Understanding the Whitewater on the Rogue River in Oregon

One of the big questions that people have when they start planning a family rafting trip on the famous wild section of the Rogue River is: 'What class are the rapids?' or 'How big are the rapids?’ After all, for most people, it is an activity that looks fun, but they know little about. Is it risky? As with many things in life the answer to these questions is - It’s complicated.

First, let’s talk about the whitewater classification system. Most rivers in the world use the class 1-6 rating scale. The rating of any rapid is a subjective choice that is generally accepted among boaters on a commonly run section of river. Class 1 is super easy flat-water, and class 6 is ‘unrunnable’. As a consequence, you will find that most rapids of interest to boaters fall in the class 2-5 part of the range. At each end of that smaller range, class 2 can be easy and splashy and class 5 can be congested and risky, but runnable. The guests on a ROW Adventures trip on the Rogue will see a lot of class 2 and 3 rapids, two class 4 rapids, and will walk around a class 5 rapid. (learn more about rapid classifiction with our whitewater calssification guide)

The Rogue’s rapids can generally be split into four buckets: 

  1. Rainie Falls 
  2. Mule Creek Canyon 
  3. Blossom Bar 
  4. The Rest of the River

 

Tom in action, guiding on the Rogue River in Oregon

The Rest of the River

Let's start with ‘The rest of the river’. Most of the rapids are mainly in the Class 2-3 range. These are the type of rapids that you encounter on your typical entry-level day trip ‘splash and giggle’ rafting experience. The rapids are fun and accessible and add spice to such a beautiful river canyon. During usual summer river flow levels the rapids range from mild to big and splashy. At higher flows, there is a little more speed, at lower flows the rocks are closer to the surface making them a little more playful. The rapids are numerous enough to keep boaters on their toes, but there is plenty of opportunity to float along or even swim along in the lazier sections of the river.

Now… to the ‘big' rapids. I said earlier that ‘It’s complicated’, right? On a guided trip with experienced guides steering the rafts, these rapids that present more complications and pose a bigger risk become accessible to our guests.

 

Water rushes over Rainie Falls on the Rogue River in Oregon

Rainie Falls - Class 5

If you look in the right places you will see information about a legendary rapid on the Rogue - Rainie Falls. Just YouTube it! Rainie Falls is a place where the river tumbles in a falls over a hard, resistant rock formation. Among those rocks there are three distinct routes to take a raft. Rainie Falls is rated as Class 5 by many river runners, but there is a BIG asterisk attached next to that classification. Under that asterisk, you will find that practically all outfitters on the Rogue do not run the ‘main falls’ - the class 5 section of the falls. In fact most outfitters, including ROW Adventures have their guests walk around the falls entirely. Thus reducing the risks involved with such a challenging rapid.

 

A ROW Guide expertly navigates a paddle raft through the "fish ladder" on Rainie Falls

There are two other channels besides the main falls as well. The ‘Mid-Chute’ is a narrow channel in the middle of the river which gets regular use, but only by experienced boaters, and without guests in the boat, The third channel is the one that is used the most BY FAR, and is called the 'Fish Ladder'. It is a shallow, narrow channel that is bordered all around with willow bushes. The vast majority of boats (including ROW's boats) use this chute because it is right up against the right hand side of the river, making it relatively easy to get out and push your boat in the shallows, and the main reason it is used so much is that it is very unlikely for boats have any trouble other than getting stuck, and then having to get un-stuck. So, it involves WAY lower risk.

 

An aerial view of Mule Creek Canyon on the Rogue River

Mule Creek Canyon - Class 4

Mule Creek Canyon is magical. It is a narrow crack of a canyon, and in it’s narrowest section, it is roughly half mile of river that is 20 to 40 feet wide with the walls rising directly from the water and towering above the raft by 30 to 50 feet. Within those confines are a couple rapids, the most famous of which is the class 4 'Coffee Pot', so named because the water bubbles up and ‘boils’ like a coffee percolator as the current is pushed around by the underwater rocks. Those going through in inflatable rafts have the luxury of being able to bounce off the walls if the raft gets pushed around a bit. Other kinds of boats like metal or wood boats have to accept a bit more risk of hitting the rock wall in the boily unpredictability of the Coffee Pot. It is a section of the river that holds a special place in many boater’s memories due to its unique close-in character.

 

Water rushing through the iconic boulders of Blossom Bar on the Rogue River

Blossom Bar - Class 4 

Blossom Bar is different from most of the rest of the rapids in the Rogue canyon. Instead of splashy waves that you steer your raft into, it is a garden of big boulders with the water running around them. Boaters must navigate deftly through the narrow passages to get through successfully. Many boaters love the challenge of Blossom Bar and relish the opportunity to really test their hard earned navigation skills. Navigation skill is what it takes though, in this class 4 rapid. The risk in this rapid comes from the possibility of running into the rocks and the many complications that can arise from such a situation, such as people swimming out of the boat, flipping the whole boat over or getting the boat stuck on a rock in the middle of the river. Again, trained river guides use their skills to make this rapid accessible to our guests and reduce the risks. Most people will say that Blossom Bar is the Rogue’s most complicated rapid which makes it a favorite. You feel like you’ve accomplished something when you get through Blossom Bar.  Of course, there is also an option to walk around Blossom Bar and occasionally we do have guests make this choice.  

The Rogue river provides some great rapids that make for an exciting trip, with a few bigger ones to pump up the adrenaline a bit more. In the end though, it is a great choice for those trying out rafting on a river with rapids for the first time. Your trained guides will be there to bring out the magic of the river for you while mitigating the risks that these awesome and fun rapids throw at us.

Tom

Tom Scarborough
ROW Adventures Rogue River Operations Manager

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