Here’s a hike with an outstanding payoff: The Boundary Springs hike takes you to the exhilarating headwaters of the Rogue River.
Often a river’s headwaters are a puny dribble, a vague point where enough rain and snowmelt collect to form a trickle. (Yawn.)
Not so the Rogue.
About 8 1/2 miles below the rim of Crater Lake, the Rogue River shoots out of the north flank of Mount Mazama with the force of a fire hose. As Zane Grey so eloquently wrote, the Rogue is “a river at its birth.”
A High Cascades Spring feeds the Rogue, which means the water flows as swiftly underground as it does when it daylights into the forest. The water is pure, cold and constant, which means fish, rafters and anglers all have a steady supply of cold water all year long.
Instead of oozing through layers of dirt, as in most headwaters (ho-hum), here the rainfall and snowmelt race through the labyrinth of lava fields left by Mount Mazama’s eruption 7,000 years ago. The growing stream slips and slides over granite slabs until it gathers enough punch to burst out of the mountainside.
Once you’ve digested the river’s fascinating hydrology, take a deep breath and experience the beauty. Logs draped in emerald velvet moss crisscross the lacy whitewater dancing beneath them. Shafts of sunlight stretch through the canopy of grand evergreens.
Explore. Once you’ve arrived, spend an hour or more exploring the duff- covered hillside and other springs feeding into the river from right around the corner.
The trailhead is at a pullout on Highway 230 near milepost 19, five miles west of the junction with Highway 138. It’s an easy to moderate 5-mile round trip through a wooded archway, past meadow wetlands, beside stair-step waterfalls. Look for signs of bear: scratches on tree trunks, swaths of bark peeled away.
Pay attention. The signage is, shall we say, subtle? At one point a dirt road crosses the trail. Jog right about 50 feet to find the trail again. Near the end, the trail splits into a delta of options. Veer left and follow the sound of rushing water.
You’re on your own at this point with no clear trail, just boggy moss. You’ll be glad you wore your water-resistant hiking boots. Balance your way across a couple of logs, and you’re there.
NOTE: Snow covers the trail from late October sometimes into July, so check conditions before you leave.
To learn about the history of the Rogue River, watch “River of the Rogues,” an Oregon Field Guide special.