail on the opposite side of the river ends at the falls and provides close-up views of jumping salmon in October.

At three miles, the trail reaches a large camp area and crosses Whisky Creek just upstream from one of several deep holes suitable for a summer swim. Your route crosses the creek on a 70-foot bridge and turns right for a quarter-mile hike to Whisky Cabin, the oldest-known mining cabin in the Lower Rogue River Canyon. You may want to poke around what remains of the flume ditch above the cabin.

When you return to the main trail, turn west for a few yards and look for an opening to the riverbank. You may spot an eagle, a heron or a pair of red-crested mergansers.

For information on the river's plant life, purchase "The Rogue River Trail Flora Guide" from the local BLM office, 3040 Biddle Road. The booklet contains a small map of the entire trail along with descriptions and color photographs of common plants.

Mary Beth Lee is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail her at gentlejourneys@ashlandhome.net.