Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ridin' the Rogue

Ever wanted to take a jet boat ride on a wild and scenic river?  Driving by the coastal town of Gold Beach last year I glimpsed a sign for Jerry's Rogue Jets, a company offering guided jet boat rides up Southern Oregon's Rogue River.  It looked like a lot of fun.  Intrigued, I told myself "I gotta do this sometime."

Fast forward to late April - while planning this year's annual Southern Oregon Coast trip, on a whim I decided to treat myself and gave Jerry's a call.  I told my hubby to think of it as an early Mother's day gift.

Jet boats in Gold Beach harbor

A repeat of last year's journey, in early May I traveled as far south as you can go on the Oregon Coast to a state park yurt in Brookings, Oregon.  The town of Gold Beach, my meeting spot for the jet boat ride, was 25 miles north.  The morning of my scheduled ride, I rose early and arrived with plenty of time to stroll around the dock, snapping photos of colorful jet boats waiting in the early morning sunshine.

My ride for the day

Jerry's Rogue Jets offered three different trips, a 64-mile, 80-mile, and 104-mile "wilderness whitewater."  It didn't take me long to decide which one I would take.  Anything with wilderness and whitewater in the name had to be fun.  Sign me up!

104 mile round-trip journey up the Rogue River

On the wall of Jerry's office was a detailed map showing their tour routes.  From the coastal town of Gold Beach (at the mouth of the Rogue River), the boat would travel upriver 52 miles to Blossom Bar Rapids, before turning around and riding the river back.

The Rogue is divided into different sections.  The day's trip would start out in the recreational section, pass through the scenic section and finally end up in the wild portion of the river.  The Rogue was one of 8 rivers originally included in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.  Portions of forest land adjacent to the Rogue are roadless.  Homes and lodges in these stretches are only reachable by boat or helicopter (or hiking).  Jet boats were originally used to deliver mail to these remote outposts.  The upper Rogue River is often shallow and rocky, and the jet propulsion system allowed boats to safely traverse these hazards.

Issac Lee Patterson Bridge

This sunny spring day brought out the customers.  There were so many people wanting a jet boat ride that Jerry's had to add second boat to their lineup.  All seats are first-come, first serve, so wanting to get a good seat on the first boat I cued behind a short line next to the dock.  As I was waiting a big pickup pulled up and a very loud, obnoxious large man rolled out, jabbering incessantly about seeing seals in the bay.  Ugh - I hoped he didn't end up on my boat.

Another view of the bridge

Finally our captain opened the gate and escorted the first group down to the dock.  After explaining, "the front seats get splashed the most and the back seats have the smoothest ride," he let us choose our spots.  I slid into the middle section, and claimed a seat on the outer edge.  I wanted an unobstructed vantage point for photos.

For awhile I was all alone in my row.  Secretly hoping I'd get the entire row to myself, my hopes were dashed when I heard a loud voice, and looked up to see the large obnoxious man from the parking lot lowering himself into the boat.  He slid down my row - and plopped himself right next to me!

Lucky salmon fisherman

I eyed the row behind me, which was still empty, and tried to decide if it would be rude to suddenly change places.  But the man held out his hand and introduced himself and his wife.  He seemed friendly, so I smiled back, shook his hand and decided to give him a chance.

Towards the wilderness

Although sunny, the morning air was chilly, and I'd donned three layers to keep warm.  Our boat captain introduced himself (but of course I can't remember his name - that's what I get for writing this blog post two months later!) and slowly maneuvered the boat into Gold Beach's wide harbor.  We motored under the lovely Issac Lee Patterson Bridge, which carried US 101 traffic across the Rogue River.  Once safely on the other side, our captain warned us to "hold onto our hats."  With that, he gunned the motor and our boat shot upstream.  I just barely caught my hat before it flew off.

Buzzing the fishing boats

Our boat effortlessly glided across the water.  We passed wide gravel bars and rolling low hills covered in trees, bright green with new spring foliage.  The lower (recreational) portion of the Rogue was full of fishing boats, their occupants all trying for spring salmon.  At each boat, our captain slowed down and asked if they'd had any luck.  One man proudly held up his catch for us to see - a nice, fat salmon!

Blue heron sighting!

Wildlife was abundant on the Rogue.  Right away, our captain pointed out osprey and blue heron. One blue heron even posed on a rock for us.  Not knowing how much splashing would occur, I'd opted to bring my smaller Fujifilm mirrorless camera and lens (easier to stash under my rain jacket if things got wet and wild).  Now wishing I'd brought my big zoom lens, I had to make do with a measly 18-55 mm landscape lens.  (Can you spot the blue heron in the above photo?)

Nice reflections

Then our eagle-eyed captain spotted a weasel peeping out of some shoreside rocks.  He slowly edged the boat closer.  The weasel was on my side, and I got a front row view of him.  The little guy lingered just long enough to snap a few good images.

Our captain spotted a weasel

The scenery was incredible  Steep cliffs rose from each side of the river, thickly covered in trees and other vegetation.  Waterfalls tumbled from cracks in the rocks.  Everything was so lush and green.  After passing into the scenic portion of the Rogue, we saw no houses or other structures.  It truly looked wild.  Our captain said there was only one long, winding Forest Service road to serve some of the tiny towns along the river.  And that road ended at the hamlet of Illahe, about 35 miles upriver from Gold Beach.

Landslide aftermath

When the boat was zipping along at full speed, it got mighty cold.  I pulled my jacket's hood over my  head (kept my hat from flying off too) and placed hands into pockets.  But luckily there were many stops - to look at scenery, say hello to fellow boaters, or when someone spotted wildlife.  Our captain pointed out a huge landslide on one side of the river, likely caused by last winter's heavy rains.  

One of the many riverside waterfalls

Spring runoff was in full force, causing numerous waterfalls to gush from side creeks.  Simply lovely! 

Photo op

Due to the morning's chilly temperatures, our captain was careful not to splash his customers too much.  (I suspect midsummer riders aren't as fortunate)  But upon reaching a wider spot in the river, he gunned the motor, cranked the wheel, and whipped our boat into a 360 degree spin.  People whooped as water splashed over the boat front and sides.  Oh how exhilarating!

Fishing platform

Onward up the river our jet boat sped, gliding like silk across the water's surface.  I was amazed how close the boat got to the many rocks sticking up in the current, only to smoothly veer away at the last minute. 

We passed many river rafters

We passed by a floating fishing platform, complete with holders for fishing rods.  Further upriver, our boat began to meet a few rafting parties.  Several companies offer guided raft tours of the entire Rogue, from the town of Grants Pass to Gold Beach.  But private raft trips are regulated.  Running the Rogue has become so popular, a lottery system was enacted to keep the river from being overrun with people.

Tree growing out of a rock

Further upriver the riverside became steeper, and canyon walls on either side moved closer together.  The shoreline now consisted of huge rocks, tumbled down from vertical cliffs above.  One rock must've been in place for awhile as it had a tree growing on top.

My river view

Our boat passed by the confluence of the Illinois River, another wild and scenic river draining from the Klamath Mountains in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Fantastic scenery

Beyond the Illinois was the tiny riverside village of Agness.  High time for a potty break, our boat tied up at their dock and the captain directed passengers uphill to Cougar Lane Lodge.  Perched on a hill above the river, it was a stunning setting for a country inn.  The place featured a full service restaurant (our lunch stop later that afternoon), rooms, campground and a general store, where I purchased a much-needed bottle of water.  (Jet boating makes one thirsty!)

Another tiny waterfall

Beyond Agness the river transitioned into churning whitewater rapids.  Returning from our break, the captain instructed passengers to don lifejackets for this next segment.  Ulp!  Things were about to get real!

Time to run the rapids!

Upriver we sped, past a few remote lodges, only accessible by boat, hiking, or helicopter. The scenery continued to impress, with steep, rocky shorelines and tall, forested canyon walls.  Then we hit our first rapid.  The boiling water, spilling over several rocks looked mighty intimidating.  But our boat bounced over with no problem, save a few huge splashes.  What fun!

Here's a video so my readers can experience it too.

Getting up close and personal with this waterfall

Our boat jostled through several more rough patches, we passengers getting doused with spray.  I was impressed by how easily the jet boat navigated the rapids.  Now I understood why they were preferred over regular prop motors.  Finally we came to Blossom Bar Rapids, the end of our day's journey.  The boat hung out below the churning water, watching a group of rafts bounce through before turning around. 

Rafters setting up camp

But our captain had other tricks up his sleeve.  It was now past noon, the day warming up considerably since our chilly start.  Spotting a nearby waterfall, he drove the boat up to it's very base, giving front row passengers an up close and personal (although wet!) view.

The other jet boat passes by

Then it was back downriver, seeing familiar sights once again.  We passed by a group of rafters camped out on a gravel bar.  And we met the second tour boat, heading up to Blossom Bar.


Everyone smile and wave!

And just for fun, whenever our boat hit any wide, calm spots in the river, our captain threw in a few more 360 spins.  Wheee! 

Bear sighting!

We were almost back to Agness when our captain slowed the boat and directed everyone's attention to a spot high up a tall cliff.  A tiny black spot was moving near the top.  It was a bear!  Wow!  Now I really regretted not packing my big lens.  Of course, I tried to take photos anyway, but the bear only showed up as a very small black dot.

Ok, now do you see the bear?

A little creative cropping later, and now you can see that it was indeed a black bear.  Our captain said the bears had just come out of hibernation, and were ravenously hungry.  This one appeared to be munching away on vegetation.

Lunch break at Cougar Lane Lodge

Although I really tried to make the best of my large, obnoxious seat partner, by the time we headed back to Agness he was really getting on my nerves.  Not only did the guy continuously complain about the bumpy ride and getting splashed (that's what you signed up for!) he took up more than his share of the seat and started to manspread, squishing me up against the boat's inner wall.  When our boat finally docked for our lunch break, I was the first one off.  I literally sprinted up the hill, hoping to get a spot in the dining room as far away from him as I could.

The food was delicious

Cougar Lane Lodge had both indoor and outdoor dining areas.  Off the boat and out of the wind, it was suddenly toasty hot in the sun, so I chose a shady spot in the very back of the outdoor deck area.  Not only did the lodge have a delicious pulled pork meal, they also offered a great beer selection.  I decided, "hey I'm on vacation" and ordered a brew with my lunch. 

Lovely river views from Cougar Lane deck

With over an hour for lunch, I had plenty of time to eat and hit the restroom.  Done with my meal, I was sitting outside on a picnic table enjoying the view, when a lady in the row behind me stopped by.  We struck up a conversation and I learned she was a local, living in a house along the Rogue just outside of Gold Beach. She said we'd passed right by her home that morning.  The lady was a wealth of information about the area.  She said I'd taken the boat trip at the right time of year - the river was so green and beautiful in spring.  Apparently by mid-summer everything turned brown.

Looking upriver from the boat dock

I groused to my new friend about my seat partner and she offered the same opinion of the guy.  The lady said there was room in her row if I wanted to change places.  Back at the dock, since my seat was on the end, I waited for everyone else in my row to board first.  As I was waiting, the local lady motioned for me to get into her row.  Since her row wasn't full, there was plenty of room.  Not caring about appearing rude anymore, I gratefully accepted her offer.  Hooray - no more being squished against the boat!

Homes across the river in Agness

By now the sun was high in the sky, beating mercilessly down upon everyone seated in the boat.  I removed my layers down to a t-shirt.  Our captain mischievously remarked that we looked too hot, and began spraying us with a large squirt gun.

Our captain didn't think we got wet enough

The ride back was quicker than our initial journey.  By now, tired and sun-baked we riders quietly took in the passing scenery.  But I enjoyed a nice chat with my new seatmate.  She was an interesting woman, definitely someone I'd be friends with if I lived nearby.  We spotted lots of birds both in the sky and on the shore - ospreys, blue herons, and bald eagles.  One eagle even flew right over our boat and hung there for a moment.  I was so enthralled, I didn't even think to grab my camera and capture it.

Row of riverfront cabins

Passing by a tall bridge over the Illinois River, our captain talked about several great floods that in the past had roared down the Rogue, taking out bridges.  On this placid spring day, it was hard to believe the water could reach such heights!

Tall bridge over the Illinois River

Of course, our captain couldn't resist throwing in a few more spins every chance he got.  And we passengers (save for my ex-seatmate) loved every minute!  In the hot sun, the wind and river spray felt great.

When our boat docked back at Gold Beach, I was sad that the trip was over.  What a unique way to experience the scenery along an otherwise remote wilderness area.  Definitely a lot of fun, I'd go again in a heartbeat!

(I've received no money or other compensation from Jerry's Rogue Jets for mentioning them in this blog post.) 


  1. Thanks for the trip, was a hot day:)

  2. ..jet boats on a wild, scenic river doesn't sound right!

  3. Thats all you need an overweight loud mouthed guy (heart attack waiting to happen). I think I would have stood up amd moved right away if I could, Ive had them on planes and have been stuck with them. Awesome ride though I think I would have gone to the front

  4. Looks like a really fun trip. That weasel is probably actually an American Mink...we saw one at Lake Tahoe once, what an awesome sighting. And a BEAR...what a lucky day! This definitely looks worth doing next time we are up in that area...except for Hans' getting motion sickness!

  5. That looks like a lot of fun, except for your seat partner!

  6. Hello, what a cool boat ride. The scenery is beautiful. Love the birds and critters. I am glad you were able to change your seat for the return trip. Great photos. Enjoy your day, have a great new week!

  7. A great adventure, well told and chronicled with your wonderful pictures. You did quite well, even without that zoom. Thanks for taking me along! :-)

  8. Wow what a great adventure! I enjoyed your photos! I will have to ask my brother if he has ever done this:)

  9. I've been on jet boats on the Snake River. They're annoying when they go by when you are camping but are fun to ride on. Somewhere up the Rogue there's a private home that is a remote writing residency. I wonder if you passed it.

  10. Wow! I looks very fun to ride on such a boat. Reading your blog, I felt as if I was splashed by chilly water.
    It's nice you could find a bear from the boat. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Defiitely worth every cent forthis exhilarating ride and where it took you. What a shame to have had to sit next to that man.

  12. Well that looked like a lot of fun!

  13. What a trip!! I did that back when I was a kid and the memories you brought up are so awesome. I am glad you had a wonderful time in spite of!! And your bear! LOVEd him!!!

  14. That's some incredibly beautiful country! I had a friend from S CA that used to drive up to the Rogue River every year to fish. I really like the first video. Looks like you were moving really fast, and lots of splashes on your camera!

  15. Wow, what a great day you had! I've never done any sort of river rafting before, and this looks like a fun trip. We have friends who moved to the Rogue from Montana a few years ago; it would be fun to visit and do some exploring.


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