I am rewriting this river description to clarify a few things and to update a few others. After living in the area for a while I have come to the conclusion that the Natural Bridge and Takelma Gorge sections of the North Fork Rogue deserve maybe not a separate write up but perhaps a little differentiation. Also, I kind of treated the Natural Bridge section with a little too much macho bravado, leading me to think that anyone who is cautious about running class III/IV rivers might be justified in assuming from the write up that I am some kind of macho douche bag. However, I will stick by my original contention that if you run Takelma you're going to want to start out with Natural Bridge. It makes a great warm-up, it has a fair amount of class III rapids and one good class IV rapid. I will also stick by the following contention from my original write up: This run as a whole has periods of action interspersed with long sections of flat water. But you probably won't feel cheated by a lack of non-stop rapids because when you aren't negotiating fun class IV and IV+ rapids, you will be gawking at the beauty of the river. If you don't fall in love with the lush splendor of this run you are too jaded for your own good. You should probably quit kayaking and move to the desert and stare at the dust and sand for a few years until you are ready to appreciate this brilliant gem.
And just to clarify once more, the Natural Bridge section, in other words the upper 3 miles of the river is class III with one class IV rapid. The Takelma section downstream of Woodruff Bridge has the class IV+ or class V- rapids. So take out at Woodruff Bridge unless you are prepared for class IV+ or class V- depending on flow.
The run starts out at the Natural Bridge footbridge. In years past there was a good class V rapid just upstream of the footbridge, but there is now a log in the middle of the rapid and it is a deal-breaker. The rapid immediately downstream of the footbridge looks steep, but at low to moderate flows it is a benevolent class III. At higher flows (1200+cfs) it can get rather juicy. This rapid is followed by about 3/4 mile of class II or easy class III. The hardest rapid on the run (not including the waterfall) is called Karma, which is preceded by Pre-Karma, a basic class III. I mention this because if you want to scout Karma you have to do it from above Pre-Karma on river right. What does it look like where you would want to scout? I could say that the river bends to the left through a class II rapid into a fairly large pool, that there's a big tree stump on river left, with a horizon line (pre-Karma) dead ahead. All this stuff might sound a bit like a few other rapids though. Anyway, karma has quite a few logs at the top, but the entrance is open for business. Good thing because it is a great rapid.
Shortly after Karma the river will bend to the right. Two options exist here to portage the waterfall, both on river left. The first one is before the river turns to the right, a trail straight up over a small ridge, and the next one is out of a medium sized eddy on the left after a small class II rapid and a bend back to the left. It's only a 15 or 20 foot waterfall, but be wary of it. I would rate it a class V+ because it has a fairly large hole in front of the drop, a guillotine rock on the right side of the top of the drop and a very big re-circulating hole at the bottom. Following the portage is a rapid called Blue House, or as the French commonly refer to it Maison Bleu. This rapid is actually a little trickier at low flows (600cfs or less). The entrance is fun and easy, but the main drop can get sticky on the right at lower flows. No big deal though, it's still pretty much a III or III+. There are a couple of more class III rapids before the last rapid above Woodruff Bridge, which is a possible put in or take out. Run the Woodruff rapid on the right side of the island:
From Woodruff Bridge there is another 3.7 miles of paddling if you plan on running Takelma Gorge. The first mile following the bridge is mostly flat water. Takelma Gorge appears after the river bends to the left and enters a bouncy rapid in the class III+ range. There is a shallow eddy on the left at the bottom of this rapid. This is the last chance to get out and scout the first few rapids of the gorge. Once in the gorge you are committed to running the first few rapids. The gorge is tight, fun and fairly continuous as well as spectacular. There are 5 rapids in the gorge. Number one is easy to scout if you catch the previously described eddy. It is made up of 2 distinct drops and there are a few different ways to run it that I won't go into here. The most important thing to remember (and this will be obvious if you scout) is to stay out of the middle of the 2nd drop at low and moderate flows. The 2nd rapid is a bit easier but can't be scouted very well. Go center with a correction angle a little towards the left because the river wants to push you into the right wall, which is no fun but at the same time not undercut. There is a river wide log hazard about halfway through the gorge, at the third rapid. It is fairly easy to portage on the right side, and then run the second part of the rapid. This rapid is followed by two more rapids. The first one is scoutable and the more difficult of the two and tons of fun. The last rapid is only boat scout-able but not too hard. After the gorge opens up, the river is class II for 2 miles to the take out at River Bridge Campground. You can also paddle down another five miles past River Bridge Campground to North Fork Reservoir if you feel the desire to add more class III.
Take-Out - to get to the take out from I-5 in Medford, drive east on Highway 62 (Crater Lake Hwy)
past Lost Creek Reservoir to the access road for River Bridge Campground,
or continue on to Woodruff Bridge if you just want to run the Natural Bridge section.
Put-In - to get to the put in continue driving east on Hwy 62 to Natural Bridge. The shuttle for this run is simple easy and quick, so the time you usually spend shuttling is better spent drinking beer at the take out.
Narrative and all photos copyright 2002 and 2009. Contact Peter Gandesbery. This page was last updated August 15, 2009.