Oregon—The North Umpqua River

Oregon, The North Umpqua River

Oregon is fortunate to have many clear-flowing streams and rivers that are reputably loaded with trout, steelhead and salmon. The North Umpqua River is one of the more famous, and has an established reputation in Oregon fishing books.  It was time to get down to some serious business.  We departed the comfort of the Rogue Valley, and set our sights on this new destination. We were both hoping that the river wouldn’t leave Chris disappointed.

ImageAfter heading north out of Medford, a couple hours of driving on I-5 took us to the town of Roseburg where we turned to the east and headed toward the western edge of the Cascade Mountain Range.  Another All-American Scenic Byway would soon be paralleling the North Umpqua River and taking us into a steep-walled gorge.  From the very start it looked scenic. This was another look for Oregon, and one that we were anxious to experience. 

Rising in the wilderness of the high western Cascades, the North Umpqua waters are fed by the snowfields of surrounding mountains.  Its course is swift as it tumbles for some 50 miles through deep chasms of basalt pillars, past hillsides densely clad with stands of tall fir, cedar, and hemlock.  This is a typical western Cascades landscape, where bigleaf maple and alder trees are interspersed with the conifers.  It is lushly green.

ImageComing here for the fishery was just one motivation.  When water flows down from the high country, one can usually count on finding waterfalls.  This area made an ideal location for both of us.  Melinda had her activity while Chris tried his hand with the rod. The late afternoon of our arrival, once camp had been set up, we both decided to take a hike to one of the more noteworthy falls of the area.

 We encountered an unexpected sight as we pulled into the trailhead parking areImagea.  A huge pipeline was snaking through the forest, of a size the likes we had never seen.  Moreover, it was constructed all of wood.  An informational board told all about its origin.

Built in 1949 as part of a hydroelectric project, the 12-foot diameter, redwood-stave flowline comes out of a reservoir dam and runs for 1,500 feet to where it transitions to concrete and enters a tunnel.  The water powers three generator turbines that have a capacity of 45 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power about 22,000 homes.  The pipeline is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. We could easily see why.  But it did have a few leaks, and water was spouting out. Image

ImageThen it was on to the waterfall.  Toketee Falls is renowned in Oregon.  A graceful columnar basalt formation frames the two-tiered falls that is a total of 113-feet in height.  After a short hike that involved a series of ups-and-downs in elevation, Chris found a bench while Melinda got busy.  It was a worthy subject, but there was only one angle to shoot from.

 After breakfast the following morning, we both got down to serious work.  Chris wasn’t too sure how to handle the fishing situation, and began by looking things over down at water level.  Fortunately, the river flowed right past our campground, so he had quick and easy access.  The photos can’t truly depict the water’s true color.  Flowing clear and reflecting the verdant green of the surrounding forest, it is a deep, emerald color, enhanced by riffles created by the jumble of moss-covered boulders.  Fishing these waters would be a pleasure.  Melinda dropped Chris off at what appeared to be a promising spot, and then took off for another waterfall destination. Image

She had to earn her way to this one; a short, 1-mile trail led up several hundred feet in elevation to the waterfall’s base.  It turned out to be a wonderful hike that weeded out the day strollers.  She had the place to herself until nearly done with shooting.  What the Fall Creek Falls lacked in flow, it made up for in a pleasant, colorful rocky setting.

 ImageAfter a full morning and early afternoon of fruitless fishing (was it the wrong type/size of fly?) and a sustaining, excellent lunch, we explored the nearby area.  As luck would have it, Melinda made a few wildflower sightings, and decided the opportunity was too convenient to pass up.  She took her shots while Chris enjoyed one of his favorite pastimes.  The sunny, cool day was perfect for just about any activity.  It was a joy just to be out-of-doors (sunshine being the operative word).



 Before the day ended, we found a good trail to hike.  Coincidentally, it had another waterfall along the route.  The path was easy and well laid out, and it had the added benefit of providing rhododendrons in the understory.  Known to be growing in many of Oregon’s dense forest settings, we were just a little late for the blooming season.  But now, being higher in elevation, we had obviously caught the tail-end of this year’s crop.  It was another benefit for taking this trail, and added more of a delay to our progress.


 ImageSusan Creek Falls was found in a pleasant little grotto where pine needles cushioned the trail and provided a sweet scent to the air.  A quiet, peaceful spot, it was easy to see why many people seem to gravitate to waterfalls.  Again, here in the early evening we had this place all to ourselves.

 Cloudy skies moved in overnight, but that was okay.  Fish might bite better and waterfalls are much easier to photograph.  After another try at it, Chris was ready to give up and go for another activity.  We decided to drive upstream and higher in elevation to find the lake that reflects two noteworthy and tall mountains.


Coincidentally, there were more waterfalls along our route.  We hiked to one on our way in, and caught the other one on the way back.  Watson Falls, the second highest waterfall in Oregon, makes a stunning vertical plunge, and then cascades down a rocky gorge. The sheer cliff face of basalt rock is softened by green foliage and mosses.  Melinda took her time with this one.

Diamond Lake was where we ended our afternoon.  Despite the overcast skies, it wasn’t preventing some fishermen from taking their boats out on the water.  One guy just coming in had a cooler full of the largest Rainbows Chris had ever seen in person.  Oh well, he heard the fishing wasn’t really that good along the shoreline.  But he did spend some pensive moments there . . . taking in the view of Mt. Bailey or thinking of what might have been?


 Whitehorse Falls was the antithesis of Watson.  Short as waterfalls go, the water tumbles down into a jade-colored pool encircled with majestic firs and hemlocks.  Another hidden oasis of the North Umpqua, Melinda had it all to herself.  Oftentimes, the prize of photographing waterfalls isn’t necessarily the subject matter, but rather the place you find yourself in.


 The forecast for the coming days, the days we were to spend at Crater Lake, are ominous.  Three consecutive days of rain and below-average temps are predicted with up to a 100% certainty.  While having cell coverage at Diamond Lake, we were able to move our campsite reservations forward three days, when the forecast does a complete 180, predicting sunshine and hot temperatures.  Breathing great sighs of relief, we’ll head up to the town of Bend and camp in the superior comfort of full hookups.  We wanted to check out the town anyway, but the time hadn’t really been factored into our itinerary.  Maybe things can work out for the best.

Leaving the rhododendron-draped forest for a more civilized, but less scenic location . . .


Airstream Travelers,     Chris and Melinda



About AirstreamTravelers

A 2016 Pendleton Airstream suits our lifestyle perfectly. It's a commemorative edition celebrating the 100th anniversary of our national parks. In our efforts to see as many of those parks as we can, the two of us are now spending several months each year on the road. We hope our posts and accompanying photos give a vivid description of where we travel, illustrating to our followers what's out there, just over the next horizon.
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