And most of it starts from the snowy, jagged and volcanic peaks of Southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, with an average cumulative snowfall of more than 500 inches. The headwaters of three of Oregon’s most famous Wild & Scenic Rivers drain both east and west: the North Umpqua and the Rogue to west and the Klamath to the east. Our fourth major Wild & Scenic River, the Illinois River, begins high in the Siskiyou Mountains, runs through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and joins the Rogue River in Agness.
The Rogue River was in the first group of 8 rivers in the U.S. to receive the official designation when the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was passed 50 years ago in 1968. This landmark legislation recognized the cultural and recreational value of these wild rivers and protected them for all of us to enjoy for generations to come. Oregon leads the nation is the number of designated rivers and you can check out the full list of Oregon Wild & Scenic Rivers here.
But really it’s all about getting out there to see for yourself! Here’s a whole list of ways to have an up close and personal experience with a Wild & Scenic River on your next Southern Oregon adventure:
The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway takes visitors along the full length of the North Umpqua River, with its myriad waterfalls and campgrounds, past Crater Lake National Park and then down along the Wild & Scenic stretch of the Upper Rogue River. Spend a few hours or a few days swimming or viewing these two famous rivers as they rush down the Cascades on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
And to get a taste of the rugged landscape of the lower Rogue River canyon, travelers can drive from Merlin, just north of Grants Pass, all the way down to the official put-in for boaters on the Wild & Scenic section at Grave Creek. And taking a break at the Galice Resort along the way for soft-serve ice cream or dinner on the deck overlooking the river is not to be missed.
One of Southern Oregon’s most memorable and unique hiking experiences is without a doubt the famous Rogue River Trail, a 40-mile trail that follows the entire length of the Wild & Scenic stretch of the lower Rogue River Canyon. Hikers can camp and cook over the fire or spend the night at any of several lodges along the way, enjoying warm beds and delicious meals along the way. There are shorter day hikes from Grave Creek to Rainie Falls where you can watch salmon jump the falls as they spawn upstream in the fall.
The North Umpqua Trail offers a rich variety of mountain biking, hiking and camping in the Umpqua National Forest. Visitors can also use campgrounds along the trail for river access for fishing and kayaking and rafting--or just viewing amazing waterfalls and soaking in the Umpqua Hot Springs as the river rushes by.
A more rugged hiking experience is the Illinois River Trail, which connects the Illinois Valley at Selma with Oak Fat at the junction with the Rogue River in Curry County closer to the coast. Passing through the beautiful and remote country of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, this 30-mile trail is a true wilderness experience for avid hiking enthusiasts.
RAFTING & KAYAKING
Outfitters in all the major towns of the region make it easy to get out on the water for the afternoon or a full four-day expedition down the Rogue River. In Ashland, check out Indigo Creek Outfitters or Momentum River Expeditions or Noah’s River Adventures for trips on the Rogue, Illinois and Klamath Rivers. For the North Umpqua try Ouzel Outfitters for day trips in kayaks and rafts and more. In Grants Pass, Orange Torpedo and Rogue Wilderness Adventures specialize in every fun aspect of the Rogue River, as does Rogue Rafting Company in Gold Hill.
For those who want to get out on the river and go fast, Southern Oregon is home to the extremely fun jetboat excursion adventure, whose origins date way back to the mailboats coming up the Rogue River from Gold Beach to deliver supplies and mail to the interior lodges and settlements. From Gold Beach visitors can travel all the way up to the famous Blossom Bar with Jerry’s Rogue Jets. In Grants Pass you can enjoy the wild scenery and wildlife from downtown Grants Pass to the scenic Hellgate Canyon on Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. And Rogue Jetboat Adventures explores the history and scenic wonders the the Rogue River by the Table Rocks near Medford and Gold Hill.
World-famous runs of steelhead and salmon still happen on the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers, and Fishing the Rogue and Rogue Rafting Company are two outfitters who will put you on the fish, along with Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness. On the Upper Klamath ROE Outfitters will lead you to epic resident cutthroat, and the fly-fishing only stretch of the North Umpqua by the Steamboat Inn is legendary, drawing the likes of Zane Grey to build a cabin there (and on the Rogue at Winkle Bar).
The rivers in Southern Oregon are one of the main reasons many people choose to make Southern Oregon their home--abundant wild and scenic rivers teeming with wildlife and adventure. And there’s plenty of room still left to share with you and your friends on your next Southern Oregon vacation!