Our guided group of 11 travelers had been rafting the Rogue River less than 48 hours (out of 5 days) when a fellow participant, a native of India, stopped me as I set to work pitching my tent. “Look at that,” he said, gesturing toward the west, where river and mountains met the sky as the evening set in. “This is God’s country. It really is.”
He was right. We were currently 15 miles into our 40 mile river trek, far from any road access in the heart of Oregon’s Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River. ‘God’s country’ surrounded us from Day 1, ‘putting in’ the river near Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge in Galice, Oregon. Our first morning with rafting operator O.A.R.S. consisted of introductions to both our guides and the river, serving as a warm-up for afternoon’s Rainie Falls: Class V rapids which some of us skirted on foot, others braving the side ‘fish ladder’ route in inflatable kayaks O.A.R.S. dubs ‘duckies’.
We camped our first night beside the Rogue, pitching our tents on the sandy beach. We listened as our O.A.R.S. guides explained the ropes: how we’d form a ‘fire line’ to unload the boats each evening, where the bathroom was (a portable toilet set in nature) and camp kitchen rules (basically only one rule: stay out of the way while the guides prepare gourmet feasts). Each consecutive day of our trip brought exciting river navigation, punctuated with plenty of pit stops: a hike up a creek here, a trek to an historical site there, perhaps a stop at a jumping rock into the Rogue.
Evenings were spent fishing or swimming, playing games with fellow rafters and guides, and enjoying the meals. During our five days with O.A.R.S., our guides served as river rafting pros, camp counselors, cooks, and entertainers. Dinners consisted of salmon, tamale pie, or grilled steak. Desserts included peach shortcake, chocolate fondue, and even surprise birthday cake. Every evening meal was preceded by appetizers, and every morning began with a coffee call and concluded with pancakes, french toast, eggs Benedict, and fresh fruit.
On the river, we spied weasels, osprey, deer, bald eagles, bears, and snakes. In camp, we made friends. A vacation with O.A.R.S. is all-inclusive and 100% stress free. During our five days, I tried to puzzle out the riddle of a vacation that somehow managed to be both highly adventurous and highly relaxing at the same time, and eventually gave up. Rafters and guides alike live on ‘river time'; while the schedule was set to ensure we always hit the highlights along the river, nothing was set in stone. Should we find a great swimming hole or someone yearn to fish a stretch of river, the itinerary could be adjusted.
By Day 3 of our O.A.R.S. Rogue River tour, we made camp early above popular Mule Creek Canyon, spending the afternoon at the remote Rogue River Ranch (accessible only by boat or jeep) and swimming in Mule Creek. The four kids under 12 in our group played horseshoes and field games with our guides (even after rowing daily, these men and women had unending energy) while the adults socialized and relaxed. We made the push to challenging Blossom Bar rapid the following morning, allowing for plenty of time to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.
Our final day brought us to Foster Bar ‘take-out’, but also to sad farewells: after spending the better part of a week with these rafters and guides, we were leaving friends, not just fellow travelers.
What to know before you go:
1. Have the correct gear for a river rafting trip. After booking with O.A.R.S., rafters are sent a detailed packing it. Following it ensures a comfortable trip. Kids and adults especially need quick-dry clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats for this warm-weather trip.
2. Inquire about your fellow rafters. It’s ok to ask questions when you book. Find out if the tour you’re considering has other kids attending (should you be bringing your own). While the trip will be fun for your kids regardless, a large part of the enjoyment for us was the friendships formed with other children.
3. Bring fishing gear or camp toys. Time in camp is simply more fun with entertainment. Bring cards, fishing gear (and a license for adults), or even a Nerf ball to toss around. We enjoyed lawn darts and Bocce ball during our trip.
4. Don’t bring food. Not even snacks. You won’t need it. We were so well-fed, we rarely finished the food on our plates. Plus, no need to attract bears and other wildlife to camp with stowed food.
5. Book your pre-trip lodging ahead of time. Every Rogue River O.A.R.S. trip begins with a group meeting the evening before departure at Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge. This scenic lodge is a great place to sleep the night prior to hitting the river. Alternatives include the Galice Resort or motel accommodations in nearby Grants Pass.
Photo credit: Amy Whitley and Madeline Pereira
Disclaimer: We experienced the Rogue River as guests of O.A.R.S. for the purpose of review.