Southern Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rogue River flows, from its headwaters at Boundary Springs within Crater Lake National Park westward for some 215 miles to pour into the Pacific Ocean near Gold Beach, Oregon. Hiking trails – some loved a lot, others almost unknown – follow the main river and its tributaries for over 100 miles. This post highlights nine such trails across the Rogue’s entire watershed. Links to day hikes or backpacks on each are provided so you can go out and experience the Rogue – in whole or in part – for yourself. Go outside, go Rogue!
(1) BOUNDARY SPRINGS TRAIL (USFS #1057)
The trail to Boundary Springs (USFS #1057) takes you (5 miles round-trip) from the Mazama Viewpoint on Highway 230 to the headwaters of the Main (or North) Fork of the Rogue River – the river really does start by shooting right out of the ground. Unfortunately, in August 2015, the National Creek Fire burned across the Boundary Springs area, taking out about half of the trees along the entire trail. The #1057 presumably reopened in August 2016 but, since dead trees fall every year, it would be a good idea to check its current status with the High Cascades Ranger District in Prospect, Oregon.
(2) UPPER ROGUE RIVER TRAIL (USFS #1034)
This trail (USFS #1034), a National Recreation Trail, runs for approximately 47 miles from the Mazama Viewpoint on Highway 230 to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area off Highway 62 near Prospect, Oregon. This trail can be thru-hiked but is more often hiked in sections, each of which is readily accessible from Highways 62 or 230.
It is also possible, but not easy, to hike from the North Fork Dam Recreation Area to the Peyton Bridge Trailhead at Lost Creek Lake, thus linking the true Upper Rogue River Trail (#1034) with the “Rogue River Trail” that goes around the north and south shores of Lost Creek Lake and ends at Casey State Park.
(3) ROGUE WOLF LOOP (MIDDLE FORK)
In 2017, the Siskiyou Mountain Club (SMC) rehabilitated a 27-mile loop in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, around the headwaters of the Rogue River’s Middle Fork. With a lot of help from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Fremont-Winema National Forest, the High Desert Trail Riders – Back Country Horseman, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and REI, the SMC removed about 5,000 logs from portions of existing trails that had become impassable after acute wildfire damage and years of neglect. Although impacted by the 2008 Lonesome Complex Fire and the 2017 Blanket Creek Fire, this backpack still traverses some great scenery and is one of the few ways to see the upper Middle Fork up close and personal.
(4) UPPER SOUTH FORK TRAIL (USFS #988)
The South Fork Rogue River is bordered for part of its length by three hiking trails: the Lower South Fork Trail between Lower South Fork Bridge and Imnaha Creek (USFS #988), the Middle South Fork Trail between the Upper and Lower South Fork Bridges (USFS #988), and the Upper South Fork Trail from near Upper South Fork Bridge to the Blue Lake Basin (USFS #988). Both the Lower and Middle trails are locally popular and are also described in almost every hiking guidebook for this area. The Upper trail is rarely mentioned (if at all) in local guidebooks and is described by the Forest Service as minimally maintained, not recommended for horses, and a challenging workout for hikers. Although a little rough is spots, this trail proved to be a unique and interesting way to visit the lakes in the Basin.
(5) NORTH & SOUTH SHORE TRAILS at LOST CREEK LAKE
Lost Creek Lake is a reservoir situated on the main stem of the Rouge River approximately half way between Crater Lake National Park and Medford, Oregon. Trails go around both its north and south shores. The “North Shore Trail” is particularly nice in the Spring when the Blue Grotto is in full flow or during the summer when the lake is full. The “South Shore Trail” is the less natural of the two, passing as it does through Joseph Stewart County Park, which includes a picnic area, campground, marina, and floating dock. But Rumley Falls along it are delightful when filled with Spring runoff and Diamond Creek Falls, east of the marina, are surprisingly noisy all year.
(6) THE ROGUE RIVER TRAIL (USFS #1160)
This iconic and internationally recognized trail (USFS #1160), a National Recreation Trail, stretches for about 40 miles between Grave Creek near Merlin, Oregon and Foster Bar near Agness, Oregon. When people speak of the “Rogue River Trail” this is usually the one they mean – as it’s the one described in numerous guidebooks and online posts. It’s a great multi-day backpack but part of it can be enjoyed as a dayhike to the historic Whisky Creek Cabin.
(7) WILD ROGUE LOOP
In 2015, the Siskiyou Mountain Club restored the trails comprising the Wild Rogue Loop, once again opening this lower-altitude loop to hikers and backpackers. It can be done in either direction or as a lollipop from Foster Bar or Grave Creek, but it’s best to hike it counter-clockwise starting from Tucker Flat. This way you avoid any surprises with the two crossings of Mule Creek and also get to hike down, not up, the Clay Hill Trail. These creek crossings can be very dangerous or impassable during Spring high water – better to find that out when turning back only involves a few miles! And going down the Clay Hill Trail seems to be the less arduous option.
(8) ILLINOIS RIVER TRAIL (USFS #1161)
The Illinois River Trail (USFS #1161) runs parallel to, but not often close to, this major tributary of the Rogue River. The western end of the trail was designated as a National Recreation Trail because of its outstanding scenic qualities and the Illinois River itself was added to the National Wild and Scenic River System in October 1984. This was lauded as one of the best hikes in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, one that gives you a unique glimpse into the wonders of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. It was starting its long recovery from the 2002 Biscuit Fire when almost its entire length was burned (again) by the 2018 Klondike Fire. By 2020, it had been fully rehabilitated by the Siskiyou Mountain Club. But it would still be a good idea to check its current status – with either the Wild Rivers Ranger District in Cave Junction, Oregon or the Gold Beach Ranger District in Gold Beach, Oregon – before trying to hike it.
(9) LOWER ROGUE RIVER TRAIL (USFS #1168)
The Lower Rogue River Trail (USFS #1168) follows the river for 12 miles from Agness, Oregon to near Gold Beach, Oregon. In 2018, the trail was almost completely rehabilitated by the Forest Service, with help from the Wild Rivers Coast Mountain Biking Association – fallen trees cleared, tread refreshed, some re-routes around private land. Some of the bridges still need a little work – and the one at Slide Creek is gone – but, overall, the #1168 is now a joy to hike. The only thing it doesn’t do – unlike the more famous Rogue River Trail upstream – is get very close to the river very often. Past Morris Rodgers Creek, the trail climbs to a high point where you can see both up- and downriver. This isn’t the highest point on the trail but it is the one with the best view. It would make a great destination for an out-and-back hike from Agness.