Oregon’s Rogue River flows some 215 miles from its headwaters at Boundary Springs within Crater Lake National Park to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, Oregon. Although not as large as the Columbia or the Willamette, it is nonetheless one of Oregon’s iconic rivers. It’s been in our hearts for years but only recently have we had the time to give it the attention it deserves. Between 2012 and 2016, we hiked (in sections) the entire Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) as it roughly parallels the river from near Boundary Springs to Prospect, Oregon. In 2015, we backpacked the famous Rogue River Trail (USFS #1160) from Grave Creek and Foster Bar (post) and also did a rafting day trip from Robertson Bridge to Grave Creek. In 2016, we bolstered the local economy again with a multi-day rafting trip on the Wild and Scenic Rogue from Grave Creek and Foster Bar (post). After attending a presentation earlier this year by Gabriel Howe of the Siskiyou Mountain Club on their 2015 restoration of the Wild Rogue Loop, we knew we had to hike it. With lingering snow keeping us from the High Cascades and parts of the Siskiyou Crest, now seemed like just the time to do this lower-altitude loop.
Oregon’s Rogue River flows, from its headwaters at Boundary Springs within Crater Lake National Park, generally westward for 215 miles to the Pacific Ocean near Gold Beach, Oregon. Hiking trails follow the river for approximately 100 miles. One of these, the Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034), roughly parallels the river for about 47 miles from near Boundary Springs to the North Fork Dam Recreation Area outside of Prospect, Oregon. It can be hiked in sections (USFS Guide). We hiked our first section, the northern-most, in 2012 and completed the southern-most section in 2016. Done and done, except for the possibility (per Sullivan) that there was a path from the North Fork Dam Recreation Area to the Peyton Bridge Trailhead at Lost Creek Lake. This would allow one to link 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. We conveniently ignored that “except” until the nagging malaise of incompleteness was too much to bear. So we dragged ourselves off the sofa and went out yesterday to finish the hike…
Well, after three gloriously warm and sunny days, we were pitched yet again into the damp gloom of either a late winter or an early spring, but certainly not an early summer. One of the old jokes about Oregon is that summer doesn’t really start until the 4th of July and this year that might not be a joke (if it ever was). But, on the upside, all this sky water has made our local waterfalls really, really energetic. So, rather than lament our moist meteorological fate, we decided to explore part of the trail connecting the Upper Rogue River Trail (USFS #1034) with Lost Creek Lake and simultaneously visit two local waterfalls – 173-foot Mill Creek Falls and 240-foot Barr Creek Falls – conveniently located within a quarter mile of one another.
For our sixth, and last, hike during our week wandering the Golden State, we decided it would be interesting to visit a waterfall. After consulting Soares’ 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California (2014 edition), we picked Feather Falls as our goal. It was low altitude (so no snow issues), had paved access, and was described (at 410 feet) as the sixth highest waterfall in the United States. In this wet year, we also figured it might be a more spectacular water feature than usual (and we were right). So, bidding a fond farewell to the Garlic Capital of the World, to drove to much less fragrant Yuba City, California, and, after a night there, on to Feather Falls. We arrived to find one of the largest paved parking lots we’ve ever seen at a trailhead (it would be overflowing when we got back). What the guidebook failed to mention is that this is likely one of the most popular dayhikes in the Plumas National Forest. Fortunately, our habit of arriving early and hiking steadily kept us ahead of the crowds for the whole day.
Elk Creek is a tributary of Oregon’s Rogue River whose confluence with the Rogue is just northeast of Shady Cove, Oregon. In 1986, about three miles upstream of the confluence, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began construction on what was expected to be the Elk Creek Dam. It was to be the last of three dams (the other two being the William L. Jess Dam (1977) on the Upper Rogue River and the Applegate Dam (1980) on the Applegate River) authorized by Congress in 1962 to help control flooding along the Rogue River. The Rogue’s capacity for horrendous flooding was well established and the two existing dams have done a great deal to mitigate that threat. But the Elk Creek Dam was not to be (nor did it need to be).
After the Great Storm (aka the Big Dump) of 2017, we were able to sneak in a quick hike before the Spawn of the Great Storm was upon us. Now that too has passed and a period of sunny high pressure is settling in for a few days. Oh, bluebird days ahead! To celebrate the return of the Sun, while waiting (yet again) for the snow to settle, we decided to try the short low-altitude hike to Viewpoint Mike overlooking Lost Creek Lake, where the William L. Jess Dam impounds the Upper Rogue River. The trail meanders 2.5 miles (and gains ~1,000 feet) across several ridges on its way to a rocky outcrop about 600 feet above the dam. An out-and-back hike is fine but a loop hike is better still, so when we found that, back in 2009, the Ashland Hiking Group had made a loop out of this hike, we decided to try that. This was Plan A. But 2017 is not 2009 and we would discover, part way into the loop, that a Plan B was needed.
Whisky Creek Cabin is the oldest known still standing mining cabin in the remote lower Rogue River canyon. It sits just above the iconic Rogue River Trail (BLM, USFS, Our Trip) about 3.5 miles downstream of the put-in at Grave Creek and makes a great goal for a moderate and educational dayhike in all but the summer months, when it can be brutally hot in the canyon. With the remnants of the Great Storm of 2017 (now referred to locally as the “Big Dump”) still stifling access to higher elevations, we figured, based on a previous hike there (post), that the Rogue River Trail, which is south-facing and at an elevation of only 600 feet, would allow us to do a snow-free out-and-back hike to the cabin. The drive over to the trailhead was on roads disconcertingly lined with a foot of more of snow but when we got to Grave Creek, we found it and the trail almost entirely clear of snow! The added bonus for hiking at this time of year was a chance to see the Rogue at high water – it had come down some since being in flood just two days ago but was still impressively high.