A weekend getaway on the Rogue River delivers a balance of peaceful retreat and whitewater thrill.
We awoke to the high cry of an osprey in search of breakfast. The air was fresh with the scents of pine and eucalyptus, holding the promise of heat as the July day warmed. From the deck of our little cabin on stilts, we took in the sights of a quaint old lodge of bird’s eye pine, an expansive lawn dotted with geese and the majestic Rogue River that cut through a canyon in the near distance.
Morrison’s Wilderness Lodge is twelve miles downstream from Grants Pass, Oregon, on a bend of the famous Wild and Scenic Rogue River as it exits Hellgate Canyon. This place has a long history as a renowned fishing hole, and in 1945 Lloyd Morrison built a lodge to accommodate anglers who braved the rough road into this rugged country to catch young steelhead as they returned from the ocean.
Fishing is still a huge draw here, as is whitewater rafting. The road is better and much has been modernized, but Morrison’s Lodge holds the weight and charm of history, as well as the peace and quiet of a rustic getaway from any era.
We arrived from Bend the afternoon before and checked into a river-view cabin set a story’s height above the ground—a reminder of the famous Oregon flood of 1964, which completely wiped out the first cabins built here. The sun was still high in the sky, and my two daughters cooled off from the long drive and hot day with a dip in the swimming pool. We rendezvoused with our friend, photographer Alex Jordan, and watched from shore as she leveraged a borrowed standup paddleboard into the river eddy for a quick paddle, which she described as an encounter with a stronger current than she bargained for.
A Morrison’s standard is the excellent four-course prix fixe dinner served on the deck each evening. After our watery pursuits, we reported to the outdoor dining area and settled at a table adorned with fresh flowers, overlooking the river. A first course of crab cake stuffed mushrooms was followed by a garden salad with a tangy house dressing, accompanied by a house specialty said to have been made onsite daily for the past fifty years—orange rolls, a savory dinner roll wound up like a small cinnamon roll but not nearly so sweet. Charbroiled halibut with garden veggies followed, and a brownie with homemade chocolate whipped cream ended the meal and delighted the children (and adults) as the sun dipped low on the horizon.
An early bedtime was an easy choice, as we expected to rise for a 7 a.m. breakfast followed by a half-day float on the Rogue River. A few years ago, Morrison’s Lodge merged with Rogue Wilderness Adventures, a longtime local rafting company. Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness Adventures and Lodge offers half-day to multi-day floating adventures. After a hearty breakfast, we were outfitted with a PFD and a dry bag, and hopped into a van for the shuttle to the put-in.
The morning float is the mellowest offered, taking in only the splashy fun of Class I and II rapids, as well as amazing scenery. The Rogue is known for its remote nature, and the lush forest and steep canyon contribute to a feeling of isolation and thrill, even on a short float. We spotted tons of wildlife, including bald eagles, herons, turtles and so many osprey. Black-tailed deer wandered the bank, and the occasional monster-fish swam underneath us. One of the advantages to a guided trip is anecdotes provided by the guide, and we learned that the early Rogue was unpassable by boat until a liberal application of dynamite opened it up. That was before the Wild and Scenic designation, of course—but thousands of rafters a year benefit from the efforts of those early enthusiasts willing to take drastic action for river access.
The last twist and turn of the trip took us through Hellgate Canyon, the deepest canyon on the Rogue, water dipping to darkness under our oars with cliffs towering just as high overhead. The scenery is so dramatic, it was no surprise to hear that Rooster Cogburn and River Wild were filmed here, among other movies. We pulled up to shore right where we’d started, on the Morrison’s Lodge riverfront. The river continued to the sea without us, as we reluctantly headed for home.
Wolf Creek Inn and Tavern
This historic inn has been serving guests since the late 1880s, and today remains a great stop for lunch, a tour, an overnight stay and maybe even a ghost sighting.
The Wineries of the Applegate Valley
The Applegate was one of Oregon’s earliest settlements, and today old farmsteads have been converted to charming wineries and al fresco restaurants.
The Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery
Truth or fiction? You decide after a visit to this strange little valley where lines of sight are off-kilter and unique phenomenon occur.
Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center
Take a tour through this wildlife rescue facility and see a gray wolf, barn owl, desert tortoise and more up close. Grant’s Pass Historic District Explore the riverfront old town, with a self-guided historic tour and a visit to the Growers Market.