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Rogue River, Southern Oregon

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

The largest river on the Wild Rivers Watershed, the Rogue runs through very rugged country, making it a challenge to photograph.

The Rogue River, about 25 miles from the ocean. The hiking trail parallels the river but it is high up the slope of the V-shaped valley. The extreme slope of the hillside, the dense vegetation, and the ruggedness of the terrain prohibits access to the river along much of its course. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

The Rogue River is the largest river in the Wild Rivers Watershed. It is also the only one in southern Oregon that originates in the Cascade Mountain Range and flows all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The river begins suddenly as a large spring near Crater Lake, on the side of Mt Mazama. It then flows 215 miles to the ocean at Gold Beach. Eighty-four miles of the Rogue River, from a little east of Gold Beach to a little west of Grant's Pass, were designated Wild and Scenic—among the first to be so designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.

Boundary Springs. The Rogue River begins here—gushing nearly full-volume from the side of a mountain. Behind the photographer, the mountainside is dry. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes. To order a commercial print of this image, click the photo.

The original Wild and Scenic portion of the river flows through extremely rugged country. The Upper Rogue River Trail (a National Recreation Trail) follows the north side of the river for approximately 40 miles. Beginning at the little town of Merlin, the trail ends not far from the town of Agness—about 20 miles from the ocean.

The Rogue River, a few miles from the town of Agness. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

We walked the entire trail once, stopping at 3 backcountry lodges along the way. The trail follows the river's course, but it is high on the very steep hillside and rarely gets to river level. It is hot, rocky, dusty and dry at the start, leading through yellow grasses, ponderosa pines, and shrubs. Heading west over the 40 miles, the vegetation is transformed, progressing from the hot and relatively arid area east of the coastal range to areas of much higher rainfall. The last stretch (which can be muddy) has dense vegetation and ferns, and is interrupted by frequent stream-filled gullies.

We have also rafted the wild and scenic stretch. That's very scenic as well, but the river valley is V-shaped and the hillsides are often at a 45º angle (or steeper) so no recreational trails lead from the river up the hillsides into the mountains.

The river presents several challenging rapids that claim lives every season so an experienced guide is strongly recommended.

Closer to the ocean, the marine influence is felt. Temperatures drop quickly, upriver winds blow, and fog is often present.

Perhaps 6 miles from the ocean, golden light from a setting sun illuminates a hillside partly shrouded by the marine layer. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes


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