My backpacking companion had a few weeks off at the beginning of May and I’m still retired until June so we searched for a challenging early season backpacking trip. Looking for a loop with good temps, flowers and minimal bugs led us to find this refurbished Wild Rogue Loop in Southern Oregon. Last year the Siskiyou Mountain Club with help from grants rejuvenated the 25 mile Rogue River Loop which is a conglomeration of the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest’s Mule Creek Trail 1159, Panther Ridge Trail 1253, Clay Hill Trail 1160A, and the Rogue River Trail 1160. This was necessary because of the damage done by the 2005 Blossom Fire after allowing the forest to heal for 10 years. The combined trail is one of the best in Oregon. The evidence of fire is minimal, the terrain is challenging and the scenic rewards are stunning.
Once this loop was chosen for our Spring outing, gathering trail details was more challenging, but critical feedback on the trailheads, poison oak and ticks was helpful.
I decided to use the Foster Bar Rogue River Trailhead, which happens to be the West end of the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. This entry was down river a bit further than I expected but access and facilities were good and taking in more of the Rogue River was a plus. Overall I think we stretched our trip into about a 40 mile hike. We completed the trip in three and a half days but probably should have stretched that to 4+. We could have used more information on campsite options.
We set out toward the beginning of the loop heading up the Rogue River on Sunday May 1st. A beautiful day that pushed temps up into the 80s. The trail is cut out of the North bank or wall of the canyon presenting you with moderate difficulty and plenty of river vistas.
The waterfall at Flora Dell would be wonderful for a cool dip. Obviously water is no issue, however, you rely on tributaries since direct access to the Rogue was generally not easy. On this beautiful Sunday we passed many backpackers, hikers and runners heading down river. However, we never encountered another human for the remainder of the trip. I will confirm that poison oak is plentiful until you get above 2000 feet. And yes, I had to deal with a number of ticks, humans can handle this, but I would not take a dog.
We decided to take the shortcut at Brushy Bar over Devil’s Backbone, a decision we questioned after comparing the added vertical to the shorter distance. Camping along the Rogue is primarily geared for the boaters but the camping area at Blossom Creek was perfect for our first night. Complete with a Bear Box and access to the Rogue for some fishing, it was excellent.
We definitely pushed ourselves on this first day but all was good. The second day took us through Marial to the Tucker Flat Trailhead in order to head up the West Fork of Mule Creek.
From our GPS PDF Map on Avenza it was obvious that water sources could be scarce as we climbed toward the top of the Mule Creek Trail.
It appeared that the site marked Camp Hope would be the most likely for water but there were 2 other streams just before there still flowing. The first is where we interrupted a black bear but he scurried off into the forest. Unfortunately the trail in this area does not offer great campsites so we pretty much camped on the trail. A thunderstorm accelerated our efforts to set up camp. Again we probably pushed ourselves a bit more then we would have liked on a warm day climbing 2500 ft.
The next day was focused on experiencing Hanging Rock, and it was all that I had hoped it would be.
I would rank it as one of the Top 10 scenic locations in Oregon.
After lunch on the Rock we had the Panther Ridge Trail to cover and then a decision about how far down the Clay Hill trail we could make before our energy gave out. The 4.25 mile 3000 foot descent back down to the Rogue to complete the loop is tough on old knees.
About half way down we found just enough flat ground to setup our tents just before the rains opened up for the evening. This was another tough day since we had to carry extra water knowing that there would be no more available before we needed to stop.
The fourth and final day presented essentially a downhill hike back to our car but it was another 9 miles with plenty of climbs for two old guys with tired bodies. Hiking the same segment on the Rogue River Trail was entirely different in the opposite direction. Overall this was a perfect time to do the loop.
The wildflowers were plentiful, bugs were still sleepy and temperatures were moderate.