Every summer I get together with my old college roommate for our annual BFF camping trip. Since my friend lives in Klamath Falls and I live in Cottage Grove, we find a campground roughly halfway between us and plan to spend 24 hours hiking, swimming, talking, and laughing together. Over the years, we’ve camped at Davis Lake, Odell Lake, and Waldo Lake all along Highway 58. This year when my friend suggested we meet somewhere along Highway 138 – the North Umpqua Highway – I jumped at the chance. I’ve always wanted to explore the North Umpqua River, and I don’t know why it has never occurred to me to combine it with our annual camping trip.
The lower reaches of the North Umpqua are popular for rafting and fly fishing while the upper reaches are home to numerous, spectacular waterfalls. After looking at our camping options, we chose Toketee Lake Campground because it is located roughly half way between us, it is close to the two waterfalls that I really wanted to see, and it is a smaller, quieter campground.
We loved the campground and we loved the waterfalls. Both Toketee and Watson Falls were amazing and will get their own blog posts; however, by far, my favorite part of the area was our hike Tuesday morning along the North Umpqua Trail.
Completed in 1997, the North Umpqua Trail is a 79 mile path that follows the North Umpqua River. One thing that I like about the trail is that it has been organized into segments, which makes this long trail easier to plan and comprehend. The Forest Service hiking guide is organized by these segments and the signs along the trail correspond. Tuesday morning we drove northwest from the campground to the parking lot for the North Umpqua Hot Springs; then walked along the river exploring the “Dread & Terror” segment of the trail, viewing both Surprise and Columnar Falls.
Visiting the North Umpqua in late summer, I was worried that the river and the waterfalls would have such low water flows that they would not be enjoyable. I was wrong. The river was magnificent and this part of the trail, despite its alarming name, was in my friend’s words, “magical.” And I heartedly agree. Surprise Falls is indeed a surprise because it literally shoots out from the dry ground. Everywhere along this segment, water was dripping down rock walls, cascading over ledges, bursting out of the ground, or flowing down the trail. To go earlier in the summer must be an extremely wet experience.
Temperatures near the waterfalls dropped dramatically as the cool water flowed under and sprayed over the trail. I discovered after we returned that the North Umpqua gets its water from melting snow which is trapped within the volcanic soil. That means that the water flows stay higher in the summer than other rivers and the water stays a cool, even temperature.
Already my friend and I are making plans to return to the North Umpqua Trail. Both Toketee Lake Campground and the North Umpqua Trail are used less than other places we’ve been, the result – I believe – is that the people you meet are friendlier and more welcoming. We talked to the other campers at Toketee Lake Campground and chatted with the people we met along the trail (generally mountain bikers) in a way that isn’t common in more popular areas. It made the experience even more enriching.
It took me two hours to drive to Toketee Lake Campground, I could have made it sooner but I kept slowing down to look at the beautiful North Umpqua River as I drove. Luckily, at least on the days that I was there, traffic was extremely light, so my slowing was not a problem. Other sections of the river and trail are even closer to Cottage Grove. I encourage you to download the trail guide, pack the car, and head down I-5 to Roseburg. Follow signs to Diamond Lake and you’ll soon be alongside the beautiful North Umpqua River for your own Trail experience.