By Dan Shryock
You’re peacefully drifting along in a rafting boat as it floats along the river. Looking ahead, you notice the current picking up and see water splashing against jutting rocks. Something tells you things are about to change. You clearly hear your river guide shouting instructions and now everything seems to be in fast forward. Mist hits your face as you paddle. Your raft twists one direction, then another.
You feel it – the thrill of whitewater rafting in Southern Oregon.
“It’s exhilarating,” says veteran river guide Hugh Hague. “The guide is calling commands. Everyone has a paddle. The anticipation starts the adrenaline pumping.
“When we get into it there’s splashing and the guide is calling a ‘hang on’ command. Then there’s a big wave. It’s an exciting ride.
“And then there’s hooting and hollering at the bottom.”
Hague, owner of Noah’s Wilderness Adventures, has been doing this for years. His father, Noah, started the business in the early 1970s and it’s been a family activity ever since. Over the years, Hugh Hague has traversed Southern Oregon’s many rivers and rapids and he knows them well.
“People don’t realize how blessed we are with so many different rivers and rafting trips,” he says.
Indeed, in Southern Oregon there’s a rafting excursion for everybody. For starters, consider the river options. The wild and scenic Rogue River attracts plenty of acclaim as it runs through Grants Pass and heads for the ocean. Less publicized yet still exciting are the Umpqua River to the north and the challenging Klamath River to the east and south. For a peaceful float there’s the Williamson River in Klamath County.
Rafting outfitters also can scale the experience to meet your group’s thrill level and time frame. There are half-day and full-day trips available. There also are multi-day packages depending on the outfitter.
If you’re bringing smaller children, expect a more tranquil trip on calm waters. If you have a bunch of thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies on board, hold on for a wild ride.
And if you seek more than the water, the rivers of Southern Oregon deliver that, too.
“When I talk about the wild and scenic section of the Rogue, I want people to experience the isolation. It’s pure wilderness,” Hague says. “Detach from reality. Forget about the cell phone and the iPad and reconnect with your family.”
Jenifer Roe agrees. As co-owner of Roe Outfitters in Klamath Falls, she’s extremely knowledgeable about the Klamath River.
“We do a lot more rafting and fishing on the Klamath River than we do the Rogue,” Roe says. “The Klamath River doesn’t get the press the Rogue does. The Rogue is more visible. But in the summer when a lot of river water levels are dropping, the Klamath is where everybody wants to be.
“It has big water. It has (class) 4-plus rapids, which is white water,” she says. “Some people call the rapids on the Klamath 5s.”
The big thrill rapids are not for everyone, however. Roe says she looks out for smaller children and their safety.
“People will call and say they want to have an adventure. They want a Disneyland thrill ride and they forget this is wild water. This is big water. You can’t control it. We have a responsibility to you and your safety.”
If calmer waters are needed, area outfitters know where to find them. When thrill rides are in order, the experts are ready for that, too.
“There’s a stretch of the Klamath River we fish and raft out of Keno that used to be labeled un-runnable,” Roe says. “About six years ago, (husband) Darren (Roe) and another guide scouted each hole and then took a raft and a kayak down it. They found out it was just fantastic.”
Both Roe and Hague make a point to mention the wildlife that can be seen from the river. Watch for anything from Bald Eagles in the sky to furry creatures on the shoreline.
“There’s a great likelihood you will see bears,” Hague says. “You’re not standing at a rail in the zoo. You are in their environment.”
“It’s such a privilege to take people out here,” Roe adds.
Dan Shryock is an Oregon-based journalist and travel writer. When he's not visiting Southern Oregon or sampling local wines, he can be found cycling throughout the state.