Saturday, October 2, 2021

Rogue Gorge Loop

"A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer's wave good-bye" - Unknown

A wall of yellow leaves

If that's true then then this last hike was a thundering round of applause from an appreciative crowd stomping their feet, shouting "Encore! Encore!" at the top of their lungs, hoisting in tribute thousands of lit cigarette lighters that twinkled in the dark auditorium like so many stars against a night sky on a summer campout. I may be dating myself because I don't think they light lighters at the end of concerts anymore, it's probably cell phones nowadays. But at any rate, the autumn's concert was a wonder to behold on the Upper Rogue River Trail.

The trail was oft multi-colored

And speaking of art and artists, I was Supreme Commander of this hike today. Actually Edwin was supposed to lead the charge on this Friends of the Umpqua venture but an injured foot (he'll be ok) put paid to that idea. Additionally, the Jack Fire had overrun the South Umpqua River Road, rendering his hike inaccessible anyway. All that left me free to choose where and how and maybe even why we were going. Since I so enjoyed the autumnal aspects of my last hike at Suttle Lake and was left wanting more of the colored same, it was time for yet another reprise of the Rogue Gorge loop, arguably the best autumn hike in all of southern Oregon.

It's autumn time along the Rogue River

Setting out from the Rogue Gorge Viewpoint, our first little item of interest was the Rogue Gorge itself. The gorge used to be a lava tube but became a gorge when the roof caved in. Whether tube or gorge, the mighty Rogue was not at all happy about being squeezed into the tube, and makes its opinion known in a frothing and roaring diatribe from the bottom of the narrow defile. But tell it to the rock, because rock don't care, and the immovable lava walls do what they have done for epochs, which is to guide the river out of the gorge and into a more benign canyon.

Figurative forest fire!
Someone, call figurative 9-1-1!

Almost immediately after hiking away from the gorge, this hike became mostly all about the fall colors. We were on the shady side of the river so the vegetation was still primarily green in color, but there were plenty of reds and yellows scattered throughout to hint at the upcoming show. But on the other side of the river, where it was sunny and bright, the vine maple leaves had already burst into bright reds that had us putting on sunglasses so as to prevent further retinal damage. 

Autumn reflects on the Rogue

Once the trail made a pronounced turn to the south, we hiked in bright colors for the remainder of the hike. Each vine maple tree was an explosion of color and light next to the river. The Rogue was running slow and ponderous while small whirlpools and eddies made for interesting textures on the surface. The bright colors reflected poetically and it seemed like a whole blurry and colorful world lay just beneath the river’s surface.

A small cascade on an angry river

Most of my charges had not been here before so I communicated that when the trail reached the bridge crossing the river, we were all to stop and regather. Naturally, Lane stopped at the first bridge he saw which happened to be at Union Creek so we regathered twice. No harm, no foul though, and after a quick bridgeside confab at the correct bridge, we all decided to cross the river and follow the Upper Rogue River Trail, if only for the reason I told everybody that's what we were doing.

The forest near Natural Bridge was simply sublime

The river at the bridge seethed and roiled as it was confined in yet another narrow gorge but we traded in all that sound and fury for woods peaceful and quiet, excepting the huffing and puffing sounds of hikers attacking the only uphill section of trail on this hike. The woods were eminently beautiful with colors slightly muted as this side of the hill was fairly well shaded.

The Rogue, as it approaches Natural Bridge

Once we hiked up and over that lushly wooded ridge, it was back to a level hike next to the river as we approached Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge was formed when the roof of lava tube that swallowed the Rogue in its entirety collapsed, except for one 25 yard section. As the river pours into all that remains of the lava tube, the visual effect is that the Rogue River mysteriously disappears from sight only to emerge a short distance later in a geologic game of hide-and-seek. For some reason, you never see kayakers here, probably something to do with that brief underground journey.

Why we hike

After a nice little lunch 'n laze next to a busy parking lot, we returned by way of the Rogue Gorge Trail. The afternoon sun shone brightly on an amazingly colorful trail and my inner photographer ran amok. So many leaves and so many colors and so many reflections on the river. Despite the bright sun ostensibly baking the trail, the temperature was mild so sun stroke was not an option today. The day was perfect, as was this hike.

Local color

So, just like my walk at Suttle Lake, I really enjoyed the whole autumn color thing and was left wanting more. They say that too much of a good thing is a bad thing but I disagree, I could do this again and again and again and....

Every leaf a work of art unto itself

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Yes, that is a wonderful section to hike anytime, but especially in Autumn. Carol and I hiked the same route the day after the club since I am working 6 days a week (some of us still work) till Christmas. Beautiful autumn, but so short it seems.

    1. Autumn is much shorter than a 6 day work week, or so that's what it might feel like, not that I have any recent experience with that! 😄