Oregon’s Rogue River jet boat tours provide visitors with a rip-roaring ride up the Rogue, and is the only tour permitted to enter the wild section of the river.
Rogue River Jet Boat Tours, Continuing a Fine Tradition
If you’ve ever gotten frustrated because an Amazon Prime package got delayed, here’s a fact that might make your blood boil. Prior to 1895, settlers, trappers and other residents living along the isolated Rogue River could wait weeks for parcels and letters to arrive at the nearest post office in Wedderburn. Mail then had to travel overland by mule to outposts located along the river.
But in 1895, Elijah Price had a brilliant idea. Why not use navigable waterways to transport mail. Rowing directly upstream would be faster than traveling over hill and dale and would keep rural residents more connected.
However, the United States Post Office, didn’t easily agree. Price was forced to make repeated requests and become the proverbial fly in the ointment before the good old USPS finally relented and granted him a one-year trial.
Fortunately for residents along the river, the man had grit. He broke out his 18-foot rowboat and began transporting mail up the river, free of payment. It took him four days for each run, but he proved that mail delivery by water was far more efficient than the rugged climb through the mountains.
His determination and spirit are rewarded today as mail delivery continues up the Rogue to rural outposts via Rogue River jet boats.
Delivering the Mail Aboard a Rogue River Jet Boat Tour
Skimming over the river in as little as ten inches of water, it’s hard to envision Elijah Price plying the oars of a single rowboat to make the weekly mail run up the Rogue River. It’s even harder to envision the overland trek by mules that preceded Price’s initiative.
Jerry’s Rogue River Jets is the only tour operator allowed on the wild portion of the Rogue. Consequently, they are also the only designated mail carrier.
Our tour starts at the dock on scenic Route 1 along Oregon’s coast, where passengers are sorted into jet boats. The air coming off the ocean is cool, even on a sunny August morning, and passengers are grateful for the scattering of wool blankets.
Jerry’s offers three tours of varying lengths from 64 miles to 104 miles. All start where the warmer Rogue waters mix with cooling ocean currents. Heading upstream, even warmer drafts of air sneak in, coaxing the intrepid from their jackets and even enticing the hardy from beneath blanket cloaks.
Gliding along on a Rogue River jet boat, the captain regales us with the history of the mail run and how the spirit of Elijah Price was later kept alive through innovation. In the 1920s, mailboats were retrofitted with model T engines to improve the speed of travel, and soon a new business was started on the Rogue, as tourists seeking communion with the river’s wild and scenic beauty paid fares to travel with the packages and parcels.
Jerry’s Rogue River Boats is the outgrowth of Price’s simple endeavor, and despite being a booming tourist operation, still delivers the mail upriver to the Agnes outpost six days a week.
Heading into Rogue River Currents
It isn’t long before the Lee Patterson Bridge is visible. Built in 1932, it is listed as a National Civil Engineering Historic Landmark. Today, it watches over the Rogue, and the fisherman pulling a bounty of chinook salmon from the river currents.
A group of common mergansers catches the captain’s eye and the boat slows to a crawl, far enough away not to scare the mother leading a line of young ones, but close enough that all onboard can get a view. As passengers scoot and lean to see the baby mergansers, the captain explains the role of the bird on the Rogue, before the jet boat engine revs to life and the flight upriver begins again.
Upstream, the river narrows and becomes shallower. Fisherman cast lines into the currents, and we’re joined by a bald eagle. Skimming the shallows beside us, he soon takes a sudden rise, alighting in a tree beside the river.
In 1968, The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act offered protection to the Rogue, shielding it from development and ensuring habitat for the species that call the corridor home. For that reason, development is sparse.
The captain stops for a moment to point out a cabin high on the mountain slopes that frame the river. While the 1968 protection act prohibits development on the steep mountainsides framing the river, property owners who help title prior to the establishment of the act are free to build as they see fit, though landowners face many challenges in transporting material and supplies for building.
The few homes on the river are lean on amenities and many lack basics, such as electricity. It becomes easier to close your eyes and imagine Elijah Pearce rowing his way up the currents until the captain picks up speed and the boat, barely skimming the water, makes a valiant spin in a flat and wide portion of the lake.
This is the first of many splashing wet turns. Passengers laugh and a few reach again for the wool blankets, holding them up as protection against the wet finale as the boat floats to a semi-stop. A few seconds and the engine roars to life again, taking the boat in a counter clockwise spin in the opposite direction. The result is the same: more laughter and a fat spray of water that leaves all aboard a little damp.
It isn’t long before we’ve reached Agnes, a small dock on the river’s edge and the only outpost before heading into the wild section of the Rogue. We disembark to deliver the mail and take a short stroll. For anyone takin the shorter, 64-mile tour, this is where the upriver journey ends, but for us, we’re ready to head into the scenic backcountry for a 104-mile roundtrip journey into the heart of the wild Rogue, a section only accessible by boat or on foot.
We Head into the Wild
While most of the Rogue River is characterized by densely wooded shoreline and climbing cliff faces, the restricted portion of the Rogue has a different feel. Mountains are taller, foliage denser, and human habitation fades away.
It isn’t long before our only companions are the other passengers of the boat and the wildlife that call the river corridor home. This section of the river offers little in the way of amenities, just a few backwoods camping sites, the kind where you throw down a tent on barely cleared ground and scrounge up some firewood to ward off an evening chill.
This section is protected by a permit system instituted by the Bureau of Land Management to protect the delicate Rogue River ecosystem from the effects of tourist overpopulation as Oregon’s tourism numbers continue to climb.
It’s a privilege to be seat on a Rogue River jet boat tour, enjoying this protected area, as a deer steps down to take a drink, oddly at peace with the river boat’s roar. It isn’t long before another bald eagle soars overhead and lights high in a tree. The boat stops for passengers to take a better look, and quiet is soothing, sweet and perfect for the soul.
Jerry’s Rogue River Jet is the only tour operator permitted to operate on the protected 12-mile stretch of the river. After skimming several rapids and stopping to view a few of nature’s creatures, our upriver Rogue River jet boat tour ends at Blossom Bar Rapid.
A short break here includes climbing steep stairs and walkway up the cliffside to feast on snacks offered from a small restaurant before heading back down the Rogue again.
About Jerry’s Rogue River Jets
Jerry’s Rogue River Jets has been taking passengers on daily mail runs since 1958. The company offers three tours up the Rogue.
64-mile round trip ‘Historic Mail Route” tour: Take a Rogue River jet boat to the outpost of Agnes on one of several dialing mail runs. Tours run May 15 through Jun 30. Prices are $50 per adult and $25 per child with children on 3 free.
80-mile round trip ‘Whitewater Excursion’: Focused on spinning and cruising the rapids this tour incorporates whitewater fun with scenic viewing on the open section of the Rogue. This 4.75-hour tour runs June 15-September 15. Costs are $70 per adult and $35 per child under 12 with tots under 3 riding free.
104-Mile round trip ‘Wilderness Whitewater’ tour: The extended tour is the only one to enter the protected wild portion of the Rogue and is probably your only way to experience this section without a canoe, kayak or your own Elijah Price row boat. Tours run May 1-September 30. The 6.75-hour tour costs $95 for adults and $45 for children under twelve. Little ones under 3 ride free.
GOLDS BEACH, OR
THINGS TO DO NEARBY
Prehistoric Gardens – 15 miles
Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor – 25 miles
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