Clearwater Falls, Oregon

Clearwater River, July 2014

One of the best places to see waterfalls in the United States is relatively unknown, and a little off the beaten track. However, if you are willing to explore a bit, and have the flexibility to spend at least a day adventuring about without a set schedule, you will be amazed by what you will see; and by what you can discover. The location is the North Umpqua River, located in South-central Oregon. The North Umpqua is a tributary of the Umpqua River, and it flows 110 miles from its source in the Mount Thielsen Wilderness to the Pacific Ocean. One hundred and ten miles of river is a lot of terrain to cover - more than one person can reasonably expect to see in a day, but the region of the river I'm talking about is a much smaller area, which is the area along Highway 138 from Idleyd Park to Diamond Lake. This area is part of the Umpqua National Forest, and is known for its emerald green waters and great fishing. The Forest Service, which manages the area, calls it the area of "Thundering Waters", as there are over seventeen waterfalls that can be visited in the region. (Check out this map here). Although there is not a bad waterfall in the group, my favorite is Clearwater Falls. 

Directions: Clearwater Falls is closest to Diamond Lake off of Highway 138. The Falls are located to the South on a Forest Service access road at mile-marker 69.5 along Highway 138. The Falls are clearly marked on both the East and West directions of Highway 138. From the parking area, it is a quarter-mile (.25) walk to the top of the falls, on a developed trail. The trail starts alongside the Clearwater River, and meanders up to the base of the falls, before ascending the remainder of the way to the top of the falls. Although this is a hike that contains minimal elevation gain, and a relatively short distance, it is one of my favorite hikes in the region because it provides great opportunities for exploration. Among the many things present to explore are a crossing at the Clearwater River near the parking area that allows access to both sides of the river; and a large pool at the top of the falls that partially feeds the falls itself. Best of all, this is an area that is usually free of visitors, and one that provides a great amount of solitude.  


Tips/Facts. As part of the Cascade Range, Clearwater Falls, and the area around it has a great deal of volcanic rock. Like Burney Falls in California, much of this rock has eroded over time to store giant underground aquifers, which help feed the waterfall. Like Burney, Clearwater Falls has an impressive rate of flow. Unlike Burney, however, visitors can enter the water above the falls - which I did - only to find that this water (and the water from the Clearwater River) is extraordinarily cold (slightly above freezing). But, if it is a hot day, or if your feet are tired, the pool above the falls is a great spot for a restorative dip.