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Lower Rogue Canyon is awash in spring flowers

"The earth laughs in flowers."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River has something special to offer no matter the season, be it summer rafting trips, fall colors or winter waterfalls. But for my money, the spring wildflowers along the river steal the show.

I recently visited the Rogue River National Recreation Trail and enjoyed a full-bloom wildflower walk. While most folks hike the trail to Rainey Falls along the 2-mile trail on the south side of the river, the more interesting route is on the opposite shore starting at the Grave Creek boat landing. This 40-mile trail between Grave Creek and Big Bend along the Wild and Scenic Rogue River is justifiably beloved and famous.

The history of the Rogue River Trail extends all the way back to the Takelma and Tututni Native Americans, who roamed and fished the Wild Rogue area for millennia before being forced to the Siletz Reservation by the U.S. Army. The trail later served as a mining track and then as a supply route from Agness to Marial.

The low-elevation south-facing slopes on the north side of the river lend themselves to early-season wildflowers that first appear immediately upon leaving the Grave Creek parking lot and heading downstream on the hiking trail. Entire hillsides appear pink with flowering sea blush, while numerous seeps and draws burst with yellow monkeyflowers. A comprehensive flower list is well beyond my ability, but no one could miss the irises, orchids, larkspur, flox and lilies that line the way.

Hikers on this portion of the Rogue River Trail do not enter the congressionally designated wilderness area until reaching Mule Creek many miles downstream of the Grave Creek trailhead. Yet the forests that surround either side of the Rogue here are as wild and beautiful as any in the country.

The 58,000-acre “Zane Grey” Roadless area through which this stretch of the Rogue River flows is managed by BLM. Western author Zane Grey’s fishing cabin, which he acquired in 1926, near Winkle Bar stands to this day a testament to the lure that the Wild River and surrounding forests have had on generation after generation of Americans.

My trusty dog Zola and I didn’t get anywhere near as far down the trail as Zane Grey’s cabin this time around. Instead we spent the weekend slowly botanizing while setting up camp at the lovely confluence of Whisky Creek and the Rogue. Hawks, osprey, geese, water ouzels, king fishers and turkey vultures soared and swooped through the canyon as the spring weather slipped from rain showers to sun breaks and back again.

Our campfire crackled while the river roared. The wildflowers and wildlife of the Wild Rogue are an uplifting spring treat that I hope to savor for many years to come. If Emerson is right and flowers really are the earth’s laughter, then springtime on the Wild Rogue is a particularly joyous belly laugh.

— George Sexton is conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.

Beach camp along the lower Rogue River near Whisky Creek. [Photo by George Sexton]
Zola enjoys a faceful of wildflowers along the lower Rogue River Trail. [Photo by George Sexton]