A Walk In the Woods
Rogue Wilderness Adventures
Words by Lynn Leissler
“So, did you like it?” asked Brad Niva, owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures.
His broad grin suggested he already knew my answer.
“I’m hooked.” My grin outdid his.
When I signed up to hike the designated Wild and Scenic portion of the Rogue River, I pictured myself conquering the trail. I was a novice hiker, true, but 40 miles in four days—I could do that. I invested in good boots and wool socks, each day added distance to my morning walk, and asked my outdoorsy friends a lot of questions.
The Big Day arrived. My fellow hikers and I assembled at the Rogue Wilderness Adventures shop in Merlin. The company was founded in 1980 and provides expertise and guided trips on all things Rogue River. Brad shuttled us to Grave Creek, where we would begin to hike on a 110-year old trail, originally a mule pack trail for miners.
Brad taught us a few simple hand signals that allowed us to communicate with our guides, Scott and Josh. Though they would stay on the river, they have hiked the trail many times and know it well. Brad gave a safety talk, and handed two-way radios to those of our group designated volunteer lead hiker and sweep. He wished us well and sent us on our way.
With a daypack on our backs and trekking poles in our hands, we embarked on our step-by-step adventure. Five of our group hailed from Georgia, five from Nevada; we ranged in age from 24 to early 70s. Two adult children accompanied their parents. Becky from Georgia said the best part of the trip was “being able to share the whole experience with my son.” Most were experienced hikers, yet still we had our share of aches and pains, knee, back and foot issues. As Marie said with a smile, “If I didn’t hurt, I’d think I had died.” We taped our feet, rubbed on creams, took pills, and focused on our trek, determined to demonstrate that this was a hike for just about anyone.
Around noon each day we dropped to the river’s edge, sat on chairs and ate our lunch, prepared by our guides. Over three days we enjoyed pasta salad, Asian chicken salad, build-your-own burritos, fruit, gourmet sandwiches and desserts. We knew this was a raft-supported hike, but most of us believed only the wounded and the wimpy would abandon the trail for the rafts, whose function was to carry our lunches and our extra gear. We would walk every step of the 40 miles.
However, on Day One, in order to reach the first lodge at a decent hour, we all ended up boarding the rafts for the last four miles. In exchange, we gained a different perspective. On the trail, we needed to watch our steps, though we could look down to the water. On the river, we viewed canyons, streams and waterfalls as we glided the smooth waters. We thrilled as we jounced through riffles and rapids. Our guides regaled us with history—people, events and sites. They identified the wildlife, trees and flowers we encountered and pointed out relics of mining operations and old cabins.
We spent our first night at Black Bar Lodge, named for gold miner William Black, whose claim dates to the late 1800s. The lodge was built in 1935 as a place to entertain a later owner’s friends.
Each lodge along the way is powered by generators, which shut down around ten o’clock. Propane provides hot showers and warm rooms. After all that walking and sumptuous dinners each night, we willingly headed to bed with our flashlights close by.
Darrell from Georgia recalls, “I enjoyed being the first one up and sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee and watching the river.” Each morning we headed out with some combination of eggs, bacon, muffins, fruit, pancakes, biscuits and gravy and coffee in our bellies. We needed such fortification on Day Two, our 14-mile day. Some folks rode in the rafts part of the way, some trekked every mile. The trail cut into the mountainside at times, and followed the forest floor at others. We crossed narrow streams and carefully picked our way across rock debris deposited by winter storms.
Near Winkle Bar, we crossed a flower-carpeted meadow to see the cabin once owned by Western author Zane Grey. He wrote many of his books there. We lunched that day under a canopy, protected from the warm sun.
That evening we stayed at Marial Lodge, built in the 1940s as a fishing lodge. Before dinner we sipped our beverages on the deck, chatting and recalling the day’s highpoints.
Day Three was a gentle five-mile hike, but three of us chose a river ride. I joined a father and his son, exhilarated as we navigated Coffee Pot (tamer due to high waters) and Blossom Bar, a Class IV rapid.
We arrived at Paradise Lodge early enough to explore, visit historic Rogue River Ranch, and relax. Over three days we dined extravagantly at the lodges on chicken, ribs, potatoes, sourdough biscuits, salads, vegetables, ice cream, pear torte and cheesecake. We needed to walk to counteract the generous meals.
Throughout the trip we saw wildlife: deer, river otters, a fox, Canada geese, mergansers, bald eagles, osprey, two bears and a mama bear with her two cubs.
All too soon our trip ended, and we were sad to leave this astounding section of Oregon. When I asked about favorite parts of the trip, one woman mentioned “the incredible pristine.” Our guides enjoyed visiting with us on the deck before dinner. For me, I had won, even when my body argued with me. But De from Nevada summed it up, echoing everyone’s sentiments: “The scenery was beautiful, the flowers were beautiful, the river was exciting. But the best part was the people, including the guides.”
Anyone may hike the designated Wild and Scenic portion of the Rogue River, but oh the joys of a guided trip supported by seasoned guides, guaranteed reservations in lodges with comfortable beds and private baths, exceptional food, light packs and a raft ride when we wanted.
This amazing trip is affordable and available in our own backyard—an adventure to add to the things-to-do-in-a-lifetime list.
Rogue Wilderness Adventures also offers one-day and multi-day raft trips, raft rentals, hiking trips, fishing trips, camping/rafting trips, plus specialty trips like Paddles and Paws, Paddles and Pints, a wine-themed trip and Bettys with Backpacks (an all woman hike). See www.wildrogue.com for more information.