Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rogue River Trail backpack

Argh!  We be rogues!
The Rogue River Trail had been on my list for quite some time. Dollie read the multi-page brochure and in all the articulate prose describing the wonders of the trail, she seized upon three key words (bears, rattlesnakes, and poison oak) and was promptly self-eliminated as a hiking companion. As it turned out, we encountered all three of those things on this hike but nonetheless, this epic 40 mile trip was one of the best hikes I've ever been on.

I felt like I was walking on air
Last year, I had planned to hike the trail solo during Memorial Day weekend but the weather was so lousy the trip was scratched. So this year, another attempt was penciled in. John heard about my intent to hike it and volunteered to join me; he subsequently enlisted Merle and Lindsay and we had a 4-man Band of Merry Rogues ready to go tackle the 40 mile Rogue River Trail.

Day 1

Mountain goats
Starting at Graves Creek, the trail quickly headed up to the cliffs overlooking the trail. I've hiked this section so many times I've lost count so there was no new-trail smell as we started. But that is a minor quibble as our inner mountain goats were bleating happily as we walked on the narrow path chiseled into the rocky cliffs. There were several other backpacking parties setting out and we would play leapfrog with them over the next 4 days.

Bridge at Bunker Creek
We passed a number of creeks:  Whiskey Creek, Alder Creek, Booze Creek; we discovered a trend in that the trail dropped down to a creek then climbed back up to the cliffs overlooking the green waters of the Rogue River. Up and down, up and down...all day long. After passing Russian Creek, we were on what was new territory for me. We ate lunch at Bunker Creek and tired legs brought us to Horseshoe Bend at the 11 mile mark.

Horseshoe Bend with no flying tents
We set up camp in a brisk wind where we found out Merle's tent harbored secret ambitions of being a kite. Fortunately, the wind died down when the sun set and I'm happy to report all tents remained earthbound.  

Day 2
Pretty face
Day 2 was, in my view, the best day out of the trip.  The trail was built for speed, being amazingly level and wonderfully shaded for the majority of the miles. The forests were remarkably lush for the generally more arid Siskiyous as small creeks ran across the trail feeding a verdant undergrowth of ferns, moss, and poison oak.

Have a cup of farewell-to-spring
Occasional trail windows in the vegetation provided gorgeous views of the Rogue and we observed rafters bobbing by all day long. Just before Ditch Creek, there was a prolonged open grassland with a few fruit trees gone rogue, leading to speculation this area may have once been a homestead farm. Farewell-to-spring, elegant brodiaea, common yarrow, and common clarkia were all abloom in the dry grasses.

The Rogue River Ranch, now a museum

We enjoyed a lengthy lunch at Ditch Creek and resumed hiking, passing many more creeks on the way before looking down on the manicured lawns of the historic Rogue River Ranch. The ranch was our intended campsite but we reconsidered when we observed the multitude of noisy rafters camping there. So we continued on past the ranch, winding up on the Marial road before cutting across a meadow to the confluence of Mule Creek and the Rogue River.

Mule Creek

Our campsite gets my nomination for Best Campsite Ever. Mule Creek was a pristine clear creek babbling over the rocky bar and we all waded in and refreshed ourselves. The Rogue coursed by deep and fast, just yards away from our tents. The only other people around were a couple who got very excited when they espied a bear going for a swim after standing on a nearby rock. John was the only member who did not pack a bear vault and his voice rose a few octaves when he heard the tale of the bear sighting. I think he laid awake all night, too, apprehensively waiting for the bear raid that never materialized.

Day 3
The Rogue disappears from sight at Mule Creek Canyon
I used to think that Mule Creek Canyon was the most spectacular point on the Rogue River Trail. The Rogue funnels into a narrow slot canyon surrounded by black jagged rocks while the trail becomes quite narrow, hugging the cliffs above the river. At the aptly named Inspiration Point, Stair Creek (also aptly named) drops into the Rogue in a series of cascades with each waterfall being spectacular enough in its own right. However, now that I've set foot on all 40 miles of the trail, I am now of the opinion that Mule Creek Canyon is just one of many spectacular sights on the trail.

Stair Creek and no rattlesnakes for us

Merle and I passed through the canyon without incident but all that rock just begs for a rattlesnake encounter. Several minutes behind us, John heard an angry buzz and found a rattlesnake wedged into a crevice at waist height. As I previously mentioned, the trail is narrow and precipitous: John and Lindsay had no choice but to tiptoe past, just a few feet away from the lethal fangs of the buzzing reptile.

Paradise Creek
After a brief sun-drenched walk above the river on a trail seriously encroached by waving green wands of poison oak wanting to spread their itchy madness on passing hikers, we arrived at Burns Creek. After Burns Creek, the trail went lush again and the poison oak was everywhere. A beautiful swimming hole tempted us at Paradise Creek but we continued on to Paradise Lodge, stepping over a king snake on the way.

Incredibly handsome guy with a beer
Paradise Lodge is heaven on earth to hot and sweaty hikers, sporting a cool bar with cold beer and hammocks on the shady patio overlooking the river. My comrades kept me plied with beer in what I believe was a surreptitious attempt to induce me to call off the hiking for the rest of the day.

Tendril on a wild grape
They failed, but I was feeling decidedly mellow as we continued on past the lodge on a trail that alternated between ferny forest and rocky cliff. The vegetation changed and seemed to be more coastal what with huckleberry and blackberry encroaching the trail along with the ubiquitous poison oak. At the 9 mile mark, we peeled off the trail and set up camp at Tacoma Camp.

Day 4

Day 4 was getaway day and was our shortest hiking day. The shortness belied the strenuousness of the trail though, as the trail had several big climbs up and away from the river for no apparent reason. More than likely, private property was to blame. And when we weren't mindlessly hiking uphill, the path was so rocky that the going was slow as we carefully picked our way through, no sense rolling an ankle on the last day. Oh, and yes, poison oak was everywhere.

Flora Dell Falls

After a couple of miles, we arrived at idyllic Flora Dell Falls, the cool misty breeze from the falls was most appreciated by hot hikers. After leaving the falls, I found myself uncharacteristically in front of the others when I heard a commotion upslope. It sounded simultaneously like a large animal tromping through the brush and the chuffing of a steam locomotive. Peering into the forest, I could not identify the source of the ruckus so when my comrades rounded the bend I held my finger to my lips and pointed uphill.

That's no Care Bear!

Judging by the widening of the eyes, the sudden loss of color, the emptying of bladders, and the general all-around excitement, it was obvious that they could see something interesting. I worked my way closer to where they were and there was a bear sow, warily keeping an eye on us and not running away. We speculated there were cubs nearby which would explain all the huffing and puffing (she was issuing a warning to us) and the hanging around. It's not every hike you get to see a bear, now how cool is that?

End of the trail
After passing Illahee Lodge, we walked through open farm pasture complete with a large bull before anticlimactically arriving at the trailhead. We waited about an hour observing eagles and buzzards floating over the farm in a big sky before Dollie arrived to take us home. This easily was one of the best hikes I've been on and I hated to see it end.


  1. Looking to do this trail soon. Is it feasible to do the whole 40-miles in three days?

    1. Hi Natasche,

      It's eminently feasible if you are in good enough condition to hike 13 miles a day. We dd 11 miles the first two days and then 8'ish miles the last two days. The trail at either end has a lot of ups and downs but nothing major, in essence the trail is flat. At either end, the tread is rocky an uneven but the middle section from about Horseshoe Bend to Marial is flat and well maintained, it is pretty fast walking (relatively) in that part of the trail.

      Past Horseshoe Bend (11 miles from Graves Creek Trailhead) there are several creeks, all with nice campsites which would be your first night. Your second would probably be Blossom Creek, about a mile east of Paradise Lodge.

      Have fun and I'd love to hear how your trip went.


  2. was it difficult finding wood for campfires at night??

    1. There is plenty of wood but campfires are strongly discouraged and firepans or fire blankets are required if you do build a campfire. See for more info

  3. Thinking about hiking this in Aug. What month did you guys hike. We plan on doing it in probably 4 days as well. Plenty of trees for hammock camping?

    1. Hey Josh, we hiked this in early June. Plenty of trees around, should be no problem for a hammocker. It's one of my favorite backpack trips, have fun in August! Let me know if you need to know anything else about the RRT

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Hi Richard,

    I was planning on solo hiking the Rogue River trail this upcoming Memorial Weekend and wondered if I could ask ou a few questions?
    1) Is it too crowded to hike on holiday weekend? I was planning on getting there early Fri morning to get a good jump on everyone.
    2) How unsafe is it to park my car somewhere along Galice Rd? Im not really sure where I would park my car other than Almeda campground, but that leaves me 5 miles and 2 hrs away from the trailhead thus not only losing my early jumpstart, but wasting valuable energy.
    3) Do you know of any shuttle services that shuttle just a person back from Foster Bar to Grave Creek? Everything I found says it shuttles your car for you. As much as that seems like a nice option, its rather spendy. But I guess it cheaper than replacing a window should my car get broke into.


    Thank you!

    1. Hey Roddy,

      The section from Graves Creek will have day hikers on it but once you get past Whiskey Creek, it'll only be backpackers out there. The trail is popular but having said that, it's not crowded to the point of distraction or otherwise marring the hike.

      I've heard of cars getting clouted at the Graves Creek boat ramp but have not had that miserable experience yet, knock on wood. I've weekended it several times there and have left my car parked on the road above the boat ramp and have had no problems. If I was going to leave a car at that end, I would leave it just above the boat ramp.

      A friend of mine used Rogue Wilderness Adventures and had high praise for their service. But she did the car shuttle thing you are trying to avoid. I'd suggest giving them a call as they may be amenable to picking up a paying customer. Their website is If it were me, I'd use the car shuttle service unless I was flat broke (which can happen on occasion, unfortunately), it seems more convenient and simple.

      Hope this helps and if you have any other questions, feel free to ask. And have an awesome hike!

  6. Thank you so much for the responses Richard. Very informational and helpful. Love the blog!