Rogue River Trail (Southern Oregon) 27/30-Apr-2015

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

There are numerous good hikes in Southern Oregon but the premier backpack – and probably the best known – is along the Rogue River National Recreation Trail from Grave Creek to Foster Bar. It’s been on our “to do” list for a long time and when we saw four days of mostly good weather in the forecast, we went for it. Descriptions of how to access the trail and what’s along it are numerous – we found the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) detailed trail log to be reasonably accurate and helpful. We arranged with Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures (Merlin, OR) to drop us at the Grave Creek Trailhead, store our truck on their lot, and then shuttle it around to Foster Bar when we came off the trail – they did a great job and it was well worth it to not have to worry about having our car clouted.

DAY 1: Grave Creek to Bunker Creek (8.9 miles; 600 feet of elevation gain)

From the nearly deserted trailhead (this will change soon, as the season starts May 1st),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Grave Creek Trailhead

we headed west above the river under a clear sky with the air temperature heading toward the low 80ºFs.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Starting out along the trail above the Rogue River

The trail is fascinating in that you can be sweating on an exposed rocky slope one minute and then cooling off in a nice forest the next.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Through a forest along the trail

This section of the trail gave us good views of the Rogue most of the time,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Rogue River

including (at trail mile (TM) 6.9) a tank from a dredge that had been washed downstream in the 1955 flood,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

An old tank lies in the Rogue River

and two rafts and an inflatable kayak (arrows) that were running the river ahead of the May 15th permit season.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Rafters (arrows)

We camped for the night at Bunker Creek (TM 9.1) at a nice site next to the creek,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Our camp at Bunker Creek

where we used the amazingly robust pedestrian bridge to hang our food to keep it from bears (the kevlar UrSack bag is rodent-proof).

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

We hung our food from the bridge

With moonrise and the LovedOne’s startling – but uneventful – encounter with a rattlesnake, it was time to call it a day.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Moonrise over Bunker Creek

DAY 2: Bunker Creek to Mule Creek West (14.6 miles; 2,100 feet of elevation gain)

We started under warm and sunny skies but a trough was expected to come onshore in the afternoon, so we knew these bluebird conditions wouldn’t last (sigh).

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Sunny at the start

So on past the Black Bar Lodge at TM 9.6,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Black Bear Lodge across the river

and a truly huge and twisted madrone,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Under the spreading madrone

to Meadow Creek (TM 13.6, nice campsites),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

The meadow at Meadow Creek

with its view of (and access to) the river.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

The Rogue River at Meadow Creek

We then traversed some huge, open meadows,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Big meadows along the Rogue River

before reaching Winkle Bar (TM 17.5), the site of Zane Gray’s cabin, which he used for fishing and writing between 1926 and 1935.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Zane Gray’s cabin at Winkle Bar

Our plan was to camp at Quail Creek (TM 19.4) but by the time we got there, the weather had turned, clouds were moving in, and the wind was rising. The site by the river was totally exposed to the wind, as was the unofficial site up on the ridge at the start of the Kelsey Pack Trail. So after observing some wildlife,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

I assure you I’m not edible…

we pushed on to the Rogue River Ranch. This 4 mile stretch of the trail is all well above the river,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Staying well above the river

and has no – as far as we could see – decent camping opportunities, so we were committed to make the Ranch. Which we did, which was still closed for the season. It’s a popular stop for rafting trips and can also be reached by car along a convoluted chain of paved and gravel roads.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Rogue River Ranch

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Rogue River Ranch

Our goal was the Mule Creek (west) campsite (TM 23.0) which we lucked on to (there’s NO signage) by spotting the top of the new BLM toilet! Apparently the site is very popular with boaters but it would be easy for a hiker to miss it. By the time we got there late in the day, the wind had died down a lot and it was pretty nice camping right on the river.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Our camp at Mule Creek West

DAY 3: Mule Creek West to Brushy Bar (7.3 miles; 600 feet of elevation gain)

The next morning, we were awakened by three families of geese who seemed peeved that we were camped on their take-out spot.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Noisy geese confront our camp at Mule Creek West

After a very leisurely start in clear and warming weather, we climbed back on to the Marial Lodge road,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

The road past Marial Lodge is the trail here

hiked past the old Mule Creek Guard Station (TM 24.4),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Mule Creek Guard Station

and out to an overlook of the narrowest part of the river – the most exciting (and dangerous) part of any rafting trip on the Rogue.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Mule Creek Canyon

We continued west past Stair Creek Falls (TM 25.6),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Stair Creek Falls

to Blossom Bar (TM 27.1, very nice campsites),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Blossom Bar

through an oak woodland,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

More woods along the trail

to the huge meadow at Paradise Bar Lodge (TM 28.3),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

The meadow (and landing strip)at Paradise Bar Lodge

and then out along the trail above the river,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Above the river again

where we could look down and see the Lodge’s supply boat heading back to Foster Bar.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Cruising the river

After yesterday’s push to reach the Rogue River Ranch, we decided to make it a short day. So, after checking-out the still functioning Brushy Bar Guard Station,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Brushy Bar Guard Station

we continued on a bit to camp at Brushy Bar Creek – a nice site with a toilet and a bear box.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Our camp at Brushy Bar

After cleaning up some trash around the camp, we turned-in. Having a bear box made for a restful night’s sleep.

DAY 4: Brushy Bar to Foster Bar (9.5 miles; 500 feet of elevation gain)

We got an earlier start today,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Morning comes to Brushy Bar

and headed west through the forest,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

More forest

past Tate Creek Falls (TM 32.9),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Tate Creek Falls

across steep slopes above the river rich with flowers –

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Wildflowers along the trail

and a bear –

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Black Bear! (black arrow)

and past Clay Hill Lodge (TM 33.2) to Flora Dell Creek Falls (TM 34.8).

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Flora Dell Creek Falls

After that there was some surprising (the trail IS NOT all downhill!) up and down before we emerged on to the open fields below Illahe Lodge (TM 39.0),

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

That surprising bit of elevation gain was not well received

and shortly thereafter arrived at the trail’s western trailhead, which was surprisingly devoid of any signage marking it as the trailhead of a National Recreation trail – quite the opposite of what we’d found at the Grave Creek Trailhead.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

The Rogue River Trail’s western trailhead

We did find an old sign where the dirt road from the trailhead hits the paved road to Foster Bar but it seems to us that a trail like this deserves some newer and better signage! This one seriously pre-dates the Recreation Trail.

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Pretty sad signage for a major, popular trail

After that it was along the road to Foster Bar,

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

To the parking lot at Foster Bar

and the end of a great backpack!! One of the all-time classics!

Rogue River Trail Oregon Grave Creek Foster Bar

Dirty, smelly, and happy

We then headed home via the Bear Camp Coastal Route – which opened early this year due to the lack of snow (or punishing rains that could have washed-out key sections) – but not before stopping at the Old Agness Store for cold drinks. All told, 40.3 miles and 3,800 feet of elevation gain. Now we want to raft the river {which we did in 2016} so we can look up at the trail as we bloat and float our way downstream!

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