How to Pull Off a Private Rafting Trip on Oregon’s Rogue River
Three moments from my first private trip down Oregon’s Rogue River perfectly sum up the experience: silently watching a bald eagle perched in a tree as we drifted down flatwater; reaching out to touch the steep rock walls between rapids in a narrow canyon stretch; and camping on a riverside beach with only the stars and a visiting black bear for company. (Successfully making it down Blossom Bar is on the list of highlights, too.)
A multi-day trip on the Rogue River, no doubt one of the crown jewels of Western whitewater, is a bucket-list adventure for many paddlers. Not surprisingly, pulling off a private trip on this popular river comes with thoughtful planning. This handy guide will help you navigate the permit system, determine what to bring, and understand the dos and don’ts of camping and rafting along this stunning stretch of waterway and wilderness.
Rogue River Basics
Beginning in the Cascade Mountains, the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River river stretches more than 200 miles through dense woodlands and empties into the Pacific Ocean. In 1968, it became one of the first U.S. rivers to be designated Wild and Scenic. The Rogue’s 160 Wild and Scenic river miles protect the basin’s abundant wildlife, rich cultural history, and serene landscape of pine forests, rocky gorges, and verdant hillsides. The wildlife is a big part of what makes rafting here so special, as black bears, osprey, blue heron, deer, otters, and eagles frequent the corridor. The river is also renowned for its steelhead and salmon populations.
When most paddlers plan a rafting trip on the Rogue, they set their sights on the 34-mile Wild section from Grave Creek to Foster Bar. This stretch usually takes three to four days to raft and boasts the river’s most challenging whitewater. Plus, it’s an especially remote section of the river. While it’s possible to raft this section year-round, the main season begins in April and runs through October.
The Permit System
Enter the lottery to win a permit for a private rafting trip on the Rogue River. Zachary Collier
Private boaters will need permits from the Bureau of Land Management to raft the Wild section any time of the year. During peak season, from May 15 to October 15, 120 people are allowed to launch per day (including commercial trips). Hopefuls for a private rafting trip can enter the yearly online permit lottery and reserve spaces if they win. Boaters can also secure spots through the competitive call-in system, where you can see the number of daily float space openings and call to reserve one.
“Day of Launch” permits are possible if last-minute spaces are available. To secure one of these permits, boaters must arrive at the Smullin Visitor Center at Rand to snag spaces on a first-come, first-served basis and launch that day. It’s far less competitive during the off-season: Simply fill out the self-issue permits posted outside the Smullin Visitor Center or Grave Creek Bridge.
Ahh, the good stuff. The dozens of rapids on the Rogue’s Wild section challenge boaters with tricky rock gardens, pool drops, swift gravel bars, and tight rock canyons. Rapids range from Class I ripples to Class V (raftable!) falls. American Whitewater offers excellent pictures and descriptions for all rapids on the Rogue.
Many rapids are possible to read-and-run, but scouting is always a good idea if you’re unsure. The water level is a significant factor in rapid difficulty, and it fluctuates throughout the season. (Spring and summer flows range between 4,000 and 1,200 cfs typically.) The U.S. Geological Survey publishes data on water levels in the Rogue River basin daily.
No matter the level of water flow, private boaters are encouraged to scout the three most challenging rapids of the Wild section: Rainie Falls, Upper Black Bar, and Blossom Bar. The narrow basalt walls of Mule Creek Canyon offer up another highlight stretch teeming with thrilling rapids.
The BLM requires everyone on a private rafting trip to have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD to obtain the permit. Also, boaters must wear PFDs during all rapids above Class II.
Campsites on the River
One of the best aspects of a private trip on the Rogue is camping along the banks of the river. The Wild section is full of flat, sandy beaches just beckoning for an overnight after a long day of paddling. Many are established campsites with names that make it easier for private boaters to map out where to end up each day.
The BLM has a helpful map of the established campsites along the river, though many small, unofficial sites are also free for camping. During prime season, popular campsites often fill up fast. Since boaters can’t reserve sites in advance, it’s smart to identify a few back-ups in case a first-choice spot is taken. Smaller groups are encouraged to save the larger campsites for bigger groups and to be flexible about sharing sites with other groups.
Leaving No Trace and Fire Safety
Boaters must follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the Rogue River’s exceptional beauty. Bureau of Land Management
As many as 500 people may be within the 34 miles of the Rogue’s Wild Section corridor on any given day. Accordingly, it’s imperative for people to be diligent about protecting the environment, so that the ecosystem can withstand the presence of so many visitors. Anyone rafting the Rogue must practice Leave No Trace principles and follow additional regulations from the local BLM office.
To Leave No Trace, boaters should choose where to camp wisely and pack out everything they pack in (and whatever may have been left behind by others!). You should also properly dispose of human waste. The BLM requires boaters to pack out all solid human waste in watertight, ranger-approved containers—like the beloved groover—that you can empty after take-out. (Pro tip: Use the SCAT Machine at Foster Bar take-out.)
Fire restrictions vary throughout the seasons, sometimes changing from one day to the next. Campfires are allowed in winter and early spring, and firepans are required. During summer, campfires are prohibited, and campers must use propane stoves or charcoal for cooking. Once the summer heat really dries out the corridor, only propane stoves are allowed.
Put-In, Take-Out, and Shuttles
To raft the Wild section, you can start at Grave Creek put-in a few miles north of Smullin Visitor Center. Since overnight parking isn’t allowed at Grave Creek, many boaters will alternatively launch from Almeda Bar, which is four miles upriver.
From the take-out at Foster Bar, you’re looking at a 44-mile drive back to Galice on the unpaved Bear Camp Road, which typically takes about two hours. Most private boaters on the Rogue rely on the local shuttle services for convenience.
Private boaters can review the BLM’s detailed list of recommended shuttle routes, complete with seasonal conditions, to get a feel for the options.
The Rogue was one of the first rivers in the country designated as Wild and Scenic. Bureau of Land Management
Several local outfitters offer raft and gear rentals for any essentials that you may not have been able to bring with you. Most of the rental companies are conveniently located in the town of Merlin, close to the BLM visitor center and put-in.
If you get the chance to join a private trip on the Rogue River, go for it. You’ll create lifelong memories as you cheer with your fellow paddlers after navigating a boulder garden. You’ll feel like a true explorer as you tromp up side creeks to visit unique cultural sites. And you’ll feel a deep sense of peace as you watch the sun setting behind the dark pines to reveal a starry sky. Sure, it takes patience and a little luck to get a permit, but the challenge only adds to the thrill of rafting the Rogue.
Written by Jenna Herzog for Matcha in partnership with Salamander Paddle Gear.
Your Ultimate Guide To Rogue River Rafting
The Rogue River has numerous thrilling spots suited for rafting enthusiasts. Located in Southern Oregon, the Rogue River attracts hundreds of boaters each year thanks to its stunning landscape, weather, various rapids, side hikes, and camps. You’ll have so much to do that one trip simply won’t be enough. Here’s everything you need to know about Rogue River rafting.
Tyee Rapid is an excellent spot for the start of day two or the end of day 1 of your trip. You can go river rafting and set up camp afterward, as this fun rapid also features perfect camps upstream and downstream.
Tyee rapid is an excellent choice, especially if you’re coming as part of a big group. Not just that, it’s also a fantastic site if you want to engage in stargazing or capture some stunning night shots. You can go for an adventure in the thrilling rapids and end up at Lower Black Bar Falls.
Grave Creek Bridge
Grave Creek Bridge is highly suitable for beginners. It is at the start of the Rogue River Trail, and it weaves along the stunning river providing you with easy access to some hiking spots while you’re on a river trip. However, the boat ramp can get super busy, so keep in mind that you won’t have much room to unload your gear.
If you don’t want to deal with a lot of traffic, you’ll find some boat ramps upstream. When you float under the bridge, look out for the intriguing swallow nests. Grave Creek Bridge has so much to offer that you’ll want to keep coming back.
Mule Creek Canyon
This canyon is a hot favorite among many rafters. However, it is not suitable for beginners as the rough river can be challenging to maneuver. This spot is will provide you with a fantastic opportunity if you want to work on oar management. If you’re going to take on Mule Creek canyon, you must keep your boat straight and move forward.
If you’re a part of a group, you should spread out a little as there’s a chance you’ll come to a halt after hitting an eddy line. You won’t have much time to eddy out, so ensure that there’s some extra distance between the rafts at all times. When you float through this stunning canyon, make sure that you look up to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
If you have the skills and technique, Rainey Falls can provide you with the time of your life. You can pull over the river left, so you can walk down a bit if you want to scout the rapid.
Beginner rafters tend not to go for the main falls, but you can try them out if you have the expertise. For large, heavy gear boats, the mid chute is the best option once the water reaches 3,000 cos or lower.
However, it takes a lot of precision to navigate through the rocky entrance. Fish ladder alongside the river banks is the most popular line. If you want to take on this ladder, enter straight and move forward.
If you want to enjoy a long rafting session, Blossom Bar is a must-visit. It is one of the longest rapids on the river and will put your skills to the test. If you want to scout, pull over on the right river bank. Going on a short walk will offer you a spectacular view of the entire rapid. If the water drops below 3000 CFS, your boat can quickly wrap, perch and even flip on the picket fence.
At 4000 CFS, the right side of the rapid becomes tricky to navigate. The water moves fast, so you must look out for rocks. If you’re interested, the Rogue River Trail is nearby, so it’ll easy for you to walk around the rapid.
If you aren’t a big fan of rough rivers, consider going for Flora dell. The calm flat stretch is a fantastic place for beginners to float, and if you’re interested, you can also try stand up paddleboarding.
The landscape is stunning and makes Flora Dell a beautiful place to relax and chill. You can also visit two spectacular waterfalls; on the river right, you’ll have access to Flora dell Falls, and on the river left, you’ll see Falls Creek.
There are very few places in the world, like the Rogue River, that provide numerous rafting spots surrounded by spectacular scenery. If you’re thinking of Rogue River rafting, you should consider the places mentioned above. Remember always to have proper gear and equipment when you go river rafting.
First Timers Guide to the Wild Rogue River
The Rogue River is a southern Oregon gem, and classic multi-day river trip. The Rogue attracts many new boaters each year because of its Class II-III rapids, great weather, camps, and side hikes. There is so much to do while floating the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. Hiking opportunities are endless. Here are a handful of hints, helpful land marks, and things not to miss to get ready for your first Rogue adventure.
Front Row Seat for Upper Black Bar Falls
Grave Creek Bridge
This is a popular put-in location for many boaters with a permit to float the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. The boat ramp gets really busy with not a lot of room for unloading gear. There are a handful of boat ramps upstream that see a little less traffic. If you float under the bridge don’t forget to check out the nests the swallows have made. Grave Creek is also the start to the Rogue River Trail. The trail weaves along the river, giving great access to hiking while on a river trip.
Grave Creek Bridge
Just over mile down stream from Grave Creek, you will hear the river roaring as it falls over Rainey Falls. Most groups pull over the river left, and walk down a bit to scout the rapid. There are three lines through this one, right over the main falls, down the “mid chute,” and the fish ladder. Not many people choose the main falls, but some go for it.
Rainey Falls on the Rogue River | Photo by Nate Wilson
The “mid chute” it a tight slop right in the middle of the rapid. It takes skill and precision to get your boat through the rocky entrance but it is the preferred line for big heavy gear boats once the water gets to 3,000 cos and below. It may seem too narrow but when the water is in the 1,400 range an 18 foot raft will still squeeze right through. The most popular line is the fish ladder along the right bank. Enter straight and do you best to keep things moving forward.
Mid Chute at Rainey Falls | Photo by Nate Wilson
The fish ladder is the most popular option for getting boats through Rainey Falls. This tight little chute is made up of a couple small drops along river right. Come in straight with a little momentum. Your oars become a little useless and you bounce down each little drop. There is also good access to the shore if you are interested in lining your boat down.
Ducky Coming Down the Fish Ladder
Tyee, the Chinook word for chief, Rapid is a great marker of the end of day 1 or beginning of day 2. There are great camps upstream and down stream of this fun rapid. Tyee Camp is huge and perfect for really big groups. It is also a great spot to star gaze as the sky is wide here. The Rogue is far enough away from light pollution and is a great place to try out astrophotography, check out Lonely Speck for tricks and tips on getting awesome night time shots. Tyee is a good marker for the beginning of a stretch of fun rapids that end at Lower Black Bar Falls.
Looking back up on Tyee Rapid | Photo by Nate Wilson
A great camp 1, for a 3-day trip, also a great lunch stop on day 2 or a 4 day trip. This is a huge camp, so if you choose to stop here be ready to share with others. There is an adventurous hike up the ridge just across from the camp on river left.
Horseshoe Bend | Photo by Nate Wilson
“The most violet water on the river.” Famed Rogue River boating pioneer Glen Wooldridge describing Horseshoe bend just after the peak of a 1955 flood.
Named after commander John Kelsey this beautiful canyon is a great place to camp. Kelsey Creek comes in on river right and is a excellent place to explore. If camped at Kelsey Left swim across the river, hike up to the creek on the trail, and follow the creek back to the river. You can than enjoy a relaxing float back to camp.
Duckies in Kelsey Canyon | Photo by Nate Wilson
Rogue River Ranch
A classic stop for many boaters. The large grassy field is perfect for soccer, frisbee, or just laying in the sunshine. There is quite a bit of space available at the beach for the Ranch as well as down stream right next to Mule Creek. The old homestead has been turned into a museum, with photos and relics from early settlers.
Now the ranch is a summer home for some lucky caretakers that give their time to The Bureau of Land Management to keep the grounds looking nice and greeting boaters and hikers as they pass. They also keep a marvelous veggie garden. I like to think of this as the gateway to the most difficult part of the Rogue, Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar. Just downstream from the Rogue River Ranch lies the Wild Rogue Wilderness Boundary. Sharp ridges, steep terrain, cascading mountain creeks, and near vertical cliffs characterize this 35,620-acre wilderness.
Rogue River Ranch | Photo by Nate Wilson
Mule Creek Canyon
Mule Creek Canyon is a favorite of many people. The swirling, fast moving water can be a bit hard to manage but gives you a great opportunity to work on oar management. Your goal should be to keep your boat straight, and moving forward.
Rafting Through Mule Creek Canyon | Photo by Nate Wilson Photo
If you are with a group of other boaters it can be nice to spread out a little bit as I have seen big heavy boats come to a complete stop after hitting a weird swirly eddy line. There aren’t many places to eddy out once you have entered the canyon, so a little extra space between boats can be nice. Also don’t forget to look up and enjoy the great scenery as you float through this awesome canyon.
Blossom Bar is very well known rapid, that has been the bane of many boaters existence, is one of the longer rapids on the river and will put your rowing skills to the test. Pull over on river right to scout. A short walk will give you a view of the entire rapid and will let you know if anyone or anything is stuck in “the move.”
Blossom Bar Rapid on teh Rogue River | Photo by Nate Wilson
When the water starts to dip below 3,000 cfs boats can easily perch, wrap, and even flip on the dangerous rocks called the picket fence. At flows around 4,000 cfs there is a line down the right side of the rapid, be aware that the water moves pretty quick and there are still rocks to avoid. The Rogue River Trail is also close by and makes it easy for people to walk around this rapid.
A short float down from Blossom Bar is the iconic Paradise Lodge. My favorite part is walking up to the deck and seeing the high-water markers along the way. Hard to believe that the 1964 flood reached the bottom of the deck. Paradise also has ice, cold beer, and ice cream, just incase you need to stock up for the remainder of your trip. This area of the river is also a common place to pull over for lunch after Blossom Bar.
The Tacoma area of the river is really popular in the summer for camps. There are a couple river camps, as well as some backpacking camps. These camps are highly desirable and often occupied during the busy summer months. From the camps you can hike along the trail, Tate Creek is a great place to explore, and keep you eyes open for wildlife on the other side of the river.
Upper Tacoma Camp | Photo by Nate Wilson
This calm, flat stretch, is a perfect place to get out the stand-up paddle board, relax, maybe even start a water fight. There are two great water falls to check out, Falls Creek on river left, and Flora Dell Falls on river right.
Music Session through Flora Dell | Photo by Nate Wilson
Foster Bar Take-out
As you round the last corner you will see people fishing, swimming, and enjoying the river from the boat ramp. Foster Bar can be crowded, so do your best to keep all of you stuff in a neat and tidy pile. There is no shade to speak of so plan lunch before take-out so you don’t have to bake in the sun while getting lunch ready.
After a handful of days rafting, hiking, star gazing, and enjoying the company of your new river family you should be ready for another trip. The Rogue offers so many side creeks to explore, hidden camps, and awesome jumping rocks there will be something new to explore each visit.