Why Everyone Should Raft the Rogue River at Least Once

5 Min. Read
Rafting the Rogue River in Oregon

One of the original rivers protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, the Rogue River offers abundant recreational opportunities, extraordinary wildlife, perfect pine forest camping and good fishing. For all of these reasons and more, this picturesque waterway has earned its reputation as one of the best multi-day whitewater rafting trips in the U.S. Here’s why you should jump at the chance to raft Oregon’s Rogue River.

7 Reasons Rafting the Rogue is a Must-do Oregon Adventure

A family of mergansers on the Rogue River
The Mesmerizing Ecology

Although the Rogue River is primarily a pine forest, its ecology is far more complex and unique. Deciduous trees like oak, bay, big leaf maple, madrone and red alder provide a lush backdrop to the river. Perched on their limbs, osprey, bald eagle, hawks, water ouzel, heron and a variety of songbirds are frequent sights for paddlers—and a treat for bird lovers. Keep your eyes peeled for steelhead, chinook and coho which often jump or flash at the surface of the Rogue’s crystal clear waters, especially in the evenings.

Sightings of mammals like raccoons, river otters, deer, mink and bobcat are also common. While no one can promise a black bear visit, there’s a high likelihood while rafting the Rogue. Many say a chance sighting of one of these fuzzy, delightful creatures in their natural habitat is one of the ultimate, gold star wildlife highlights.

The Rogue’s Endless Lore

From the infamous “Madrone Monkeys”—a mythical species of nocturnal primate that lives high up in the Madrone trees, responsible for the trees’ peeling bark and the river’s occasional foam layers—to the well-known Bigfoot, the region is an epicenter for amazing and wonderfully imaginative folklore. No Rogue River rafting trip is spared the wild tall tales and fun stories of the area, and every guide has their own variation.

Rocks of the Rogue River
Unique and Colorful Geology

As with many river trips, the Rogue River canyon’s rocks are on full display during a float. One of the geologic highlights of the raftable section is the bands of a uniquely green mineral called epidote. The canyon’s banded metamorphic rock called gneiss, hard and resistant to weathering or erosion from the river, is striped with veins of the pea green epidote. The mineral can be viewed at Rainey Falls, not to be mistaken for the rare and also green rock specimens like serpentine and peridotite, which are also viewable throughout the river corridor.

Iconic Human History

The Rogue River region has a rich and mottled history. Home to seven different tribes, the Rogue River Valley has been inhabited for over 8,500 years. As early emigrants and gold miners moved into the area, relations between Native Americans and the settlers turned violent, culminating in the Rogue River Wars. Today, among the most popular historical sites to visit is a one-room cabin built by Pearl Zane Gray in 1926. Gray lived from 1872–1939, and although he was a dentist by trade, he is widely known as a master author of the American West. At least 112 films were adapted from the 90 novels he produced during his career, some of which he is speculated to have written at the cabin. Remnants of the site remain today, just past mile 15 on the north bank of the river, up a steep embankment.

Hiking near the Rogue River
Rogue River Trail and Side Hikes

The 40-mile Wild and Scenic Rogue River Trail traverses the north bank of the river corridor, which provides abundant hiking opportunities. For many, it’s a convenient option to hike all 40 miles of the trail with raft support from a commercial outfitter. But if rafting the Rogue sounds more appealing than committing to the entire thru hike, there is no shortage of fantastic side hikes available from the majority of Rogue River campsites.  Hiking from Whiskey Creek Camp at the juncture past the bridge reveals the remains of a historic cabin that is a popular jaunt for rafters. Camps adjacent to drainages and tributaries usually allow for a nice up stream hike in the evening, especially Kelsey or Tate Creek.

Rafting through whitewater on the Rogue River
Dynamic Class IV Whitewater

Though Rogue River whitewater rafting isn’t famous for its big water like some of the roaring rivers in the Southwest, Rainey Falls, Coffee Pot and Blossom Bar are all technical rapids well worth a story around the water cooler. Each of these Class IV rapids is elbow deep in legend and lore. Explosive tales of dynamite, sunken drift boats in the deep waters of Mule Creek Canyon and intricate marker names like the picket fence, goal posts and beaver slide all have the makings of epic stories you’ll be telling around campfires for the rest of your life. The Rogue’s many smaller rapids are perfect for families with young ones to get a feeling for fast water.

Taking an inflatable kayak down the Rogue River
Ride the IK

The continuous pace of the Rogue’s Class II and III rapids, which appear at an average of every half mile, make it the perfect playground for paddlers who want to try their hand at inflatable kayaking (also known as IKs). Securely seated in an IK, paddle in hand, one has the most intimate experience with the sometimes calm and sometimes turbulent, yet flowy, whitewater. Almost like sliding down a slip-n-slide or water slide, being in an IK brings you lower and closer to the water, making even the smallest rapids seem larger. Even on a raft, the Class II and III whitewater delivers friendly, refreshing splashes of emerald water.

Photos: Justin Bailie, Cindi Stephan, James Kaiser, Adam Edwards

K.M. Collins

K.M. Collins is a geologist-gone writer. Covering everything outdoors and a spectrum of journalism, she operates her content and marketing company, Guerrilla Media Bend, from Central Oregon. Between whitewater paddle boarding, kayaking and rafting, she's a jack of all water trades.

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