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2. Rogue River, Southern Oregon

kayaking the Rogue River
Kayaking the Rogue River in an inflatable kayak is accessible for beginners and a once-in-a-lifetime, can’t miss opportunity. Photo courtesy of James Kaiser and OARS (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists)

The Rogue River is the quintessential experience for kayaking in Southern Oregon. An original Wild and Scenic river designated for protection in 1968, the Rogue tends to define the pristine and untouched aesthetic kayakers seek. 

A historic river known the world over

In the Siskiyou Mountains and Kalmiopsis Wilderness, the Rogue River has some of the most beautiful scenery of any river, in the state, or even the world over. Smooth and dark Madrone trees, various types of towering oaks and lush wildflowers all adorn a steep, and oftentimes, cliffed out river bank. 

Stops at Whiskey Creek Cabin, Zane Gray’s Cabin at Winkle Bar and Rogue River Ranch—all in the National Historic Registry—are just a handful of the sites and buildings preserved by the Bureau of Land Management. 

You can see it all in 3-5 days

The best way to see all 35 miles of the wild and scenic Rogue is on a commercial multi day river trip with a professional outfitter like OARS, the one I guide with. Recommended vessel? An inflatable kayak. Why commercial? The trip requires a lot of logistics and extensive gear. While some folks do organize private trips, they are incredibly experienced boaters. For most, a commercial trip is the best route. 

An inflatable is my recommendation

Whitewater can be a tricky type of water to navigate in a rigid kayak. A traditional kayak requires expertise,like knowing how to roll and other maneuvers, for example, while an inflatable kayak is incredibly forgiving to a novice. It’s possible to traverse the Rogue River in a raft, but you’ll see and feel so much more navigating a smaller, more nimble vessel.

A range of rapids

On the trip you’ll experience all the rapids, from class I to class IV up close and personal with the watchful eye of professional raft guides hot on your tail in case anything goes sideways. Going into each rapid you and the other kayakers receive beta (or directions) from a guide and then try your hand at the rapid yourself. Meanwhile the guides carry all your belongings, food, camp equipment and everything but the kitchen sink on the rafts. The guides set up camp and cook the meals while you splish and splash. 

Fine for beginners

Completely untrained novices sign-up for commercial inflatable kayak river trips all the time. During the most recent trip I guided, I inflatable kayaked Blossom Bar (class IV) for the first time. Guests aren’t allowed to kayak it (though they are allowed to paddle nearly everything else on the river) because it’s such a consequential rapid. Instead, guides paddle the kayaks past the biggest portion of the rapid called “the move” to ducky beach where guests are invited to get back in the yaks. 

Initially I was incredibly intimidated but with a recent drop by a magnitude of 2,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) in water level, I found that the rapid was much easier in an inflatable kayak (than a raft) and I will be stoked to kayak the entire river someday soon. 

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