The Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) is a National Recreation Trail that closely follows the Rogue River for about 47 miles from its headwaters at Boundary Springs in the northwest corner of Crater Lake National Park to to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area outside Prospect, Oregon. The trail can be day hiked in sections between readily accessible trailheads. Today we did the ~8 mile section from Natural Bridge Campground, past Woodruff Bridge and the Takelma Gorge, to River Bridge Campground. Unlike other sections of this trail, the trail here was great – and the Takelma Gorge (which we hadn’t visited before) was an amazing sight!
We parked one car at the River Bridge Campground on Forest Road (FR) 6210 off State Highway 62, about 6 miles north of Propsect, Oregon. There’s a dirt parking lot here and toilets in the adjacent campground. Then we drove our other car up to the Natural Bridge Viewpoint parking lot, about 5 miles further up, and 0.5 miles west of, Highway 62. This is a fully developed visitor site, with lots of paved parking and pit toilets. The Upper Rogue Trail is briefly paved path here and takes you down to a bridge overlooking the rapids breaking-up this stretch of the Upper Rogue.
At the east end of the bridge, the now dirt #1034 strikes off to the south. We were encouraged by the presence of signage – something not always available on other sections of this trail.
Vegetation along this section of the trail alternates between sheltering old-growth forest and brush,
while the river’s character varies between rapids and pools of quiet water.
We followed this excellent trail as it climbed high above the river,
and took us to where the river bends sharply past flows of denser, less erodible basalt,
before being forced through the narrow chute of a collapsed lava tube to become beautiful rapids known as Knob Falls.
The trail then continues along above the river. It was a cool morning, perfect for hiking, and while there were some mosquitos about, they were easily manageable with a little DEET (which works for us but needs to be used sparingly).
The river then quites briefly – the reach from Natural Bridge to River Bridge is punctuated by rapids, roaring gorges, and these totally tranquile places –
before once again cascading over some hard rock benches,
and then into a small waterfall just above Woodruff Bridge.
We stopped at the Woodruff Bridge Picnic Area to shed clothing (the day was starting to become pleasantly warm) and for a snack. After finding the start of the #1034 on the other side of the picnic area, we continued south on it, past older signage and through lush riparian vegetation.
Most of the trail from Woodruff Bridge to River Bridge seemed less well used than the previous section and there were several fallen trees that required awkward go-arounds (but the largest falled tree – almost 6 feet across – had already been cleared!). Still is was a good trail and easy to follow as it worked its way through verdant bottomlands along this tranquil section of the river.
The wild raging character of the Upper Rogue River as it courses through Takelma Gorge is a key attraction on this section of the #1034. But before the river reaches the gorge, it passes through a section where an old lava tube forms its channel (this is evident since you’re looking at it from above) . We speculated that there were once two lava tubes – one above the other (we’ve seen this at Lava Beds National Monument) – and that the river cut down through the upper one and was now running through the lower one.
About 1.5 miles south of Woodruff Bridge, the river reaches the dark-colored lava cliffs of Takelma Gorge. Here it drops through a series of rapids, makes an amazing 90 degree turn to enter the gorge itself, and then surges down the gorge’s narrow channel in a 150 foot deep canyon for almost a mile before finally spilling out into another placid section. The gorge was formed some 7,700 years ago when 650 feet of lava and ash from the eruption Mount Mazama settled on the Rogue Valley. The river now flows through a crack in the lava where its flow has, over time, eroded a canyon. According to Sullivan (Hike #33 in his Southern Oregon hiking guide (3rd edition)), the “…gorge is named for the Upland Takelma (or Latgawa), a tribe native to this area. A warlike band, they often raided the Lowland Takelma in what is now the Grants Pass area for food and slaves. In their Penutian language—unrelated to the languages of other Southern Oregon tribes—Takelma means “those who live by the river.” Early French trappers called them coquins (“rogues”), and later white settlers dubbed them Rogue River Indians.” We decided it was a must see feature along the Upper Rogue and one that moved this section of the #1034 to the top of “we’d do it again” list. And yes, it’s now run by kayakers. Here the river narrows around a wide corner, falls into a series of riffles and rapids,
then makes a 90 degree lurch to the right into the gorge proper,
which it grinds through – 150 feet below the lip – for almost a mile,
before the canyon widens and its walls shorten,
and the river settles into another old lava tube channel,
before finally emerging into more open, more serene territory.
After that, the trail drops down to just above the river and goes along through a shady canopy (welcome now that the day had really warmed),
to River Bridge Campground on FR 6210. A short, easy (8 miles, 400 foot elevation LOSS) hike along a very scenic reach of the Upper Rogue, with views of stunning geological consequences at Knob Falls and through the Takelma Gorge. Highly recommended!