How many times have you driving up the Crater Lake Highway (Hwy 138) from Roseburg to Crater Lake, Diamond Lake, a trip to eastern Oregon or wherever and kind of glanced at the beautiful scenery, saw all the points of interest signs as the whizzed by but never really stop to take a look? Although I have made a few stops from time to time, I’ll have to admit I’ve never really spent the time to really stop and see the waterfalls along this scenic highway. (See the Region 6 USFS website: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/umpqua/runsb/points-interest.shtml )
Thursday June 17th I decided to take a day and visit as many North Umpqua waterfalls as I could in a day. As the white water doesn’t photograph well in bright full sun, I knew I’d need to be up there early to take advantage some the normal June fog and low clouds we often have in the mornings. I decided to start with the upper section above Toketee first then in the afternoon when the sun dropped lower work on the lower section.
On the way up I stopped at a 10 foot falls right at the beginning of the restricted Fly Fishing Only section called Deadline falls. It looked like it would be a lot of fun in a kayak.
I started with Toketee Falls, which is actually a double falls, that you often see pictures of in picture books of Oregon. I had read on the US Forest Service web site that Toketee Falls had been closed before Memorial Day for some work on the trail but was now open again. Toketee Falls is a 61 foot falls that plunges out of a 90 foot shear wall of postpile basalt. It’s only about 0.4 miles but you’ll soon find there are a lot of stairs to climb. Not far from the trailhead the river enter narrow chasm. You can catch a few glimpses of it before the trailhead up over a small ridge. As you near the falls the trail becomes a stairway attached to a very steep bank and the observation deck at the end has a tree growing through the middle of it. This is a spectacular place to view the falls and you’ll find you’ll want to make return trips any chance you get. I wished I could have stayed longer but I wanted to see more falls, so it was back to the car.
Back on Hwy 138 Watson Fall was only a couple more miles up the road to Watson Falls and I thought everything would be an anticlimax after Toketee falls but I was wrong. After leaving the parking lot you cross a road and it’s only about a half mile on a good trail to the falls. As you get closer the creek cascade steeply down the hill and it is very pretty on its own. I came to a couple of new wooden bridges over the creek and got my first good look at this 99 foot falls plunging over another shear basalt wall. Wow! Keep following the trail as it switchbacks up to a viewpoint that is literally in the mist. On the way bake I discovered that there is a loop trail that take you back down to the road. Near the parking lot there are a lot of nice camp sites right on the creek and of course all empty.
Now I was pretty impressed after the first two so I ready for Whitehorse Falls only about 2.5 mile further up the road from Watson Falls. Whitehorse falls is just a mere 37-foot punchbowl with a very nice viewing deck right at the parking lot. I was impressed at how well these areas were maintained and now nice the facilities were.
3.5 miles further up Hwy 138 brought me to Clearwater Falls. This was a short drive off the highway to Clearwater Day use area and the Clearwater river tumbles 30 feet or so down a rock slope. There were several people picnicking at the picnic area at the falls and it did make a nice cool retreat from warm summer sun. I glance at my watch I saw it was already 10:30 so it was time to move on to the next falls.
The next fall on my list was Lemolo Falls. This falls is about 7 mile off of Hwy 138 on the Lemolo Lake Road. You turn left off the main road before you get to the resort on a gravel road. You’ll want a make or a good description of how to find this one as the signs are almost non-existent. I did find the ruminants of a sign someone had shot up and I could just make out the word Falls. I parked my car there and started walking down a narrow dirt road toward the river. About a half mile later I did come to a place that looked like people where using for a parking area then followed the dirt road on for a ways before it turned into a trail. From the beginning of the trail the moderate down-slope started dropping steeply for the river in a deep canyon. It was another mile or so from there and I must have dropped 800 – 1000 feet before I found the river. I began thinking, I sure hope this is worth it as this will be a long hike out of here. Once I got to the river I could see Lemolo Falls, and it was a very impressive 75-100 foot monsters gushing over another sheer basalt wall. With all the rain and the dam full this falls was really roaring! I couldn’t get very close at all as the mist was so heave in the canyon. As the sun was getting hight it was hard to get a decent photo with the sharp contrast and sun just above the top of the falls. After spending a few minutes shooting pictures it was time to head back up the steep trail and back to the car.
It was almost noon when I got to the car and my stomach reminded me that it had been a long time since I had that smoothie as I rushed out the door at 4:30 am. I decided to check out the Lemolo Resort and especially the restaurant if it was open. I was in luck as the restaurant was open and I was the only customer. The lodge was rather cute but the menu was pretty limited. I settled on a chicken sandwich and took a table in the sunshine on the deck. It’s serve yourself here so don’t expect anyone to show up with anything. The sandwich wasn’t too bad and the fries were hand cut and quite good. I must have been hungry as the sandwich and fries were gone in moments. I walked down to the dock for a look at the last and talked to one of the kids working for the resort that had been catch a lot of big German Browns. He said it was a good year for them and a lot of them were pretty big. He had a picture on his cell phone of one he caught last week that was over 21 inches.
By the time I had finished lunch the sun was high and I knew it wasn’t a good time for decent pictures so I headed back down to Toketee to see if I could find the Toketee hot springs. It had been about 30 years since I had last been there and heard that there was a bridge across the river out and you had to wade it. Well I wasn’t too sure I was up for that but I thought I’d at least see if I could find it. About 5 miles past Toketee falls and Toketee lake a unmarked gravel road when off to the right and it looked like it might go down to the river. Sure enough about a mile or two and many deep chuckholes later I came to a sign and parking area. After exploring around a bit I saw there was a decent log bridge across the river about 100 yards below the parking area. I crossed the river then followed a rather braided trail for about a quarter mile or so before I came to the site. This site has had some recent work and is really quite nice. The original pool was a hole blasted out of a huge rock about 100 feet above the river. There was a lean-to structure over it and it had a nice sun deck too. There were a series of newer pool carved out of the rock like stair steps down the rock. Wow this is cool! The water entering the highest pool is about 108 and drops a little in each pool below. Ahh…. What a nice way to spend a hour or so waiting for the sun to drop low enough to do photography. As this was a clothes optional site I refrained from taking any pictures. Here is a link that has more info on this site:
The Umpqua River Trail is a very nice trail that follows the river for about 80 miles. If you enjoy hiking this is on you’ll want to put on your list and I’m sure there is a least one section of it that will appeal to anyone at any level. Here is a link that gives a little more information just in case your interested: http://www.americantrails.org/nationalrecreationtrails/blm/Umpquah-OR.html
About 4:00 PM I drove back down the river to focus on falls in a section around Steamboat Creek. Steamboat Creek has been a popular place for both fishermen and swimmers for years. More recently it’s off limits to fishing as it is designated protected spawning waters. I had noticed a lot of people fishing in the Umpqua River so I assumed that the steelhead season was heating up. I thought maybe I could see a steelhead jump at one of the two falls.
Within a half mile of leaving Hwy 138 I came to the lower and smaller falls. This one is only about 8-12 feet and is’ right by the edge of the road. It’s a pretty location and I could see that swimmers much enjoy diving off the rocks into the deep channel. While I was there I saw a bald eagle pick up a large steelhead just above the falls. It was so big the eagle had a hard time gaining altitude and finally had to land on a rock about 100 yards up stream to deal with it.
About another 4 mile or so you come to a fork to the right that goes to Steamboat campground. It’s about a half mile up a basically one-lane road with very few turn-outs to the camp and the falls. This is a wide 20 to 30 foot drop that has a fish ladder on one side. This is also a popular place to dive off the high rock but it was too cool for it that day so I decided watch the falls for a few minutes to see if any fish were migrating. Much to my surprise I saw steelhead jumping about every 30 seconds or so and many of them large fish. Now getting a picture of one was a bit tricky but I finally did get a shot of a small one.
I was now about 6:00 pm so I knew I’d better be going if I was going to see many more falls today. I drove back towards Roseburg and decided to skip Fall Creek Falls so I could spend a little time at Susan Creek Falls. The pictures of Fall Creek Falls below were taken on a previous trip I had made a year ago. Don’t get me wrong that Fall Creek Falls is a very pretty two level falls and well worth the half-mile hike if you have the time.
Susan Creek Trail head is across the road from the Susan Creek Day use area. The campground is about a mile away and is one of the nicest campgrounds on the North Umpqua if you’re looking for a place to camp. From the trailhead there is a mile-long trail up to the falls with a very gentle slope. This trail is very handicapped accessible and is wide and well rocked so that a wheel chair could easily travel it. Trail it’s self is very pretty as it wind its way through the mixed forest.
Susan Creek Falls is a 30 to 40 foot cataract and has viewing areas on both sides of the creek. There is a picnic bench not far away to make this an ideal place to have a picnic on a hot day. The splash pool is very secluded as is separated by a gap in the rock. There are a lot of alder growing along the creek and their white bark makes a beautiful shady retreat. It was so dark in the deep valley along the creek now it was getting hard to get pictures.
At the bridge near the falls I noticed a sign that said Indian Mounds another 0.6miles. I decided to go take a look as it was getting so late I couldn’t make another falls that day. The trail climbed steeply and ended up on a knob a ways above the falls. Care should be used going up this one if you get poison oak. The mixed forest is carpeted with poison oak and there is a lot of it at the edge of the trail. I wondered what the Indian mounds where and when reaching the top a large sign explained that this was an ancient and historic vision quest site. The mounds were made by Indian youth on their first vision quest. An area is fenced off to protect it but all around the site are remnants of other mounds and some built recently by visitors. (See the picture of the sign)
By now it was about 7:30 and I was running out of light and out of time so I headed back for the car. Even though I had seen a lot that day there were still three more falls up Little River above Glide.
If you’re getting the bug for waterfalls by now you might check out a copy of the book Waterfall Lover’s Guide by Gregory Plumb. This book covers the Northwest and has a pretty nice collection of falls. Don’t expect a lot of pretty pictures and don’t expect the maps and descriptions to be exactly accurate but they are good enough for you to find most of the places if you try. Here is an Amazon.com link for it: http://www.amazon.com/Waterfall-Lovers-Guide-Pacific-Northwest/dp/0898869110/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277051271&sr=8-1
After a long day I was starving so headed for Roseburg to get a good meal before driving another hour home.
I do hope this adventure will pique your interest and next time you are driving up highway 138 stop off and see a few of these beautiful places or take a hike on the trail. Life is short, so enjoy all the beauty and wonder you can every chance you get.