The Rogue River National Historic Trail stretches 40 miles through from Graves Creek to Big Bend Trailheads. The Rogue River was designated as a Wild and Scenic river in 1968, and it’s easy to see why. The only other access points via automobile are the Rogue River Ranch and Marial Lodge in Marial at about the halfway point.
There are campsites throughout the hiker only trail, which is typically done in four to five days. Four private lodges also serve hikers, rafters, and those riding jet boats from Gold Beach. I’ve run this trail a few times and in 2014, I took the three-day trail running tour offered by Orange Torpedo Trips in Merlin. Our guide rafted my gear plus food, drinks, and beer, making the run effortless. He set up aid stations along the way with real food, electrolytes, and drinks. We stayed at Black Bar Lodge at mile 9 and Marial Lodge at 24.5, where are gear was hauled right to our door. Beers awaited us at the river to soak up the sun and cool our legs. The lodges served dinner and breakfast family style. This was a true runcation.
So skip to 2020 and Orange Torpedo opened up early to the COVID-19 pandemic because Josephine and Curry Counties had been moved to Phase 2. I decided to be the first to do the two-day trip, with one night at Marial Lodge, hosted by the new owners. Jason Fedchak and Liz Fero joined me for a new adventure.
We left our cars at the office in Merlin, put on our masks, and cleansed our hands before the morning briefing. Our guide Kris drove us down to the Gales Creek entrance on the Northside and we started the climb up the trail, offering outstanding views of the Rogue.
We soon got to Rainie Falls and watch Kris row our stuff through the rapids. Our pace matched other rafts, but Kris had to push to get ahead of us and set up our first aid station at Whiskey Creek, 3.3 miles into the run. We dressed for rain, but the weather was just cool and muggy. We met Kris as he hiked food, water, and a table up to the trail from the river. None of us really needed much since it was so short into the run, but felt bad since he worked so hard to be there.
We decided to meet Kris at Bunker Creek, mile 9.3 into the run, for lunch. It started to rain a little as we crossed creeks and followed the gently rolling hills along the river. Bathrooms at some of the campsites made the “packing your own waste” rule obsolete. By the time we saw Kris, he had a tent set up, fruit and sandwiches cut up, and ready to eat. Water, Gatorade, and soda were available to drink. Gels and energy bars were available to take. We decided our next meet up would be Ditch Creek at mile 16.3, giving Kris some time to pack up the stuff, get in the raft, paddle the river, and haul our food and drink back up to the trail.
Along the way, the trail moves to and away from the river, passing many creeks. We got to Ditch Creek and Kris had a small table waiting for us with more food, including sliced apples with peanut butter to smear on them. We then realized Kris brought all of this up a cliff wearing his sandals. That’s true service! Across the river is Battle Bar, where Native Americans and white settlers fought in the Rogue Valley Indian War of 1855-1856. The next meeting was Marial Lodge, where we would have dinner and spend the night.
We passed Zane Grey’s cabin, where he wrote several of his novels and moved onto Marial, where the trail turns into a gravel road. A trail leads to the Rogue River Lodge, which has been turned into a museum and is in the National Register of Historic Places. The building has been painted bright red with white trim. We walked around the building, but everything was closed. A mile down the road is Marial Lodge, where our bags had been placed by Kris in front of our rustic rooms. Cold beers and wine awaited us in the lodge, where a fire was roasting. After showers and a change of clothes, we settled in and played many of the games in the lodge. We talked with several hikers making the trip, including a family who didn’t want to camp again and found rooms available for the night. Normally dinner is served family-style, but during COVID times, the new owner Robert served us homestyle food to the tables wearing a mask. After settling for the night, we ate breakfast in the same fashion and were back on the trail by 9:00 am. We followed Marial Road for a mile until the trail started at the Mule Creek Guard Station.
The stretch down Mule Creek Canyon is my favorite section of the trail. The trail bench protruding from the rocky walls offer stunning views of the narrow canyon that create challenging rafting features like Coffeepot and Blossom Bar. An area aptly named Inspiration Point overlook Stair Creek Falls across the river.
The creeks form waterfalls and small swimming pools to cool off in just before Paradise Lodge. The trail winds around the lodge and the meadow surrounding it. I’ve previously stayed at Paradise on vacation and watched bears catch salmon from the large deck above the river.
The trail heads back in the woods for a few miles after Paradise lodge. I usually run into black bears in this section, but not this time. Species of trees include firs, cedars, spruce, and madrone. Madrone is unique because the bark peels away from the tree, exposing its red trunk. Our next stop was Tate Creek at mile 32.5. Kris served us again and we decided to finish at Foster Bar Boat Launch just a mile after the trail ends at Big Bend. Several downed trees slowed us down until we reached the meadow that turns away from the river and to the finish. When I previously ran the trail, I jumped in the river while rafts were pulled out onto their trailers at the ramp. This year was pleasantly mild, so we settled on lunch and another beer before Kris drove us back on the two-hour drive of windy and hilly roads to Merlin. Another fun run on the Rogue River Trail completed!