PERMITS: Permits are required year-round for all river trips on the Wild Section of the Illinois River between Briggs Creek and Nancy Creek and group size is limited to 12. Permits are free of charge and available 24-hours a day at a self-issue display at the entrance to the Selma Market. The Selma Market is located at the intersection of Highway 199 and the Illinois River/Deer Creek Road in Selma, OR. Deposit your copy of the permit in the box at the Oak Flat takeout to verify your safe return.
Drones are not permitted and Leave No Trace Principlese must be followed.
SEASON: Although boatable flows can occur throughout the winter rainy season, the typical season for the Wild Section of the Illinois River is March through mid-May. Although you may be blessed with beautiful spring weather, it can typically be cold and wet so be prepared and remember that this is a wilderness trip.
CAMPING: Camping is limited at the put-in although you can likely find a spot along the road if you pull in late (try around Six Mile Creek). The other option is to grab a hotel room in Grants Pass or Cave Junction. Once on the water, the Illinois River offers one of the Pacific Northwest's premiere opportunities for an overnight wilderness trip.
Although an experienced group can make it down in a long day at higher flows, most do the trip as an overnight. Those who prefer an even more relaxing pace spend two or three evenings on the river. Good sites for large groups can be found at Pine Flat approximately 8 miles into the trip. There are a couple spots here and then half a dozen additional sites through the next few miles. Once you pass South Bend there aren't any good campsites, aside from a couple "desperation camps" that for all practical purposes are only accessible to small groups of kayakers, until you pass through the more challenging rapids of the main canyon and reach Submarine Hole.
There are a couple of sections with good campsites in this lower section of the river. River runners must bring a wilderness toilet system to pack out human waste.
ACCESS: From the Grants Pass exit 58 on I-5 take Highway 199 west 22 miles to Selma. The Selma Market is located at Highway 199 mile 20.2 at the intersection with Deer Creek and Illinois River Road. Stop here to get your required but free Forest Service permit at the self-issue station outside the store, grab any last minute provisions, and then start down Illinois River Road which then becomes FR 4103.
The first good access is at Six Mile Creek where the road dips down to the river 7.8 miles from Highway 199 (FR 4103 mile 5.2), but see description for upper run regarding required portages at Illionois River Falls and Rancharia Bridge that can be a pain for rafts. Another option is to put in at the Rancharia Bridge (at McCaleb Ranch where Forest Road 4103-087 crosses the river) which avoids these portages. There are a couple informal access points before the road climbs up away from the river and then comes back down again 16.2 miles from Highway 199 (FR 4103 mile 13.6) at Miami Bar river access at Oak Flat where most groups put-in.
Although there is an outhouse here you won't find drinking water or other services. Unless you want to spend a day on each end running your shuttle, most river runners arrange for a shuttle service. Most shuttle companie on the Rogue River also do shuttles on the Illinois River. You may also consider contacting Bearfoot Brad at (707) 457-3365.
There are two basic shuttle routes. The "shortcut" over Bear Creek Road (FR 23) which cuts through the mountains between the Illinois and Rogue rivers, a distance of just over 100 miles, is normally snowed in when the Illinois is running. The other option is to continue southwest on Highway 199 to Junction, take Highway 101 north to Gold Beach, and then take Highway 33 across the Illinois River near the confluence with the Rogue. Oak Flat Road turns off Highway 33 on the river right side of the bridge at mile 27 and heads upstream paralleling the river for 3.4 miles to the Oak Flat take-out. This route is approximately 150 miles.
DESCRIPTION: The Illinois River is a designated National Wild and Scenic River that cuts across the northern part of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, located within the rugged Siskiyou Mountains of Southwestern Oregon. The river gets its name from early miners who named the river in honor of their home state. The river was a regionally important gold mining area since the time of the first gold discovery in 1851. The first recorded journey down the river took place in August 1857 when three prospectors went in search of gold. Very few ventured down the river over the next century, and the river did not become a recognized whitewater destination until the 1970's.
This is a great wilderness self-support trip with at least ten class IV rapids (including York Creek, Pine Creek, Fawn Falls, Little Green Wall, and Submarine Hole) and one class V known as the Green Wall. Rapids can be very difficult to portage especially for rafts. Use extreme caution when committing to the run. It's a great run for groups who are well prepared and take proper safety precautions, but once you leave the put-in you have no practical access to outside assistance. There are no roads along the river and even the trail is far away from the water, only approaching the river in a couple of places.
Most trips on the Illinois begin at Miami Bar after a bone- and suspension-jarring ride down Illinois River Road, which was constructed during WW I to access the rich chrome mines along this section of the river. For a longer trip you can start as high up as the Highway 199 Bridge or the alternate access at Sixmile Creek and run the upper section, although this requires a couple portages that can be a problem with rafts (see Hwy.199 to Miami Bar).
Class V kayakers may be interested in starting out on Briggs Creek, which is about 3.5 miles long and enters the Illinois River about 2 miles downstream of Miami Bar on river-right.
Starting from Miami Bar you have a nice warm-up with easy class II as you pass the last couple cabins along the river. Then, 3 miles into the trip, the action begins to pick up as you pass Panther Creek which enters from river right. The next 3 miles down to Pine Flat contain more than a dozen excellent class III and IV pool-drop rapids. The rapids can all be boat scouted and clear lines should be evident to experienced paddlers. At recommended flows there are good recovery sections in between the drops and you'll be treated to impressive canyon scenery. The action in this section ends with a bang at Pine Creek Rapid.
Pine Creek Flats an excellent camping area and you'll recognize it by the expansive benches up above both sides of the river. Pine Creek Rapid is characterized by a midstream boulder and a bedrock shelf extending out from river right that makes an easy scouting or filming platform. You can challenge the holes of the river right chute, which also create great play features during certain levels or you can sneak the drop on the left. In either case the river eases in difficulty following this drop.
The next 2.5 miles are characterized by relatively easy class II/III rapids. There are various camp sites in this area including a couple of nice benches above the river and several smaller sites tucked in among the large boulders and bedrock shelves. If flow is on the way up use caution in selecting your site as the river has been known to rise rapidly with heavy rain. Once you pass Klondike Creek which enters from the left the action begins to pick up again with 10 class III rapids over the next 3 miles. There are a few camps in this area but by the time you pass Deadman Bar and then South Bend, the river canyon becomes more constricted again and you are effectively committed to the most challenging section of the run. This approximately 6 mile section is not really all that more difficult than the first section of concentrated rapids at the start of the run, but what sets it apart is the Green Wall which is easily the most challenging drop on the run.
Once you reach Fawn Falls, originally known as Prelude Falls, it's time to start paying attention. You have a couple different options at this rapid. You can take a fun center line that involves a slide off a smooth ledge or you can punch the hole on the far left. There is also a striaght forward line down the right. Not all the lines are obvious from above so hop out for peak on river left if necessary. After a good-sized recovery section, the Green Wall is just around the corner.
The Green Wall starts with a class III+ lead-in and the name Prelude has migrated down to refer to this short entry stretch. Although it's a long portage, you can start from the top of this lead-in rapid along river left. If you run the drop you're looking to catch a generous but tight eddy on river left behind a large boulder right at the upstream edge of the Green Wall. From there it's a short scramble up onto the boulders along river left to scout out your line. If you don't like the look of things the portage for kayaks is not too bad but with a raft it's another story and for all practical purposes you're committed to the run. The rapid starts with a crux move right away. You can take a more challenging move down the center or sneak the top section down the left. You generally want to stay away from far river right where a hole forms that extends out to the left as flows increase. After the entry move you'll want to work your way into the main current, and as you enter the bottom half of the rapid you want to stay generally down the center off the right wall and away from holes on river left. The main hazard with this rapid is the potential for trouble at the first entry hole that could lead to a swim with significant down time through the holes sprinkled over the rest of the rapid. There is a good recovery section at the bottom making it relatively easy to pick up the pieces at moderate flows, but it would not be fun to tumble through all the holes out of your boat.
After the recovery pool below The Green Wall the river squeezes between the narrowest constriction in the canyon. There are a couple easy rapids before you arrive at The Little Green Wall. This rapid is a widely spaced boulder field with a couple of holes to zig zag your way through. Although much less powerful than the Green Wall upstream, this one does present a technical challenge with a couple of options.
There are a few more fun rapids including one with some big fluffy holes until you get to Submarine Hole which is the last major drop of this section. You can run Submarine Hole on the far left to sneak the hole which grows as flows increase.
Once you pass through Submarine Hole and then by Collier Bar you are finished with the main drops on the Illinois. It's 10 miles from Collier Bar to the take-out. There are a couple good campsites in this area for those who want to spend another night on the river. The rapids are mostly widely separated class II but with a couple of class III drops thrown in to keep things fun. There are also a few nice surfing waves and the of course the scenery. There are tons of Darlingtonia Californica (Pitcher Plants) near the confluence with Indigo Creek.
The take-out at Oak Flat is on river right across from the confluence with Lawson Creek.Additional Information
Recognized by a rock cliff on the the left side and large boulders midstream from a rockslide on the right bank.
There is an undercut boulder in the middle of the main channel here. The move to miss the boulder is challenging and some people consider this the most dangerous rapid on the Illinois.
The main current flows along river left.
A cliff runs along river right.
This rapid has a fun chute down the far right for rafts and kayak and is a great kayak surf wave at most flows.
Pine Creek Rapid is characterized by a midstream boulder and a bedrock shelf extending out from river right that makes an easy scouting or filming platform. You can challenge the holes of the river right chute, which also create great play features during certain levels or you can sneak the drop on the left. In either case the river eases in difficulty following this drop.This area provides some of the nicest campsites along the river.
One of the last best camp sites before you are committed to the section with the biggest whitewater.
A good spot to stop for a break before the pace picks up.
Originally known as Prelude but now typically referred to as Fawn Falls, you have a couple different options at this rapid. You can take a fun center line that involves a slide off a smooth ledge or you can punch the hole on the far left. There is also a striaght forward line down the right. Not all the lines are obvious from above so hop out for peak on river left if necessary.
Most use this now to now refer to the class III+ lead in to the Green Wall. Just be sure to catch the eddy and get over to the left at the bottom right above the Green Wall.
The rapid starts with a crux move right away. You can take a more challenging move down the center or sneak the top section down the left. You generally want to stay away from far river right where a hole forms that extends out to the left as flows increase. After the entry move you'll want to work your way into the main current, and as you enter the bottom half of the rapid you want to stay generally down the center off the right wall and away from holes on river left. The main hazard with this rapid is the potential for trouble at the first entry hole that could lead to a swim with significant down time through the holes sprinkled over the rest of the rapid.
This rapid is a widely spaced boulder field with a couple of holes to zig zag your way through. Although much less powerful than the Green Wall upstream, this one does present a technical challenge with a couple of options.
Boulder garden rapid.
Submarine Hole is the last major drop of this section. You can run Submarine Hole on the far left to sneak the hole which grows as flows increase.
Seeing as how the put-in for this run is less than an hour from my home I've managed to get on this run a no. of times, both raft supported and self-supported in my kayak but mostly self-support kayak trips. I favor lowish flows and all my trips have been made between 450cfs to 1,250cfs @ Kirby. 450cfs goes fine for kayaks, but rafts will have a tight time in the lead-in and rocky exit in 'Green Wall' and the narrow exit at 'Submarine Hole' at 700 or lower. At 500 and lower 'Sub Hole' becomes a steep 4+ boulder garden, starting on river right and ending on river left, don't miss the move as the sub hole rock (6'-8' above the water at this flow) has some scary logs trapped on the right side of it. It's worth a scout from river right before running at low flows. Also of note is the entrance to York Creek rapid gets narrow and very steep at 500cfs and lower with a sticky hole in the center, so pick a side of the pourover and paddle!
River management plan for the Wild and Scenic Illinois River
AW letter to BLM in support of extending existing mineral withdrawal by 20 years on Wild and Scenic Illinois River in Oregon.
River level information is monitored at the Kerby gauge which is near the Highway 199 Bridge. Actual flows in the canyon will be higher due to several tributary streams.
Low flows on the Kerby gauge requiring technical boating skills are below 1000 cfs, and most consider ideal boating levels to be between 1500 and 2500 cfs. Higher flows can pose extreme dangers particularly for rafts that are susceptible to flipping in a couple of the bigger drops. A swim and subsequent loss of your boat could be disastrous.
Discharge on the Illinois can rise an order of magnitude in just a few short hours. Be prepared to stay an extra day or two if necessary to wait out high flows. Veteran Illinois River runners know to watch the weather carefully and stay away when heavy rains and flooding are in the forecast. Water levels come up very quickly and fatalities have occurred when groups pushed on ahead with the water level rising. You can check the National Weather Service Illinois River Forecast. Keep in mind that while this forecast generally provides useful information regarding the trend, the actual forecast values are not always accurate particularly as a storm system is developing. The decision to launch should be made based on current river levels and the three-day weather forecast for rain or hot weather that could melt snow and raise river levels to dangerous heights.
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Rapid #29 on the Illinois River
Rocky Top Rapid on the Illinois River
Scout Camp Put-In
rapid in upper section
Pine Creek Rapid
Oak Flat take-out
Narrow Canyon bl. Green Wall
Miami Bar put-in
Little Green Wall
Green Wall crux move
Green Wall from below
Clear Creek Rapid
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On January 12, 2017, the BLM and Forest Service announced a 20-year halt to new mining activities in the watersheds of the North Fork Smith, Illinois, Pistol River and Hunter Creek in Oregon. American Whitewater celebrates this important milestone with the conservation and recreation partners that we've worked with, and thanks Representatives DeFazio and Huffman and Senators Wyden and Merkley for their dedication to protecting this place. And we thank YOU too for standing up for these wild rivers!
The Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will not review a 20-year prohibition on new mining development (i.e., a “mineral withdrawal) for over 101,000 acres of public lands in SW Oregon. The protection, which was implemented in late 2016, covers rivers cherished by the whitewater community including the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith and Illinois Rivers and their headwaters.
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