Rafting Southern Oregon’s Rogue River
A 40-mile Lodge-to-Lodge Culinary Expedition
By Sandra Kennedy
”Swimmer,” shouted our guide, James. Twenty feet upstream, a figure submerged under a flipped kayak. Split seconds passed, a bright yellow helmet shot to the surface above the fast-flowing 60-degree water. Flinging himself onto his kayak, Charlie, age 14, smiled and yelled, “Cool, I flipped!”
I became intrigued with ROW Adventures’ three-day Culinary, Whitewater Rafting and Lodges Tour after talking with friends. The idea of rafting by day, savoring gourmet food by night and staying in remote lodges, appealed to me.
And, rafting on the Rogue River’s “Wild and Scenic Corridor” in southwestern Oregon, was a “first” for me.
The day before our 40-mile trip was to begin, I met 15 fellow rafters (ages 14 to 71), at Morrison’s Lodge, just north of Grants Pass.
Situated along the Rogue River, this comfortable, homey lodge overlooks a sloping lawn leading to the emerald-colored river. Our guide, James, and manager, Tom, presented a lively orientation of what to expect over the next three days. And afterward, we got a sample of what was to come as we were served a delectable, four-course dinner.
Day 1 — Rand Boat Launch to Black Bar Lodge
I awakened to clear and sunny skies. Temperatures were expected to be in the 80s and 90s. Excited, I stuffed my hefty black duffle bag into ROW’s blue and yellow waterproof bag.
Our raft flotilla put in at Rand Boat Launch. We had our choice of rafts: “Daring Duckies” or inflatable kayaks, oar rafts, a “Huck Finn” supply raft or a paddling raft. Initially I chose an “oar raft” and progressed to a “paddling raft” as we floated downriver through flat water and turbulent rapids.
As we proceeded downstream, I viewed osprey gliding overhead, a bald eagle nesting, Canada Geese and a mama duck paddling ahead of her eight ducklings. Black bears didn’t show, nor did otter that are often found along the river.
Our veteran guides, Peter Grubb (co-founder and president of Row Adventures, out of Idaho), Bob, Mariah, James, Deano, and Chefs Matt and Marcia, prepared fresh, tasty lunches each day: Tomato salsa, chips, bagels, oranges, apples, veggies, smoked salmon, sandwich-makings and cookies for dessert.
After lunch, our group safely walked along the Rogue River Trail, above the Class V Rainie Falls rapids, its wild, frothy waters beating against boulders 10–12 feet below us. Peter stowed rafts on a supply boat and rowed through the “Fish Ladder.” Rushing whitewater boiled around him. At the bottom, he pulled aside, watching as only his guides ran the turbulent mainstream drop.
We passed riffles — water ripples over shoals or sandbars — with names such as Big Slide and Whiskey Creek. I began seeing boils as we approached the Class IV Tyee Rapids. Deano rowed through strong waves that pushed our raft toward the right rock wall, as we began plunging close to a watery hole. He missed bedrock ledges and the hole by inches, navigating downstream into more calm, flat water.
Along the way, we stopped to visit well-known American author Zane Grey’s weathered cabin. I imagined his life, writing western novels and fishing in this isolated area. Further downstream, we visited the Rogue River Ranch Museum — a tribute to this area’s rich history of Native Americans, gold miners and pioneers.
We finally made it to Black Bar Lodge. Originally built by Hal and Bea Weatherox in 1935, the Lodge sheltered gold miners and packers who worked the Rogue River in the 1940s. Rustic and remote, it was a welcome respite for dinner and lodging.
Chefs Matt and Marcia Morse prepared a delicious Italian dinner. Matt prefers calling their meals, “Grandma’s Fancy Food” rather than “gourmet.” Special Italian wines were a welcome addition to the meal.
After our feast, we gathered carved wooden benches inside the lodge to listen as James strummed the guitar.
Day 2 — Black Bar Lodge to Marial Lodge
Refreshed, showered and fed, our flotilla drifted downstream to Horseshoe Bend Rapids (Class III–IV). At this point, the river makes a 180-degree turn and fast-moving currents pushed water toward the left bank wall. Fortunately, a sheltering eddy waited for us at the rapids’ end.
Due to last winter’s huge snowfall, the Rogue was running at 3,800 cfs (cubic feet per second), higher than usual for this time of year. It meant faster, deeper and colder water. As we approached Marial Lodge, strong currents made pulling to shore difficult.
As a result, the “Huck Finn” supply raft got caught in the currents. It was heading for rapids where there would be no turning back. Fortunately, the guide maneuvered it ashore but downstream from the lodge. Peter and our guides quickly made a plan of action to haul the supply raft upsteam by using ropes attached to rafts. This, combined with a masterful display of strength pulled the supply raft to safety.
Shortly after the “big tow,” all of us were tucked into Marial Lodge, where Chefs Matt and Marcia prepared a sumptuous dinner, again paired with Italian wines. Owned by Lori and Pat Cameron for 29 years, the Lodge sits on a prominent point overlooking the Rogue. A steep trail leads to wooden stairs and an open porch and it was there we listened as our guide Peter entertained us on his guitar after our feast.
Day 3 — Marial Lodge to Foster Bar
On this day, only the single and double inflatable kayaks were stowed, since we would be moving through Class III and IV rapids and pushing through narrow gorge walls. There would be no room for
“self-rescue” by swimming to shore.
We floated through “Mule Creek Canyon” (Class III–IV) and the Devil’s Staircase, noted for their dramatic scenery as the river cuts through narrow channels creating powerful hydraulics.
Entering Blossom Bar Rapids (Class IV) our guides used several technical maneuvers past huge boulders and “Volkswagen Rock.” High water finally smoothed our way through the wild flowing rapids, into flat water.
Mid-afternoon, we rounded a bend and headed for our final take-out at Foster Bar — and our two-hour shuttle ride back to Morrison Lodge.
The three days had been filled with 40 miles of laughing, drenching splashes, creamy panna cotta with raspberry sauce and making new friends.
And, that’s just the start.
Sandra Kennedy is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Oregon. This is her first contribution to Outdoors NW. Her articles have been published in international and domestic publications.
Appetizer: Risotto Primavera with grated Parmesan and “famous” orange rolls;
Salad: Organic Mixed Greens with orange wedges and Feta;
Entrees: Pan seared Tilapia with lemon caper sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetable medley, or Breaded Pork chop with country gravy, mashed potatoes and vegetable medley;
Dessert: Chocolate Roulade with fresh raspberries.
Black Bar Lodge
Appetizers: Bresaola (air cured beef tenderloin), arugula and limone, shrimp with cannelloni, pates of poached chicken and olives as well as marinated fresh mozzarella with sun-dried tomato;
Entrees: Primi (first plate) – Risotto with fresh asparagus and lemon; Seloundi (second plate) – Rock sole, saltimbocca-style;
Dolce: (Dessert) Chocolate mousse cake with raspberry puree and whip crème.
Appetizers: Salami with piadina; Italian tacos; tomato basil torte and smoked salmon;
Entrees: Primi: Fregnacce, large hand-formed ravioli with tomato and chicken sauce, Seloundi: Braised pheasant thighs with creamy polenta and Caesar salad.
Dolce: Vanilla panna cotta with fresh raspberry puree and garni.
Row Adventures: (800) 451-6034,
Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge:
Black Bar Lodge: www.blackbarlodge.net
Marial Lodge: (541) 474-2057
More on Rogue River Lodges:
The Rogue River — A Comprehensive Guide
From Prospect to Gold Beach: By Matt Leidecker
BLM: Rogue River Float Guide
Washington DC: USDI Bureau of Land Management
Soggy Sneakers — A Paddler’s Guide to Oregon’s Rivers: Mountaineers Books, 2004
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