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Cool your feet on the Upper Rogue River Trail

It pays to keep your eyes on the trail — even when it's a well-established path like the Upper Rogue River Trail. But sometimes that's not quite enough. You have to make sure you're watching the right trail.

My wife, Nancy, and I were pining for a hike in spite of 100-degree temperatures Monday, so we headed out Highway 62 past Prospect and Union Creek to walk a stretch along the Upper Rogue where we'd be under big trees and close enough to water to dangle our feet as we ate lunch.

The Upper Rogue Trail is roughly 49 miles long and broken into seven segments ranging from 3.5 to 10 miles long. With summer tourist season in full swing and droves of campers and day-hikers enjoying the most easily accessible trails near Prospect and Union Creek, we aimed for the area around Foster Creek, which is one of the less-traveled sections of the trail.

The trailhead put us on the path 8.5 miles downstream from Hamaker Campground and eight miles upstream of the Big Bend trailhead. We opted to head upstream, which after about a mile took us across National Creek on a log footbridge.

At the end of the footbridge, the very clear trail led back into the trees and all was well ... for about 500 yards, which is when we stumbled onto a very confusing series of criss-crossing Off Highway Vehicle roads which did not appear on our Forest Service map.

Nancy wanted to take a spur that went uphill. Because her sense of direction is much better than mine, I'd normally have followed her, but it was really hot and uphill didn't sound appealing. So I convinced her to take a different spur, which led us into somebody's camp site.

We did a 180 and walked a dusty OHV road until we could hear the Rogue, then bushwhacked toward the water until we struck the trail again.

From that point on we were fine. The trail stayed mostly in the shade of big old Douglas firs and Western hemlocks, occasionally climbing the pumice cliffs and diving back into the trees.

We had our choice of prime picnic spots near several small waterfalls, shaded pools and lazy bends. We chose a shady pool below an unnamed waterfall, where two massive, downed trees provided nature's version of a riverside chaise lounge.

An owl, which we think was a barred owl, watched us without concern as we dangled our feet in water cold enough to hurt. Hiking took a back seat to plain old relaxing for about an hour, which gave me plenty of time to regret not bringing a fishing rod. We snapped a few photos, dipped our shirts in the river and put them on soaking wet.

On the return trip, we found the spot where we'd missed the trail the first time. At the end of that footbridge we should have taken the very faint trail to the left rather than the very clear trail that led to the maze of OHV roads.

We were happy to discover where we went awry ... but our joy was in danger of evaporating when the mosquitoes saw us coming. For most of the hike they'd been an occasional nuisance in some of the darker glens, but as evening came on they became downright rude.

About a half-mile from our car Nancy stopped to shoot a few photos of National Creek. She likes to shoot nature — trees, flowers, rocks, bugs, birds and whatnot. I always think photos are better with people in them. So I scampered over a downed log that spanned the creek so I could stick my mug into her viewfinder. Instead, I stuck my foot into a yellow-jacket nest, which made me wish I wasn't wearing shorts.

The bad news is that I took a few stingers. The good news is that the mosquitoes didn't seem half so bad after that.

To reach the trail we walked, take Highway 62 east from Medford to Union Creek, then take the fork onto Highway 230. Near the Douglas County line, turn right on Forest Road 6530, also known as “County Line Road.” Drive about a half-mile and turn right at the trailhead sign.

Keep your eyes on the trail after that footbridge. Bring some DEET. And either wear long pants or keep your feet out of hornets' nests. Also, give yourself enough time to stop for a piece of pie at Beckie's on your way back through Union Creek. Huckleberries and peaches weren't on yet, so we “settled” for fresh strawberry pie, but huckleberries are coming soon.

Reach Mail Tribune features editor David Smigelski at 776-8784 or dsmigelski@mailtribune.com.

Nancy McClain of Talent takes a break along the Upper Rogue River Trail Monday. - David Smigelski