Grants Pass is midway between the source of the Rogue River and the river's mouth, and it's an ideal base for river-oriented activities. The Rogue, first made famous by Western novelist and avid fly-fisherman Zane Grey, is now preserved for much of its length as a National Wild and Scenic River. Originating in Crater Lake National Park, the river twists and tumbles through narrow gorges and steep mountains as it winds its way to the coast at Gold Beach. The most famous section of the river is 250-foot-deep Hellgate Canyon, where the river narrows and rushes through a cleft in the rock. The canyon can be seen from an overlook on Merlin-Galice Road, which begins at exit 61 off I-5. From I-5 it's about 10 miles to the canyon overlook.
Several area companies offer river trips of varying length and in a variety of watercraft. You can spend the afternoon paddling the Rogue in an inflatable kayak or several days rafting the river with stops each night at riverside lodges. If you have only enough time for a short trip on the river, I'd recommend a jet-boat trip down to Hellgate Canyon, which, as mentioned above, is the most scenic spot on this section of the river. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions, 966 SW Sixth St., Grants Pass (tel. 800/648-4874; www.hellgate.com), operates five different jet-boat trips (three of which include a meal at a riverside ranch). Adult ticket prices range from $37 to $62.
Local white-water-rafting companies offer half-day, full-day, and multiday trips, with the latter stopping either at rustic river lodges or at campsites along the riverbanks. Area rafting companies include Rogue Wilderness (tel. 800/336-1647 or 541/479-9554; www.wildrogue.com); Galice Resort, 11744 Galice Rd., Merlin (tel. 541/476-3818; www.galice.com); Orange Torpedo Trips, 210 Merlin Rd., Merlin (tel. 866/479-5061 or 541/479-5061; www.orangetorpedo.com); and Rogue River Raft Trips, Morrison's Lodge, 8500 Galice Rd., Merlin (tel. 800/826-1963; www.rogueriverraft.com). Expect to pay around $63 to $80 for a half day and $70 to $100 for a full day. Three-day lodge or camping trips are in the $750 to $850 range.
At several places near Merlin, you can rent rafts and kayaks of different types and paddle yourself downriver. Try White Water Cowboys, 210 Merlin Rd., Merlin (tel. 866/479-5061 or 541/479-5061; www.whitewatercowboys.com); Galice Resort Store, 11744 Galice Rd., Merlin (tel. 541/476-3818; www.galice.com); or Ferron's Fun Trips (tel. 800/404-2201; www.roguefuntrips.com). Rental rates range from $25 to $40 for inflatable kayaks and from $55 to $100 for rafts.