What do you do if you want to enjoy more of the wildly scenic Rogue River besides Jet boats and kayaking? Drive and explore!
This 77 mile drive takes you on a loop drive with stops for fun, history, and downright terrific scenery.
You can do this touring drive in 3 or 4 hours but if you want to stop for lunch at the recommended place, plus hike AND stop at lots of turnouts along the way allow yourself most of the day.
This route starts at the Hellgate Jet Boat Tours, a fun tour on the river that I highly recommend, but more about that later, this is a great starting point for this drive not far from the iconic Caveman Bridge.
Rogue Creamery Dairy
As you head out of town on Lower River Road, you’ll spot a dairy ahead. I’ve had the delicious cheeses from the Rogue Creamery Dairy before, but only at the retail store in Central Point – so when we passed by this dairy and the sign said Tour, of course we dropped in!
You can watch the process of the all-automatic at-will cow milking. Ever hear of that? It’s fascinating! The cows are RFID tagged to automatically control how often they are milked. They’re only allowed to enter the milker holding area if it’s been less than 6 hours from the last time they were milked. It’s at-will because the cows want to be milked, and they want the yummy grain treat.
The tour is self-guided, just read the signs and watch the whole process from behind the window. I’ve never seen anything like it, cow milking 24/7 and the cows learn the routine in less than 2 days.
Be sure to sample and buy some of the cheese from the little store on site too – have you tried Lavender cheese? One of my favorites!
Next stop is what’s left of the Robertson Bridge on Lower River Road. We went under the bridge on a Jet Boat (there’s that tour again!) and learned about it, so on my scenic drive I didn’t go back for the photo – here’s a public domain photo from a government survey that’s in the Library of Congress collection.
The historic 1909 bridge with it’s steel arches looks something like the newer Caveman Bridge that crosses the Rogue River in Grants Pass – the bridge was relocated to this spot in 1929 and replaced by the current Caveman bridge. Abandoned since 2001, there’s no longer a roadway on the structure, but a bonus – 2 osprey nests on it!
But why is it called Robertson Bridge? According to the Jet Boat tour captain, all the acres and acres of land in the vicinity of the bridge were owned by an early homesteader named Mrs. Robertson, who got flooded out of her home one time too many and sold her land to the county…for $1!
Does the river still flood? You bet it does, the Rogue has flooded the city more than a dozen times in the past 130 years, the most recent flood was January 1, 1997.
Enough about floods and a historic ruined bridge I don’t have a current picture of…on with the Wild and Scenic tour!
Hellgate Canyon and Hellgate Bridge
One of the most scenic stops on the drive is the turnout at Hellgate Canyon. It would be hard to miss the turnout, it’s huge with a historic marker.
Hellgate is a 2,100 foot long narrow canyon with steep rock walls, the early river runners named it because it looked like the gates of hell… and hellish it must be in the winter when the Rogue is wild and dangerous!
Water constantly flowing through the volcanic basalt rock carved the canyon. With no way for the water to expand to the sides, the river bed was forced to depths of about 100 feet deep!
Downriver from Hellgate Canyon the water spreads out again, with the road crossing above at…Hellgate Bridge.
The Jet Boat tours turn around in Hellgate Canyon- unless you’re on one of the small jet boat excursions that go to the edge of the restricted section of the Rogue. Here’s what entering Hellgate looks like from the water.
It’s very narrow in the canyon, the jet boats go very slow and the people in rafts and kayaks move over to the side walls of the canyon as best they can to make room.
Indian Mary Park
Crossing Hellgate Bridge you’ll quickly get to Indian Mary Park, named for Mary Peters “Indian Mary” who, around 1894, was granted a 25 year deed to this land and formed the smallest Indian Reservation in the United States.
How did that happen? It’s part of a fascinating wild west story – Mary Peters’ father Umpqua Joe was known for warning settlers and miners of impending attacks by Indians, plus he operated a ferry here to transport miners and supplies. When he died, Mary applied for a claim to the land under the Indian Homestead Act and 8 years later was granted the 25-year land deed.
The land was converted to Indian Mary Park in 1958, a family friendly jewel in the Josephine County Park system.
But we’re not stopping at the park…
Stop at the Galice Resort, a fun place for a bite on the outside deck or just to look around the country store where you can find all kinds of river supplies plus snacks and T-Shirts and Tank Tops. I always like to pick up a river related T or Tank when I stop in.
There’s a boat ramp here, a popular spot to put in or pull out of a rafting or kayaking adventure on the Rogue.
Driving further down Galice Road, past Almeda campground, you’ll see several turnouts. One of them (on the map) overlooks a rocky beach and outcrop popular for the raft and kayak daytrippers to stop and swim and jump off the rocks.
Grave Creek Bridge
Next stop is Grave Creek Bridge for scenic views up and down the Rogue.
If you’re lucky you might see one of the bigger rafts coming downriver.
This raft may be headed for camping in the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue that begins after the boat ramp at Grave Creek bridge.
The only way individuals can go all the way down the wild and scenic restricted section is through a lottery! There’s some serious whitewater in this section, you need skill to navigate it and planning for all your overnights.
If you see someone putting in at the Grave Creek boat ramp, stick around to watch them navigate through these first rapids.
Rainie Falls Hike
It was too hot for a hike for us, but if you’re there early or in better daytime temps, the Rainie Falls Trail is a beautiful 3.6 mile moderate, out and back hike along the Rogue to a little waterfall. If you see anyone running the rapids at the falls, be very impressed – Rainie Falls is a Class V rapid!
No time now? Keep this hike in mind for another time, the drive out to Grave Creek Bridge from Grants Pass the quick way is only 30 minutes.
Gray’s Historic Ranch
Follow the pretty, twisty Lower Grave Creek Road to the historical marker at Gray’s Ranch for a peak into history at the ranch in the beautiful meadow.
The ranch has a long connection to the mining history of the area – the first people to settle in what was then called Lonesome Cove Ranch were the McMichael’s in 1873. Popular with miners, packers, travelers, and newsmen who stayed while writing about mining, the ranch served guests for 33 years, until 1906 when it became a cattle ranch. Eventually the ranch was sold to the Gray’s whose descendants still own it today.
Wolf Creek Inn
You won’t really notice as you drive on Lower Grave Creek Road and it turns into Lower Wolf Creek Road. 8 miles from Grays Ranch you come to the little community of Wolf Creek and the Wolf Creek Inn.
The historic Wolf Creek Inn used to the an important stop for travelers along the stagecoach route in the late 1800’s, back when it took a full grueling day to get the 20 miles from Grants Pass. On the National Register of Historic Places and an Oregon State Heritage Site today, you’ll get a real picture of the past with a ranger-guided tour of the downstairs rooms, and on your own in the upstairs.
Some famous people whose names you’ll probably recognize stayed here – including Jack London who finished his novel Valley of the Moon here. In the golden age of Hollywood, movie stars such as Clark Gable stayed while fishing the Rogue River.
In more recent (and rogueish) years, the Inn was Wolf Creek Tavern run by some hippies and frequented by a Hells Angels outlaw gang. Not all traces of the gang’s hellish activities have been sanitized out during the restoration of the Inn, you can still see bullet holes in the brickwork in the chimney.
Fascinating bits of history and a great stop on the drive! Don’t miss the info on Golden in a niche upstairs, the next stop on the drive.
Golden Ghost Town
Just a few minutes away is the abandoned ghost town of Golden, settled in the late 1840s when gold was found in the area. An old schoolhouse and a church are the most interesting of the few buildings that remain.
Golden is on the National Register of Historic Places and an Oregon State Heritage Site.
In a half hour you’ll be back where we started this daytripping drive at the Hellgate Jet Boat Excursions.
Hellgate Jet Boat Excursion
The top Thing To Do in Grants Pass is one of the many Jet Boat Excursions. We’ve done it a few times before, but this time it was just us so we opted for the 2 hour tour – down to Hellgate Canyon and back rather than one of the lunch, brunch or dinner trips that stop for meals at their OK Corral. Those trips are a lot of fun for groups but take twice as long due to the meal stop and go exactly the same distance as the 2 hour scenic tour.
All the Jet Boats go to Hellgate Canyon, unless you go on their 5 1/2 hour excursion which goes all the way to Grave Creek on a smaller jet boat. I haven’t done that one…yet!
It’s the top thing to do, and with good reason! Not only is it a lot of fun when the jet boat captain spins the boat around – you WILL get wet – you have a terrific time admiring the beautiful scenery, spotting deer and osprey and maybe an eagle, plus learn a lot about the Rogue River.