The Applegate River, a major tributary of the Rogue River, drains a large portion of the eastern Siskiyou Mountains. Its generally northward course begins among the snowfields and springs along the summit of the Siskiyou Crest (waters on the far side of the Crest drain south into the Klamath River; much of the crest lies within California). The river's upper-elevation watershed lies entirely within the boundaries of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, where it is a generally steep-gradient, cold-water stream. Swollen with the waters of rapidly melted snow and heavy rains, the river flooded dramatically and destructively in the winters of 1964 and 1974. The Middle Fork of the Applegate flows through a rugged, scenic canyon accessed by the Middle Fork Trail #978 (designated a National Recreation Trail). Fishing for trout (which requires a California fishing license) in the Middle Fork's and Butte Fork's small pools can be a challenge along the narrow, densely forested channels. Steelhead and salmon once made it this far up the river, but construction of the Applegate Dam for flood-control by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1980s ended those runs. The Applegate Lake reservoir and its shoreline provide opportunities for swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, and mountain biking. From the Dam downstream to the Forest boundary, much of the river actually passes through private land, dotted with ranches and homes. Shallow swimming holes accessible to the public are found at McKee Bridge Picnic Site, Jackson Campground, as well as at more remote (and colder) stretches upstream along the Middle Fork and Elliott Creek in California.
This river provides a substantial fishery below Applegate Dam for winter steelhead. It is stocked with thousands of hatchery smolts annually and also supports a healthy native run. Anglers catch winter steelhead on the Applegate on traditional drift fishing gear and lures. Flyfishers also stand a decent chance of hooking large, bright winter steelhead on a small, intimate river by dead-drifting nymphs or egg patterns. Public access on the Applegate is limited but the Forest Service administers several campgrounds and small inholdings below Applegate Dam. Above the dam is mostly public land, and the Applegate River tributaries provide quality angling opportunities for wild rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout.
Take Hwy 238 southwest from Medford approximately 13 miles to the town of Ruch. Take a left on Upper Applegate Rd., passing Star Ranger Station after six miles, to various river access points including Jackson, McKee Bridge, and Flumet Flat.