by Dan Shryock
Imagine sitting back as your boat speeds along the Rogue River, wind in your face as you gaze at the beauty along the river’s banks. Now make that a day’s adventure as you venture deep into canyons where roads don’t reach.
That’s what you will discover on a jetboat. And whether you start from Grants Pass and head west or Gold Beach and head east, the experience is the same.
“I still remember my first ride when I was about 10 years old,” Travis Hamlyn recalls. “I’ve taken a lot more trips since then but it’s still a thrill every time. It’s an unforgettable experience, a perfect blend of wildlife, scenery and jetboat fun. This is how you make family memories.”
Hamlyn knows about family memories around jetboats. His family has been in the business for decades as operators of Hellgate Jetboat Excursions in Grants Pass. His counterpart, Nick McNair, has a similar story. McNair’s family has been operating Jerry’s Rogue Jets in Gold Beach for many years. Ask them each about jetboating and you hear the similar descriptions that emphasize the thrill of a fast boat and the beauty of the Rogue River.
“We are very lucky over here in Gold Beach,” McNair says. “We have a beautiful, rugged section of the river, and you get into the canyon very quickly. It’s one of the most beautiful places to be. It’s a great place to share river history and folklore of the area.”
For clarification, jetboats don’t use jet engines. The powerful engines use “hydro-jet” water pumps that lift boats and allow them to set only six to eight inches deep in the river. Crafts virtually skim along the sometimes shallow Rogue River and travel to hard-to-reach places.
“They don’t have jet engines but they are very large,” Hamlyn says. “We start at a slow pace and talk about the river. Then we take off and head downstream. We have some fun with some 360˚ spins and some other maneuvers to give it some excitement.”
These boats also can run some rapids. McNair says class 2 and 3 whitewater is no problem in a jetboat.
Both Hellgate Excursions and Jerry’s Jet Boats have fleets of water craft capable of carrying dozens of people. Each company offers varying trips, the shortest of which is two hours. Check each company’s website for options.
Hellgate Excursions draws its name from nearby Hellgate Canyon, “the canyon downstream that we visit. It’s had a lot of famous movies filmed there,” Hamlyn says. “It’s a great location and it has a lot of history.”
At the other end of the river, Jerry’s Rogue Jets recently merged with another longtime jetboat company, Mail Boat Hydro-Jets, which began carrying U.S. Mail from Gold Beach upriver to the town of Agness in 1895. That mail delivery remains in operation today.
“Every morning during the summer, except Sunday, I’ll make the 64-mile trip down to Agness and get the mail,” McNair says.