Upper Rogue River is a winter delight

    Old-growth forest hugs the banks along the upper Rogue River. [Photo by George Sexton]

    Don’t let a little winter weather keep you away from the beauty of the Upper Rogue hiking trails near Union Creek.

    I recently had the good fortune to enjoy the 7-mile (round trip) riverside trail from Woodruff Bridge to Natural Bridge on a cold, sleeting Saturday morning and loved every minute of it. Old-growth Douglas-fir trees lined the trail, dripping with snow and lichens while the nearby canyons and waterfalls of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River crashed and gurgled.

    The 3.5 miles from Woodruff Bridge to Natural Bridge is actually more of a walk than a hike — there is very little elevation gain as the nearly level trail hugs the south bank of the Rogue River. When snow conditions are right, this route can serve as an easy snowshoe or cross-country ski outing.

    In the summer months, especially on the weekends, the Natural Bridge interpretive site is a crowded and popular attraction. Most folks park a few hundred feet from the Rogue and cross a footbridge over the River to view the lava tube into which the Rogue disappears before popping back out of a cave a little ways downstream. It is an impressive and unforgettable sight. Seeing the river do its disappearing (and reappearing!) act in the serenity of a solitary winter morning following a stroll through several miles of ancient forests just makes the experience more magical.

    The streamside ancient forests along the route are a wildlife haven and provide a vital habitat corridor between Crater Lake National Park to the east and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness to the north. It is a place where rare species such as northern spotted owls and Pacific fishers thrive, and where I saw more elk tracks than human footprints.

    Just upstream from Natural Bridge, the cabins, restaurant, trails and snow-play site at Union Creek have served as a winter gateway to the Upper Rogue for generations. The hustle and bustle of Union Creek is a fun counterpoint to the quiet solemnity of snow-covered forests along the Rogue River trail.

    If you want to keep your feet dry, the Upper Rogue is probably best visited in the warmer months, but should you get the urge to grab your winter gear and go play in the snow, I highly recommend exploring the Wild Rogue River between Woodruff Bridge and Natural Bridge.

    — George Sexton serves as the conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.

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