The main north-south artery through southern Oregon is Interstate 5. When summer hits the temperatures can soar to the 90s and even 100s, making travel less than appealing. However, the cure is close by; the whitewater of the Rogue River. The Rogues’ proximity to interstate 5 makes it ideal for breaking up a hot day of driving.
A perfect spot to sample the Rogues’ bouncing whitewater is near a town called, Gold Hill. This old mining town is just off Interstate 5 about 12 miles north of Medford, Oregon. Just upstream of the town is a raucous 6 mile whitewater run that’s full of wet fun.
Early April through September, Noah’s whitewater company based 20 miles south of Gold Hill runs daily half-day raft trips on this whitewater stretch. You can choose to sit in the front of a raft while the guide rows, or you can grab a paddle and join a paddle rafting crew. Either way you’ll immerse yourself in a fun filled diversion from the heat.
When you meet up with your guides, they’ll hand out life jackets and helmets. They’ll also provide river clothes like spray jackets if it’s cold. All you need to bring are clothes you don’t mind getting wet and some kind of solid footwear. Strap on sandals are okay but thongs aren’t safe for river running.
Once on the river, things start slow. The guides give a quick lesson on river safety and some basic rowing and paddling techniques. The first mile has some gentle class II (the scale is I-VI) rapids that are good for practice. From there the rapids gain intensity.
You’ll navigate a few harder class IIs then come to a class III–IV rapid called Nugget falls. The locals simply call it, Nugget.
Normally this rapid is scouted from the bank before tackling it. You have the option of walking around the bigger rapids, but you may not hear the end of it from your rafting buddies. As you walk down the trail to scout, you’re nerves will tense as you hear the rivers’ roar grow with each step.
The ominous roar comes from a large hydraulic or hole, at the bottom of a steep, churning drop. The guide will explain the strategy, but basically, if the boat is spun sideways when you hit the hole you may be putting your lifejacket to use. There’s a reason the river bank is full of spectators. Don’t worry though, there’s a long flat stretch immediately below that’s perfect for regrouping.
In the calm stretches, keep your eyes peeled for pond turtles, deer, great blue herons, ospreys and even the occasional mink, or beaver. The calm stretches are also great places for a refreshing swim; water fights have been known to break out here without notice.
Don’t get too relaxed though because just ahead is Powerhouse rapid. This class IV is fast, steep and ends in another good-sized body-drenching hole. Before you can even enter the rapid though, you have to navigate a manmade diversion dam. It’s worrisome at first, but the guides have done this countless times and are experts. As you get close to the edge though, even the bravest soul will quiver.
Soon after Powerhouse is the takeout, the Gold Hill sports park. It has bathrooms and some fun play structures for the kids. It’s a nice place to dry out and have a picnic. From there, I-5 is only minutes away. You can hop on the highway and continue your trek, north or south.