With hot weather lingering and water levels finally dropping in the Rogue River, September is turning out to be one of the best months this year for rafting.

With hot weather lingering and water levels finally dropping in the Rogue River, September is turning out to be one of the best months this year for rafting.

Heavy rain and snow over the winter created plenty of runoff into the river, necessitating high water releases from Lost Creek Dam on the Rogue for most of the summer.

Even one month ago, the Rogue was acting like a spring river, with high, fast-moving water.

This month, the Rogue is finally beginning to behave like its usual mid-summer self as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers slows down water releases from the dam.

The flow rate is still a bit high, at almost 1,800 cubic feet per second at Grants Pass as of Monday, compared to a usual flow of 1,420 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

But the closer-to-normal flow rates mean river conditions are safer and more comfortable for do-it-yourself rafters.

To get invaluable tools for your rafting trip, visit www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/rogue/hellgate.php.

Read the safety tips and rules from the brochure, and download the Rogue River Float Guide. The guide provides maps of roads and boat landings, and also shows you the locations of rapids that have been given a rating under the European Rapid Rating System.

One of the most popular entry points to the Rogue is the Hog Creek boat landing on the Merlin Galice Road west of the little town of Merlin. From Ashland, travel past Grants Pass on Interstate 5 and take Exit 61. Follow the signs toward Merlin and you will be on the Merlin Galice Road, which is shown on the Rogue River Float Guide map.

For the perfect afternoon rafting trip, float from the Hog Creek boat landing 5.7 river miles down to the Ennis Riffle boat landing. The trip will take a little more than two hours, although times vary based on how much paddling your rafting party does.

With sunset coming earlier and earlier this month, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to be off the river before dark. And while it sounds obvious, take a good look at the Ennis Riffle boat landing so you will recognize it from the river and not float on by.

From the entry point at Hog Creek, boaters are quickly swept into some fast-moving water. Then they reach deep, still water that is channeled through the towering cliffs of Hellgate Canyon.

Once out of the narrow section of the canyon, rafters get a series of three exciting rapids, including Dunn Riffle. All of the rapids between Hog Creek and Ennis Riffle are rated as Class I, or very easy, except Dunn Riffle, which is rated Class II, or easy.

Of course, everyone's version of "easy" is slightly different. Most boaters will find Dunn Riffle to be exciting and perhaps a bit scary, but not terrifying.

After passing Dunn Riffle and Hellgate Bridge, rafters will float through a series of calm stretches mixed with occasional rapids, before exiting at Ennis Riffle.

If you have your own raft, you can drive two shuttle vehicles from Ashland, leaving one downstream at Ennis Riffle and taking the other with your raft, lifejackets and other gear upstream to Hog Creek.

If you don't have two shuttle vehicles, or just want to use a shuttle service and avoid driving an extra vehicle from Ashland, there are several businesses in Merlin that will ferry you about.

For example, Rogue Wilderness Adventures, 325 Galice Road, has a shuttle service that starts as low as $35. For more information, visit wildrogue.com or call 1-800-336-1647.

The business also rents rafts, starting at $65 per day, and inflatable kayaks, with a single kayak renting for $35 and a double renting for $45. Life jackets and paddles are included.

Charge for the shuttle is $40 for a raft or the same figure for up to six kayaks.

Be aware when you're planning your trip that a permit is required to float the Rogue below Grave Creek. But that section of the river is appropriate only for experienced rafters anyway, since it includes large rapids such as Rainie Falls, rated Class V, or very difficult and a danger to your life.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.