To the Source of the Rogue through Healthy Firescape

On Sunday July 22nd, eighteen intrepid hikers ventured to escape the smoke-ridden Rogue Valley in search of clearer skies and a glimpse of the source of the Rogue River.  Not only did we find the origin of our beloved river, but as we hiked through recent fire scars, we had an opportunity to see firsthand how fire interacts with our forests and rivers. 

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The source of the Rogue River flows from the west flank of Crater Lake National Park from a place called Boundary Springs. Here, the river is born a cold, clearwater stream that burbles forth from underground springs before starting its journey toward the Pacific Ocean. For those of us who love the Rogue, it was apparent the great significance of this special place.

Hiking to Boundary Springs is not difficult; it’s a moderate 5-mile round trip walk on a dusty trail through lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, and Shasta red fir. Most of this forest was burned in the 2017 Spruce Fire but is coming back in the vibrant way forests do after fires! Fireweed, lodgepole seedlings, and new plant growth emerged from the ashy soils, regenerating the forest and bringing about new life. The fire-affected forest was a beautiful contrast to the live, green riverbed winding through it. Our hike could not have been more timely with fire season having just begun.

We hiked the trail stopping along the way to talk about the natural benefits that fire can bring to forest and river systems. We cooled ourselves in the river while gazing at yellow monkey flower bunches, and American dippers swimming. At one stop, we sat next to a rushing waterfall to enjoy the cool breeze. Eventually we crossed into Crater Lake National Park Boundary where a prominent wooden sign announced our arrival. The air was clear, the temperatures warm, and the anticipation high!

The last leg of the trail wound through severely burned hillsides full of blackened trees and soils. In sections where the trail veered from the river, it was easy to forget that flowing water was still nearby! The stark, charred forest fascinated us and led to robust conversations about the effects of fire in our region, why prescribed fires are healthy for our forests, and what we can do about wildfires in the era of climate change.

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Finally, we reached the base of the source where a large mountain meadow pool of clear water, moss covered rocks, yellow monkey flower, and fallen logs greeted us!  The colors, so vibrant against the adjacent hillsides, complete with water rushing from the source above was thrilling! From here, it was only a short, uphill walk to the comparatively modest origin of the mighty Rogue River!

Reaching our destination, our team was full of smiles and in amazement of this river-producing spring. We filled water bottles with clean, cold, fresh water and enjoyed our lunches on the fallen trees from last year’s fire. Sitting among the contrast of newly scorched forest, and a river full of life, gave us all pause to contemplate, reflect, and appreciate the dynamics of our wild, natural surroundings.

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Reaching the source of the Rogue is a pilgrimage of sorts, especially for those of us who’ve spent decades floating and swimming in its waters. With over 20 years of guiding hundreds of people through the river’s rapids and canyons, I was taken aback by how small but important these cold, snowmelt springs are as the beginnings of something loved by so many! To see it spring forth from the mountainside, to fill my bottle with pristine pure water, to watch it cascade down over rocks and logs to the pool below is to witness the birthplace of a river - my river. It’s a magnificent, wonderful thing and something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

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Directions to Boundary Springs Trailhead
From the Rogue Valley, head north toward Crater Lake on highway 62 out of Medford. Drive through Union Creek eventually merging onto highway 230, passing the south entrance to Crater Lake. Continue up hwy 230 toward Diamond Lake until you reach the Mazama Viewpoint parking lot on the right. Pull in and park here and the trail begins to the left of the parking lot next to the restrooms.

Robyn Janssen