“No shuttle, no permits, no fuss. Just one of the top three loops in SW Oregon.”
— Gabe Howe
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The drive in and the highest points of this route are at a transient snow level, so watch the snow depth.
This 25 mile loop provides access into the interior of the 35,000-acre Wild Rogue Wilderness Area, and also features the most enchanting section of the Wild Rogue River itself, popular among rafters and visitors on foot.
Need to Know
There are two wet creek crossings which could be dangerous and impassable at flood stages. Referring to a map is essential. There's great car camping at Tucker Flat, the campsite has 6 first come, first serve spots that are free of charge. There are pit toilets there, but no potable water. Tucker Flat is more accessible from the eastern side of the park. Google maps accurately locates it and can provide directions, but you'll lose service, so make sure you know how to get out again - the trail map only covers part of the way back to the highway. The roads there are all paved or reasonably well-maintained dirt, but they are active logging roads, so drive them with care.
Poison oak is prevalent along the Mule Creek Trail and the Rogue River Trail. The area is inhabited by black bears, so all food should be properly stowed overnight and never left unattended. Additionally, be prepared to encounter rattlesnakes on or near the trail.
No perennial water between the headwaters of Mule Creek and Thomas Homestead on Clay Hill Trail. There are two seasonal streams on the Mule Creek Trail in the mile before the headwaters, and a seasonal creek around a mile into the Panther Ridge Trail
. There is also water available between the North Mule Creek trailhead and the Panther Ridge trailhead by detouring down the service road for about 15 minutes to Buck Creek.
There are five trailheads, but the best one to use is the one near the Tucker Flat Campground. Start and end from the Mule Creek Trailhead at Tucker Flat Campground. Run the loop counter clockwise to make a more subtle ascent to Panther Ridge. That way you'll know whether or not the wet stream crossings are safe to cross in the first few hours of your day rather than the last few hours of your day. There will be one bridge crossing and then two stream crossings that require rock hopping. The second stream crossing is the last accessible water until near the top of the hill, so it is a good idea to fill up a liter or two (and maybe dip your feet).
Start with the ascent along Mule Creek's pristine gorges to its headwaters. Flat spots are extremely limited along the Mule Creek trail, so unless you have a hammock, it is a good idea to plan on running past the west fork of Mule Creek. There is a nice grassy spot right at the upper trailhead (water is accessible via running down the dirt road about 15 minutes to the right) or there is a nice spot in the trees with a seasonal creek about half an hour up the Panther Ridge Trail
From there, roller coaster through contiguous old growth stands along Panther Ridge Trail #1253
to the Clay Hill Trail #1160A
. The forest is beautiful, but there is no water along the ridge, so pack plenty if you plan to camp up there. The Clay Hill Trail #1160A
descends 3,000 ft over 4.5 miles via manageable but steep switchbacks through a changing scenery of conifers, madrones, and oaks. Approximately three quarters of the way down is the Thomas Homestead - cross a small creek to the right of the trail and look for the remnants of an old stone building with a large meadow behind it. Camping is possible here, though the water quality and flow depends on the time of year.
Descend less than a mile further and you'll find yourself at the Rogue River. Stop by the Clay Hill Creek just to the right for the best water you have seen since your stream crossings back at the beginning of Mule Creek (Rogue River access is over the bridge and down the trail immediately adjacent the creek, don't let the tool shed from the Lodge make you think it is a private road), or follow the Rogue River National Recreation Trail
to the left to continue the loop. There are several campsites along the Rogue River Trail, many with bear lockers and established toilets. Make sure to get your swimming in early though - there is no river access after Paradise Lodge back to the trailhead, as you end up high above the river on the cliffs.
Use the Powers and Gold Beach Districts Map published by the National Forest. Other maps may omit the Clay Hill Trail.
Flora & Fauna
The Wild Rogue is definitive of the area's rich biodiversity. You'll find yourself on harsh, serpentine slopes, rich coastal forests, and black oak meadows.
History & Background
These routes were used by indigenous peoples with a rich history. Before Lewis & Clark both Takelma and Athabascan speaking tribes inhabited the Rogue before the Rogue Indian Wars in the 1850s. The trails were used by early miners, but were properly engineered and built by Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps.