The North Umpqua: waterfalls and wildflowers

In an earlier blog post (“The saga of the Bolt and the bolt“), I told about the blowout that brought an abrupt end to our waterfalls-and-wildflowers excursion on the North Umpqua River last week. This post is about the more pleasant parts of the trip that preceded the blowout.

The Bolt at the Mt Thielsen viewpoint near Diamond Lake

It started out well enough. Southern Oregon is blessed with something called the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway, made possible by the fact that two of the state’s most scenic rivers, the Rogue and the Umpqua, both head out near Diamond Lake, a large, lovely natural lake on the crest of the Cascade Mountains a short distance north of Crater Lake National Park. Beginning in the small town of Gold Hill on Interstate 5 north of Medford, the Byway uses existing highways – Oregon 234, Oregon 62, Oregon 230, and Oregon 138 – to climb the Rogue, circle Diamond Lake, and come down the Umpqua to Roseburg. The mountain scenery is spectacular around Diamond Lake, but that’s not the main draw: the main draw is waterfalls. Waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, from frothy rapids a few feet high to Watson Falls, the third-highest in the state at nearly 300 feet. Gems of white water set in dark evergreen forests and decorated with bright wildflowers. For waterfall lovers – and there are many of us – traveling the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway is somewhat akin to finding the Holy Grail.

Watson Falls

We can do the full Byway as a day trip from our home, but there is so much to see that we usually overnight on the North Umpqua, and this trip was planned that way. Near the tiny community of Dry Creek, roughly 2/3 of the way from Roseburg to Diamond Lake, there is an RV park and a set of rustic cabins that together go by the name Umpqua’s Last Resort. We planned to go up the Rogue, come down the Umpqua as far as the Last Resort, and spend the night in one of their cabins. A major draw for us, driving the Bolt, was NEMA 14-50 plugs in some of the RV slots. I emailed the management and was assured that, although none of the cabins had plugs associated with them, they would let us use an RV slot to charge the car. Charging would be free with our stay. There was one quirk: we couldn’t actually rent a cabin. All of them were already reserved. They did, however, have a large travel trailer permanently set up on one of the sites, and we could rent that for the price of a cabin. So all was set.

The first day went well. We got a leisurely start, had an early lunch at Beckie’s in Union Creek, and were at the uppermost falls on Highway 138, Clearwater Falls, before 1 pm. (We had elected not to stop at any of the wateralls along the Rogue, because we’ve been visiting them all spring.) And at this point, I’m going to let the pictures take over.

Whitehorse Falls
Columnar Falls
Tokatee Falls, probably the most famous of the Umpqua waterfalls)
Clockwise from upper left: violet (shot at Whitehorse Falls); calypso orchid (Watson Falls); Pacific starflower (Tokatee Falls); and twisted stalk (Columnar Falls).
charging, with chair

The highlight was Columnar Falls. It’s only fifteen feet or so high, and carries a modest amount of water, but the interplay of water, moss, and basalt columns is magical. The trail to it uses the same parking lot as Umpqua Hot Springs, so the parking lot was full, but we had the falls to ourselves.

The evening at Umpqua’s Last Resort was pleasant. The staff was welcoming, and interested in the Bolt – it was the first non-Tesla EV that had stayed with them. We had to borrow a lawn chair from our rented RV to hold our Juicebox off the ground, but there were no other problems, and the car got a full charge overnight. Late light on the river was lovely. The next morning we backtracked to Tokatee Falls and then….but read the earlier post. I’m going to just leave this right here.

The North Umpqua River in late afternoon light

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