Miami Bar to Oak Flat
Length: 32 miles/ 2 to 4 days
Class: IV (one V)
Gradient: 24 ft/mile
Permits: USFS permit required, self-register Kiosk at Ray’s in Selma
An Illinois River rafting or kayaking trip is a destination travel experience in a our own backyard. The only way to get more remote than whitewater rafting the Illinois in southern Oregon’s Josephine County is heading to Alaska or Siberia. The canyon is accessible only by the river with a few rugged trails accessing the water between the steep walled gorges.
The Illinois River is know for rugged scenery, classic rapids, and precipitation. Protected by the Wilderness Act in 1964, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area surrounds the Illinois meaning there is minimal signs of modern humans in the corridor. There is no surprise that it received Wild and Scenic River status in 1984. Currently there is a push to also protect the South Kalmiopsis drainages.
When to Raft the Illinois
The best time to float the Illinois River is late April or early May when the days are a little longer and the flows are still fairly reliable. Sometimes there will be flows in late May and there is potential to packraft the river during warmer months.
There is abundant wildlife: bears, eagles, osprey, otters, deer, and elk. Though quite similar to the Rogue River, the wildlife along this corridor is not habituated to human contact so a keen eye is needed to catch a view. Shasta Costa Indians used to spend time in the lower canyon and traces of their habitation can be found throughout the area.
The key to enjoying the Illinois River is being properly clothed. While almost every trip will have sun, it will typically also have some weather. Combine that with the spring time temperatures and splashy rapids, you’ll be loving the river if you own, can borrow, or rent yourself a drysuit.
Most of the rapids are fun class III and IV with the one big class V rapid, Green Wall, to keep rafters and kayakers on their toes. In addition, watch out for Little Green Wall and Submarine Hole, both can be feisty. People typically run the river in 3 or 4 days but you can do it in two long days or get out there at high water and do it in a day like some locals on their Creature Crafts. High water has been a problem for people over the years on this river. When storms come in the river can come up quickly and there is no way to walk out of the gorge.
Illinois River Permits are available by self-registration at a Kiosk in Selma. The best Illinois River Guide Map is the one by Quinn called the Illinois River Handbook.
Illinois Rafting and Kayaking Highlights
Mile 0: Put-in
Put-in at the Miami Bar Boat Ramp. The is a pit toilet here. Driving down the Illinois River canyon may seem silly but there is a portage at Illinois Falls (VI) which makes it difficult to start trips farther upstream. There are many day stretches that can be done in the area.
Mile 4.1: Rocky Top Rapid (IV)
There is a house sized rock at the exit to the rapid. The typical line is to finish right of the rock. Just downstream is False York Creek Rapid (III) and then at mile 4.8 York Creek Rapid (IV). Between the two is a beautiful waterfall cascading down on river right. York Creek has some large features along the left shore.
Mile 5.5: Clear Creek Rapid (IV)
At high water this creates an almost river wide hole. Typically it is run right of the big hole and pulling back left to avoid a second downstream hole. Remnants of Shorty Noble’s Cabin and orchard are on the river right flat 1oo feet above the river.
Mile 7.9: Pine Flat Rapid (IV)
As called “The Boat Eater,” this rapid can be cheated by going left of the large rock in the center of the river or there is a large fun hit to the right of the rock. The Pine Flat area has incredible camping on both sides of the river. There is also a trail that accesses Pine Flat on river right plus the remains of an old homestead.
Mile 10.0: Klondike Creek Rapid (III)
Just below Klondike Creek is another nice camping spot. If the weather is nice, exploring Klondike Creek is a worthy expedition. Below here the river gorges up and it is easy to cover some miles. There are a few fun rapids including Mike’s Nemisis (IV) at mile 11.7.
Mile 12.5: Deadman’s Bar
On river right keep an eye out for a rough trail that goes up 100+ feet to a large bench. The carry is tough with poison oak but the campsite is incredible.
Mile 17.1: South Bend (Red Rock Bar)
There is a beautiful creek that cascades down on river left as the river bends hard back to the right. The sandy and rocky bar just below on the right is the last good camping before entering the Green Wall Gorge.
Mile 18.1: Green Wall Rapid (V)
After running Fawn Falls (IV), a three doored drop at mile 17.8, there is a calm pool. Pull over on river left above the class III looking entrance that leads to Green Wall and walk down the poison oak infected trail to scout. Green Wall is a classic rapid, enjoy!
Mile 18.8: Little Green Wall Rapid (IV+)
Over the years I’ve seen more carnage at Little Green Wall than Green Wall. The rapid is not as challenging but rather the hubris of good runs through Green Wall seems to be a major factor in flips at Little Green Wall. Scout on the left. There are many fun rapids between here and Submarine Hole.
Mile 21.0: Submarine Hole Rapid (IV+)
This rapid is particularly tricky at low water. Scout on river right. There are multiple rapids upstream that look similar to Submarine Hole. It is also the last big rapid of the Green Wall Gorge. At mile 21.7 Collier Creek enters, below here there are many good camping spots all the wall to take out.
Mile 32.3: Take Out – Oak Flat
Take out on river right. There is an alternate take downstream at the confluence of the Rogue but it is much more challenging. Here is a link to more Illinois River photos.