Saturday, October 9, 2021

Upper Rogue River Trail (Big Bend Trailhead, north)


A couple of summers ago, I attempted a hike on the Upper Rogue River Trail (URRT), beginning from Foster Creek Trailhead. There, a well-defined trail led from the trailhead down to the fast moving creek. And from there...? After a wet ford of the creek and some mortal combat against head-high thickets of willow, I could not find the resumption of the trail on the other side of Foster Creek. One's chances are better for finding a Sasquatch nest than locating the trail in that mess of vegetation. At any rate, this time out I figured I'd try to reach Foster Creek from Big Bend Trailhead, simply because I had never been on that section of trail.

This way to glory
This hike began where the URRT crosses gravel Hershberger Mountain Road. You really have to watch for the trail to find it and the same level of alertness was required to watch for trail markers once on the trail, for there were several dirt roads and confusing trail intersections to contend with. Fortunately, markers with tiny words but large arrows kept me headed in the right direction before the "real" trail made a short drop down to the river and commenced the "real" hike.

The first step in plant-to-pants water transfer
It was a cold and nipply morning and all the encroaching vegetation was damp with morning dew that soaked pant legs as I brushed by. I can honestly say I wet my pants, something I hope to never have to say again as I enter my elder years. Not all the vegetation was wet and dewy, for clusters of bright red wild rose hips were lightly frosted in a subtle reminder that winter cometh.

How alder does autumn
The Rogue Gorge, site of my last hike, was only 6.5 miles downstream but it was worlds apart when it came to fall colors. Here, there was a noticeable dearth of vine maples, so it was incumbent upon the alders to hold up the autumn flag. They tried, but alders just don't glow as bright or as multicolored as their vine maple brethren. So, the autumn colors tended towards light yellow and paled (color pun intended) in comparison to the vine maple carnival found further downstream.

The Rogue River, all hike long
Generally, the Rogue River was always nearby but in these parts, the river coursed slowly at the bottom of its forested canyon in a series of graceful curves and bends. There was none of that wild gorge stuff that is so prevalent downstream. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and sun, sky, and forest all reflected on the ponderous river seemingly in no hurry to reach the Rogue Gorge. The water was crystalline and clear, and boulders and small rocks were eminently visible on the river bottom from various trail overlooks.
Tall cliffs, courtesy of Mount Mazama
Something like 7,000 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted and buried the surrounding countryside in volcanic ash. Nowadays, the scars from that cataclysmic eruption are still visible across the river, mostly in the form of tall cliffs clearly comprised of volcanic ash. On the trail side of the Rogue, you could not see the cliffs because you were actually standing on top of them, and the rim thereof provided some nice scenic overlooks of the tranquil river flowing below.
Where there are ferns, there is almost no trail
Periodically, the trail would peel away from the river and duck into a forest sublime and beautiful. The map said there were footbridges on this part of the trail but I only found one, the others having been washed out long ago. Fortunately, the creeks that did the washing out were dry during my visit. Lush vegetation carpeted the forest floor, and thigh-high bracken fern were doing a mighty fine job of fading the trail into oblivion beneath their yellowing fronds. 

The meadows along the river were incredibly scenic
After traversing a dark and shady forest with faint sunbeams illuminating lucky seedlings, the trail entered an extensive meadow that flanked both sides of the Rogue. The lazy river curved around a bend and disappeared under a ginormous log jam; apparently, this is where logs come to die. Equally slow moving creeks drained marshes pooling in the tall grasses and reeds but the one footbridge I encountered allowed for boots to remain dry, unlike my pants. However, the tall grasses made the trail faint and a little hard to follow.

The trail went sketchy in the vegetation
Once past the stunning scenery at the meadows, the path ducked into the forest and then just basically melted away underneath the trees, the path becoming indistinguishable from the forest floor. I sort of could see where it might go but trying to follow would dramatically increase the probability of getting Search and Rescue involved at some point, so I called it good and returned the way I had come.

A dogwood leaf adds to the fall fun
The turnaround point was only about two miles south of elusive Foster Creek and I'd like to come back and finish off this section. Safety first, though, and I'll bring some friend or friends with me, provided I can find any willing to risk getting lost with me. Also useful would be a roll of orange flagging tape (pink, if Lane comes), so we can backtrack without getting lost. While the unexpected turnaround was slightly disappointing, I don't think I'm quite done with the URRT yet.

The forested bits of trail were just gorgeous
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. We managed to hike from Foster Creek (much wading) to Big Bend back in 2016. All the bridges were gone then too, so more wading ensued. Fortunately the "trail" was only really vague in a few spots. Still, it took us 6 hr to go 7 mi. Others have hiked this stretch since then and reported it (like you did) to still be a wreck. Sad.

    1. First off, I enjoy reading your blog, which I do on a semi-regular basis. It looks like we share the same perceptions (and frustrations) about this section of the Upper Rogue River Trail. Several years ago I tried to reach Roughrider Falls but piles of fallen trees on steep slopes made that section of trail impassable. Plus I ran into a mama bear with two cubs on that hike! It would be nice of the trail could get restored because I really would like to backpack the entire trail.

  2. Since Carol and I know both Richard and Vanmarmot, we join in saying it is too sad that the Upper Rogue trail (northern sections) are not maintained. Maybe we should start a group and get permission to go up and hack out a trail? We've enjoyed all of the sections south of the Rogue Gorge and want to hike all of the upper sections too.

    1. Maybe we can do that as a spring project or after the creeks recede a bit