Discover the Rogue River's birthplace
Zach Urness/Daily Courier

A waterfall below Boundary Springs.

A hike to Boundary Springs takes you to the birthplace of the Rogue River and provides insight into its magic.

For more information about the hike, see below the story. For a photo gallery of the Rogue, click here.

By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

On Saturday mornings throughout the year, I’ll wake up, make coffee and head to the Rogue River.

The hot summer days usually find me floating into the canyon scenery between Ennis Riffle and Grave Creek, leisurely and happy, the spray of rapids and warmth of sunshine alternating in mindless hours below cliff walls.

If it's autumn, I’ll probably be driving toward Tou Velle or Valley of the Rogue State Park in the crisp-yet-still-warm air, with a fly-rod in the trunk and thoughts of steelhead in mind.

I might tempt the wrath of Nugget-Powerhouse’s Class IV rapids in a hardshell kayak, or troll more peaceful water for spring chinook.

The Saturday adventures on the Rogue River change with the seasons, but the uniting theme is that they're always available. The river is a friend who's occasionally moody and even violent, yet is always there, just a short car ride away.

But to understand the nature of a stream that provides so much yet asks so little, it helps to dig a little deeper into its past. And there's no better place to explore that history than hiking to the very birthplace of the Rogue River.

If the Sabbath is given over to the Lord on Sunday, then why not designate a Saturday afternoon to pay homage to Boundary Springs, the place from whence the Rogue begins?

The pilgrimage is not a difficult one. All that's required is to drive north on Highway 62 and continue straight on Highway 230 until you reach Crater Lake Rim Viewpoint, between mile markers 18 and 19, and step out of your car.

The hike itself is scatter-shot but easy, a mere 5 miles round trip. It begins by following the Upper Rogue River Trail for half a mile, then turning left (south) on Boundary Springs Trail. From that point it crosses a dirt road and heads another 1.4 miles toward the springs.

The most surprising part about the river during its infancy is the power. The Rogue does not begin with a trickle, but thunders down waterfalls from almost its beginning. That power was something that captured the imagination of writer Zane Grey, who provided an eloquent description of the young river in his great novel, “Rogue River Feud.”

“It was a river at its birth,” wrote Grey, “and it glided away through the Oregon forest, with hurrying momentum, as if eager to begin the long leap down through the Siskiyous. The giant firs shaded it; the deer drank from it; the little black-backed trout rose greedily to floating flies. And in sunlit glades, where the woods lightened, the wild lilac bloomed in its marvelous profusion of color, white and purple and pink, scenting the warm drowsy air with sweet fragrance.”

If the river’s power seems strange, another mysterious element to the Rogue’s headwaters is its proximity to Crater Lake.

The fact that Southern Oregon’s two most iconic natural wonders reside here, just a few miles apart, was a source of befuddlement to geologists in the past. Wouldn't it just make sense for the United States' deepest lake to feed the mighty Rogue?

Yet that’s not the case. Crater Lake has no direct influence on the Rogue’s headwaters, doesn't feed or sustain it. So where does the source of the Boundary Springs, and thus the Rogue River, come from?

The answer goes something like this:

Part of the Rogue River's magic is that it maintains a consistent flow throughout the seasons — even when the mountain snowpack is long gone. While rivers such as the Smith and Illinois spike during snowmelt and nearly dry up during autumn, the Rogue never endures that fate.

Why?

Well, one reason is Boundary Springs itself.

According to hydrologists at Oregon State University, the springs are the outlet of a massive network of groundwater below the Cascade Mountains.

Known informally as the High Cascade Aquifer, this underground reservoir is believed to hold 7.5 trillion gallons of water within Oregon’s borders.

The young, volcanic rocks of the High Cascades soak the rainfall and snowmelt into large porous cracks. Water filters through the system for around seven years before emerging at springs that power some of Oregon's most famous rivers, including the Deschutes, Umpqua, Klamath and McKenzie.

And, of course, the Rogue.

The final leg of the hike takes you past water that seems to gain more and more energy. Like an awkward young child it tumbles and sprints, dropping down a series of waterfalls before gliding into pools as clear as glass.

In a meadow the trail forks in different directions, and you have to veer left and navigate around smaller springs. There seems to be water dripping from every outlet in the ground, but if you follow the rumbling sound, you'll eventually come upon the mossy vent of Boundary Springs.

The water rushes out of the earth in this high-altitude Eden with such force that it’s easy to imagine it helping power the Rogue on a 215-mile journey to the Pacific Ocean.

A hike to Boundary Springs is more than a way to explore the Rogue River in its bubbling youth; it’s a chance to visit the place where all those Saturday adventures begin.

o o o o

Boundary Springs Trail

Adventure: hiking

Equipment: hiking boots/shoes, water bottle

Effort: easy/moderate

Trail distance: 5 miles round trip

Trailhead: Crater Lake Viewpoint

Trailhead Location: Between mile markers 18-19 on Highway 230

Overall rating (out of 5): 4.5

In a nutshell: The trail runs half a mile on the Upper Rogue River Trail, then turns left onto Boundary Springs Trail. After crossing a dirt road, it continues another 1.4 miles to the springs.


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