A pair of backpackers carries overnight gear along the Rogue River Trail between Grave Creek and Whisky Creek. - Courtesy Gabriel Howe

Pack in, and sleep in the wild

A lot of hikers have a hard time taking the plunge into overnight backpacking. Backpacking is dirty. Lugging extra overnight gear is tough. Cooking options are limited, and the uncertainties of spending a night in the woods are many.

But there is nothing quite like spending even just one night in the wild, away from the car and the noise and the crowds.

Here are two options — one along the Illinois River and the other along the Rogue River — where you can break into overnight backpacking relatively smoothly.

Before you go, check some gear lists online to make sure you're not forgetting something crucial. Pack lightly, but be prepared. Bring good food, the stuff you love most, but nothing too complicated to prepare. And always leave no trace.

The first option is a short but steep, 1.5-mile hike into Horn Bend on the Illinois River. From Selma, head west on Illinois River Road for about 5 miles. The Horn Bend trailhead is well marked on the road's south side. Walk for a few minutes on a well-graded trail parallel to the road. Then the woods will open up to far-off views of the Illinois River.

The trail runs into an old road bed and dives straight down to Horn Bend. There are picnic benches, fire rings, great river access and even some beaches. Don't cut yourself short by not following paths up and down the river. It's worth checking out.

While Horn Bend isn't far from the road, it feels isolated, and it's on a stunning section of the Illinois River that's a worthy sleeping spot. In the morning, you'll have a short but steep hike back up to your car.

You can get your feet a little wetter on the 3.5-mile hike into Whisky Creek along the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River.

To get there, take Interstate 5 north past Grants Pass to the Merlin exit, then follow Merlin-Galice Road west for 23 miles to the Grave Creek Bridge, boat launch and parking lot. The trail begins on the downstream side of the lot on the river's north side. Make sure you get started on the river's north side, near the boat launch, and not on the south side, which is the Rainie Falls trail.

Start hiking west on the Rogue River Trail. After a mile or so, you will reach the high-water mark from the 1964 flood. In another half mile, you'll reach Rainie Falls. There's a trail from here that branches off down to the river, where there's an outhouse and a campsite, but no good views of the falls, which can be seen better from the river's south side. Unless you need to stop, it's best to keep heading downstream and admiring the world-famous river canyon.

At 3.5 miles you'll come across the Whisky Creek campsite. This large piece of riverside real estate is heavily sought by private and commercial rafting parties — and for good reason. There's a huge, flat area, a bear-fence for stashing your food safely, an outhouse and large pine trees that stretch over it all.

The Whisky Creek site, even though it's just a few fingers on the map from the nearest road, feels pretty darned wild. The creek is cold, clear and wild and boasts deep pools. The canyon winds on for miles uninterrupted.

After dropping your gear here, explore farther downstream or hike up to the old miners cabin. Poke around and see what you find — this area is rich in history.

Always be considerate of other campers. This is a huge site capable of accommodating many people. Take good care of this area. It receives a lot of use.

These two backpack trips could be the humble beginning of something much greater. The best canyons, clearest creeks, wildest rivers, rockiest ridges, most magical valleys and old-growth forests — they're all right there on the map. You just have to pack in to experience them.

Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at

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