Rafting the Rogue

Riding the Whitewater Through the Canyons of Oregon's Coast Range
By Barbara Shaw
  |  Gorp.com
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The Rogue River
Rogue River Practicalities

Though individuals can enter a lottery to secure a date to run the river, rafting outfitters offer the best experience for Rogue River first-timers. For a complete list, contact the Bureau of Land Management. Call 541-618-2200. Cost ranges from about $120 to about $250 per day per adult. Comfort level goes from cook-out camping trips for families to gourmet fishing tours for corporate honchos, stopping at fancy lodges. During the summer the best place to call for river information is the Smullin Visitor Center in Rand (541-479-3735). This center answers calls April 1 to October 15, and doors are open May 15 to October 15.

Most trips are all camping, or one night in a lodge. A few offer all-lodge accommodations but, due to scarcity of rooms, require booking a year or more in advance. On camping trips, multi-talented guides prepare delicious, wholesome but not gourmet food. A few companies take chefs along. You can paddle your own inflatable kayak and go romping over the rapids or sit back in an oarboat and let the charming pros do all the work. Or some of each. Minimum ages are 6 to 8 years old, depending on the outfitter. Most outfitters offer slightly lower youth rates for people under 17.

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Blossom Bar: a deceptive name for a mean run of water. Before tackling this well-loved rapids on the Rogue River, rafters pull ashore, clamber high on the rocky right bank, and survey the situation. Guides point out tricks and treacheries of the route, warning novices of unseen peril.

With the right mix of strategy and luck, rafts stay upright through the gnarliest whitewater on the wild and scenic section of Oregon's famous river.

On a nice run, the raft slides down the twisted left channel, careens over a four foot fall, blasts into the cauldron with a splash, swings left across the Submarine Killer rock, zips around Volkswagen Rock, and bounces out into a long run of three foot waves. Everyone's wet and grinning with triumphant joy.

A few days before Blossom Bar—still dry behind the ears, so to speak—rafting groups assemble at a resort called Galice (ga LEASE) in the canyon country about fifteen miles west of Grants Pass, in the southern Oregon Coast Range. Dozens of professional rafting outfitters begin trips at Galice, and the resort also rents rafts to individuals.

After cramming personal gear into the allotted waterproof rubber bags, people gather on the bank for a safety and wilderness-ethics lecture from a professional guide.

On a typical trip, the first innocent morning is spent passing down riffles where turtles snooze on the rocks. A bald eagle may coast overhead. Around a bend, a great blue heron flaps away, croaking a raucous alarm, followed by a belted kingfisher squawking its own warning. Canada geese preen on a beach, studiously ignoring intruders in their private domain.

At noon, the ponderous rafts pull up on shore. Guides open ice chests of food and drink to create a tasty buffet beside the water. Everyone gathers on the sand to savor the meal.

In the blue sky a pair of ospreys may soar past, high-pitched cries echoing in the quiet. Or a little gray dipper might be seen working the waterline, its comical curtsy giving away the plain bird's identity.

The bridge at Graves Creek, seven miles below Galice, marks the last road along the river and the entrance to the Wild and Scenic Area—36 miles of uncivilized country that ends at Watson Creek. This preserve is a rare example of low-altitude wilderness, accessible only by water or by the hiking trail that parallels the river on the north bank.

Not far below Graves Creek, Rainie Falls calls from half a mile upstream. Thundering subsonics hint at what's ahead. This first class-four rapid sucks the boats ever closer; tension mounts and rafters exchange worried glances.

On a scale of one to six, class-two rapids are marked by waves two to three feet high with a few risky rocks. They are pure fun. A class six is too rough to risk. The categories in between are rather vague and seem to vary with who's talking and about which river.

Rainie Falls is a twelve-foot cascade rarely run by the sane. Beside it, a class four triple stairstep falls tumbles down the channel. The steps are the usual route. Fish, fishermen, and the unashamed run the easy class two route to the far right of the river.

Committed wimps are allowed to watch from shore while their friends' rafts tilt over the brink of the first of the stairsteps. Rafts often dump on the second step. The lucky ones fight the pouring current, right themselves, and slip down. As each raft spins safely beyond the thundering whitewater, the onshore cheering section yips and hollers approval.

Come evening, a camp on a wide beach on the left bank proves the perfect spot for laying out sleeping bags, talking over the day's excitement, and stargazing quietly after the campfire burns down.

Once camp is set up and the gourmet hors d'oeuvres have been sampled, a climb up into the woods and rocks is a great way to pass the hour until dinner. Most rafting companies feature excellent food at every meal.

Baked salmon is a favorite for the first night out, while grilled steaks or lasagna might be served the next night, with perhaps a homemade cake for desert.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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