Mighty and magical Rogue is a rafter’s paradise

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Photo by Deborah Stone
The orange rolls are reason enough to visit Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge in southern Oregon.

These sweet, melt-in-your-mouth dinner muffins are reminiscent of cinnamon buns, but with an orange twist.

They’re addictive, making it impossible to eat just one. And don’t try asking for the recipe. It’s a closely guarded secret, known to only a few insiders.

One of the lodge’s former owners, Elaine Hanten, is credited with their creation. Though she is no longer alive, Hanten’s orange rolls, as well as a number of her other delectable dishes, continue to be served at the lodge today.

Located 16 miles downstream from Grants Pass on the banks of the famed Rogue River, Morrison’s is an authentic log lodge with individual cottages interspersed among groves of evergreen, maple and oak trees.

Built in 1945 by river guide and lumber mill worker Lloyd Morrison, the lodge has grown over the years along with its clientele, which include fishermen, rafters, gold panners, rock hounds and active outdoor-lovers of all ages.

It’s also become a well-known destination for weddings, family reunions and other special events due to its picturesque setting, rustic charm and gracious hospitality. I stayed at Morrison’s last summer when I booked a lodge-to-lodge rafting trip with Rogue River Raft Trips.

It was the “lodge-to-lodge” description that hooked me from the start. The idea of rafting during the day and then retreating to a warm bed and home-cooked meal at night greatly appealed to me. Accustomed to camping-only raft trips, where setting up your own tent each evening is par for the course, I thrilled at the possibility of being tent-free for once.

It’s not that I mind sleeping in a tent. Actually, I like it. It’s the setting-up and taking-down process that gets old.

On a 3-day lodge-to-lodge Rogue River raft trip, the adventure begins at Morrison’s where close proximity to the river allows for a convenient “put in” place.

When they’re not at the head of their boats navigating the rapids with calm assurance, you’ll find your rafting guides preparing gourmet lunches, leading group walks and later in the evening, strumming their guitars and making sweet music together. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Your group will get a safety briefing and trip prep talk the night before your departure and the next morning, after one of Morrison’s tasty breakfasts, you’ll be on your way.

Within minutes of paddling away from the banks, you’ll be transported to another world that sets its clocks by “river time.” Nature, not technology, dictates your actions. You slip quickly into a wilderness of renowned rapids, verdant gorges and golden hillsides with historical sites around every bend and some of the best wildlife viewing of all the rivers in the west. Many actually liken the experience of rafting the river as “floating through a zoo” due to the plentiful bald eagles, osprey, deer, bear, salmon and steelhead that make their home here.

The Rogue is a legendary waterway and its unique qualities were recognized in 1968 when it became one of the initial eight rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

This area was first inhabited by Native Americans, followed by trappers and fur traders who arrived in the 1800s. Story has it that the waterway was named “River of the Rogues” after the Native Americans, who refused to give up their homes without a fight.

In 1851, gold was discovered, bringing more settlers, who eventually farmed the rich valley. The river, which originates in the Cascade Range’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness within Crater Lake National Park, flows for 215 miles and eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach. Before it converges with the ocean, it flows through the Coast Range, creating some of its most unforgettable rapids such as Rainie Falls, Upper and Lower Black Bar Falls, Coffee Pot and the illustrious Blossom Bar.

The Rogue is a perfect river for families to raft with 34 miles of Class II and III rapids, long flat stretches for swimming and a few exciting thrills and chills along the way.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even paddle your own kayak down the river. Photo by Deborah Stone.
What’s ideal about this type of trip is that you can adapt the experience to meet your needs by determining your own participation level. You can sit back in your raft and enjoy the scenery, keeping one eye out for wildlife, while listening to your guide wax poetic about the area’s geology and natural history. Or you can be an active paddler in the process, responding to commands like “easy paddle,” “paddle,” “paddle hard” and “paddle or die!”

You can even try navigating the river on your own in an inflatable kayak. And if it gets too hot for you, simply climb out of the boat (after securing your guide’s permission) and let the rapids carry you downstream. The pace is leisurely, leaving plenty of time to take hikes to inspiring views, side creeks, cascading waterfalls and hidden swimming pools, as well as to historical sites such as author Zane Grey’s cabin and the Rogue River Ranch Museum.

The guides, several who have been coming down this river for many years, enjoy sharing their knowledge of the Rogue’s lore. The more senior helmsmen, like Larry, John and Stitch, call themselves the “Rogue Elders,” signifying their “fossil” status on the river.

They dispense their commentary in an entertaining manner, always managing to insert a few tall tales and jokes in the mix.

Their love and respect for the river is apparent and the length of their tenure as guides is testament to the fact that they truly cherish their work and this special environment. When they’re not at the head of their boats navigating the rapids with calm assurance, you’ll find these multi-talented men preparing gourmet lunches, leading group walks and later in the evening, strumming their guitars and making sweet music together.

Each brings his/her own colorful personality and perspective to the job, while helping to establish camaraderie within the group.

They also have a mischievous side, inciting water wars among boats and even encouraging their crews to do doughnuts in an eddy.

And yes, we all follow along, dutifully obeying orders as we gleefully act like kids, abandoning all adult propriety, while shedding the stress of our everyday lives.

The rustic lodges along the Rogue are welcome beacons to river-goers and are known for their good old fashioned hospitality and hearty grub. Photo by Deborah Stone.
At the end of the day, you’ll find yourself at one of the rustic lodges on the river that accommodates hikers, rafters and fishermen. Black Bar, for example, was built in 1935 and originally catered to miners and packers who moved up and down the Rogue in the 1940s. It was named after gold miner William Black, who was murdered near the property, put into his boat and shoved off down the river.

Marial Lodge was built by Tom Billings and his daughter Marial ran it for many years before selling the place to Ted Camp in the 60s.

Today, it’s owned and run by Camp’s daughter Lori and her husband Pat Cameron. These lodges and others along the Rogue are welcome beacons to river-goers and are known for their good old fashioned hospitality and hearty grub.

At each, our group was given a warm welcome and treated like family. Sitting at long, wooden tables, we chowed down on biscuits and huckleberry jam, savory pot roast, fresh veggies from the garden and peach crisp with homemade ice cream for dessert.

Our bellies full, we moved outside to watch deer frolicking in the meadow, curled up with a good book on a porch swing or joined the guides in a sing-a-long. Sleep was never an issue, as the combination of fresh air and activity, along with the soothing sound of the river nearby, proved to be ideal sedatives.

All too soon, the final day rolled around and with it came wondrous Mule Creek Canyon and one of the most technical of all the rapids – Blossom Bar. A class IV-V rapid, Blossom Bar has the biggest drop of the trip with several different lines at varying water levels. It’s known for wrapping boats on the right side in the notorious “Picket Fence.”

Boaters are always grateful when they transit this rapid without issue. With our experienced Rogue River Raft guides leading the way, we navigated the rocky, churning stretch like pros and raised our paddles high to celebrate our success.

Then, just before we came to the “take-out” place, we spotted a bear cub climbing up the steep hillside. We chuckled at his tumbling skills and although we didn’t spy Mama Bear, we knew she probably wasn’t too far away.

Watching the little tyke’s antics made for a perfect ending to our grand adventure on the mighty and magical Rogue.

If you go:

Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge is a premier destination resort offering full-day and multi-day rafting and fishing packages. Options include camping only, lodge-to-lodge and a mix of camping/lodging trips. Also available are raft-supported hiking trips along the Rogue River Trail and specialty whitewater gourmet packages hosted by professional cheese makers and chocolatiers.

For more information:

Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge: 800-826-1963 or

Rogue River Raft Trips: 800-826-1963 or

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