When we backpacked the Rogue River Trail last year, we were so anxious to get on with that long-awaited backpack that we blew right past the Whisky Creek Cabin historic site. On reflection, we came to realize that we should have slowed it down and done a visit. So, thus chastened, we used a rare break in the waves of storms rolling over Southern Oregon (and elsewhere) to remedy that oversight.
The 7 mile out-and-back hike to the cabin on the north bank of the Rogue River pairs nicely with the 4 mile out-and-back hike to Rainie Falls on the river’s south bank – if you want to spend a full day hiking in this area. Both hikes start at Grave Creek, with the trail to the cabin starting at river level,
and then climbing a little through cliffs to get around a course of riffles and rapids below.
The short trail that stops at Rainie Falls is often visible along the slope across the river.
There is one place on the trail here where a perennial creek washes over some downsloping rocks – slippery when wet, real slippery when icy. In wet or cold weather, this is the only tricky part of the trail to the cabin.
After that, we moved easily through groves of canyon live oak trees,
along more cliffs, now in warm sunshine thanks to the southern exposure of this part of the trail. It’s this very exposure that can make the Rogue River Trail uncomfortably hot to hike during high summer.
Soon enough, we crossed China Gulch – which was running well this wet year but has water even in dry years. What’s not immediately apparent is the old flume ditch below the trail that was used back in the day to divert the creek to mine diggings a little further downstream.
The trail continues on past Rainie Falls – mostly above the river –
before dropping back to river level at Whisky Creek.
From there it’s a short walk up from the trail to the cabin,
first built in the 1880s and improved on until acquired by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1973. The site and cabin appear well maintained and give you some sense of what it was like to live out here when only feet, horses, or a wild river ride provided access.
You have to read the information boards pretty closely to discover that this is plaque marks the final resting place of Kitty Mack – the beloved, salmon-obsessed cat of the last person to actually live in the cabin. There’s something very poignant about this little headstone.
After touristing the cabin, we went down to the beach for a snack. This is a large open area with campsites for rafters and backpackers and, in season, a toilet.
We were sufficiently sweaty – and thus moist and salty – to attract a host of butterflies – many of whom settled on us during our snack break (but wouldn’t sit still for an non-blurry photo).
After basking in the sun (and the butterflies) for awhile, we reluctantly pulled ourselves back on to the trail for the “gruelling” return to the trailhead.
But Spring comes early on the Lower Rogue, so we spent some time admiring the small flowering plants that had started to blossom their way to seed-producing glory.
Sadly, our appreciation of Nature’s wonders was interrupted by the sorrid business of trash pickup. Despite this being both a wilderness area and a Wild and Scenic River, certain idiotically hopeless douchebags seem to think it’s just a trash can. So we lugged five pounds of plastic water bottles, empty beer cans (for cheap, tasteless beers), old t-shirts, and orange peels (which DO NOT biodegrade – too acidic) back to the trash can at the trailhead. Long, exasperated sigh…
Despite our diversion into waste management, this was a fun, easy (7 miles round-trip; 300 feet of elevation gain), sunny hike to an interesting historic site with a beach (and butterflies!) and access to the river. If the whole Rogue River Trail isn’t possible for you, either or both of these shorter trips would give you a good feel for this wonderful wilderness area.