“PURE AS THE SNOW FROM WHICH IT SPRANG, the river had its source in the mountain under Crater Lake,” wrote Zane Grey of the Rogue’s 215-mile journey from the Cascades to the sea in his epic novel Rogue River Feud. The famed Western (or, in the case of this book, Northwestern) author lived in a log cabin on the Rogue’s banks until the popularity of his prose drew so many visitors to the river that he picked up and moved to the North Umpqua (see “Rogue Tales”). Because parts of the Rogue were among the original eight stretches of river to be designated Wild and Scenic by Congress in 1968, you can still experience the river much the way Grey knew it. The lower canyon is one of the few places in the country where you can float for four days without even glimpsing a road. That doesn’t mean you’ll have the river all to yourself, though. The canyon’s remoteness and abundant fishing attracted hordes of sportsmen long before it received federal protection. Plus, the steep, forested slopes and impossibly narrow gorges that flank the river and its surging white water put the Rogue on most paddlers’ life lists. Fortunately for them, the Rogue has the longest river-running season of all of Oregon’s wilderness rivers, a fact attributable (rather ironically) to its four dams, which ensure boatable flow in the lower canyons year-round. But the dams are increasingly an endangered species. Later this year, the Savage Rapids Dam on the upper Rogue will become the widest dam removed in Oregon, and in July 2008, the Gold Hill Dam, upstream of Grants Pass, was demolished to ease salmon and steelhead migration. In fact, given the size and relative health of its watershed, the Rogue is arguably the last significant salmon stream in Oregon south of the Columbia River. Each year, a hundred thousand hatchlings follow the same route down the river that Grey described in 1929, winding “past the picturesque farms of the Indians and the rude shacks of the fishermen, broadening and meandering, smiling from its shiny pebbled bed at the retreating banks and the low colorful hills, and so on down to Gold Beach, assuming a deep, calm majesty when it found its home in the infinite sea.”
PADDLE The lower ninety miles of the Rogue—the last few practically within sniffing distance of the Pacific Ocean—are frequently run by paddlers, kayakers, and tubers. But the river’s real jewel is the stretch of thirty-five roadless miles carved into the Siskiyou Mountains between Grave Creek and Foster Bar. Here, moderate rapids like Coffee Pot—where water boils through a narrow rock chasm—interrupt generous doses of serene drifting. And broad, sandy beaches beckon picnickers and hikers who can head for mesmerizing spots like Whisky Creek Cabin, a relic mining camp still filled with tools from the 1800s. The bad news: only 120 people per day are awarded permits to float this section of the river each summer—and half of the permits go to guides. Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, or OARS, runs a four-day camping and rafting trip (oars.com; $880). The dirt-averse might try OARS’ three-day Rogue River Lodge Trip ($806); you’ll get the same wild river experience, but at day’s end, you’ll enjoy showers, fresh towels, and clean sheets at riverside wilderness lodges. Those on a tighter schedule can just zip through the canyon aboard jet boats that make day runs down the fifty-two miles between Gold Beach and Blossom Bar (roguejets.com; $87).
HIKE Gold miners first blazed the forty-mile Rogue River Trail during the 1851 Gold Rush, hauling out more than $70 million worth of ore. But only recently has this dramatic segment along the river’s north bank between Grave Creek and Foster Bar become a well-trafficked hiking destination. Many backpackers choose to traverse the route on their own, dipping down from the canyon walls to campsites along the river’s bank. But in May, June, September, and October (when temperatures don’t hit triple-digit summertime highs), Rogue Wilderness Adventures offers a stunning four-day trip (wildrogue.com; $949) that includes a guided raft to haul your gear from one riverside lodge to the next while you scamper up the ridges with nothing but a light day-pack to weigh you down. The best part? Trekkers with land-weary legs can always hitch a ride on the raft.