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  • Thundering waters

    Umpqua River waterfall loop is a treat at any time of year
  • A series of "thundering" waterfalls along the North Umpqua River exerts a powerful pull on enthusiasts visiting and residing in Southern Oregon.
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  • A series of "thundering" waterfalls along the North Umpqua River exerts a powerful pull on enthusiasts visiting and residing in Southern Oregon.
    Forming a loop through the Umpqua National Forest and Bureau of Land Management's Roseburg District, the system of hiking trails ranks third among Oregon's must-see cascades, says Bill Sullivan, author of "100 Hikes in Southern Oregon."
    Iconic Multnomah Falls is the main attraction in Oregon's premier waterfall region — the Columbia River Gorge — while the Willamette Valley's Silver Falls State Park boasts easy hiking to 10 waterfalls, including some that visitors can walk behind, says Sullivan.
    More rugged is the route to 24 Cascade Range waterfalls, detailed in the "Thundering Waters" guide, a cooperative project between the national forest and BLM (download a brochure for that trail at http://on.doi.gov/1grSWUA). Among them are falls that bubble from underground springs, a "vision quest" site sacred to Native Americans and an all-but-hidden hot springs, says Sullivan.
    "Don't expect to find it unless you know where it is," he says of Toketee Hot Springs.
    Also known as Umpqua Hot Springs, the soaking pool is accessed from forest roads 34 and 3401 off Highway 138, aka "waterfall highway." To pinpoint the spot, see a brochure of the 79-mile North Umpqua Trail produced by the national forest and BLM and available at http://on.doi.gov/1gAFASN.
    "People tear down all the signs because they don't want you there — swimsuits are rare," says Sullivan. "It's free and natural, and there's not a lot of people there."
    "Toketee" also is the name of the area's most celebrated falls, meaning "pretty" or "graceful" in the Chinook language. This is one of Oregon's most-photographed cascades, adorning countless calendars and postcards.
    "Toketee Falls has a huge amount of water," says Sullivan.
    The tiered falls drops an initial 40 feet into a shadowy pool before rolling 80 more feet over a sheer wall of volcanic basalt etched with columnar patterns created by the eruption of Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago. The .4-mile trail to Toketee, consisting of catwalks and bridges in a narrow chasm, is an attraction unto itself, says Sullivan. The route reopened a few years ago after a 2007 windstorm destroyed most of it, he adds.
    "It's not just a hike; it's kind of an engineering marvel."
    Hikers also can marvel at the appropriately named Surprise Falls, which "blasts out of the ground like a dozen fire hydrants," says Sullivan. Surprise's source is underground springs that also feed Columnar Falls, which has no stream above it or below, says Sullivan. Both falls are located near the hot springs.
    Touring these falls makes for a long day trip from the Rogue Valley (the minimum driving time is five to seven hours). But some overnight accommodations put guests right at the head of the North Umpqua Trail.
    "When they come hike the trail, it's not a busy, crowded place," says Bill Blodgett, owner of North Umpqua Outfitters and Oregon Ridge & River Excursions.
    Deadline Falls can be seen — along with salmon and steelhead attempting to leap it — directly across the river from Blodgett's guesthouse, studio apartments and yurt. In addition to viewing the falls, visitors typically raft the Umpqua, mountain-bike along its banks and fish for steelhead, he says.
    "A lot of our guests are coming through from Crater Lake," says Blodgett. "You could make a day and a half of just seeing waterfalls."
    About 15 miles from Deadline Falls on the trail's Tioga Segment is Susan Creek Falls with its "Indian mounds" that experts say were tied to native tribes' rites of passage. A vibrant landscape of old-growth Douglas firs is the setting for this 50-foot falls reached via the 0.8-mile trail off Highway 138.
    "If you come in the spring ... the waterfalls are bigger and more bountiful," says Blodgett.
    While Toketee's volume constitutes the area's most "spectacular" falls, says Sullivan, the highest waterfall in southwestern Oregon is 272-foot Watson Falls. Hikers on the easy, .4-mile trail can feel the cascade's spray over basalt formed from an ancient lava low. The entire plunge can be seen from the trail's lower end.
    "All the little trails are short and sweet," says Blodgett.
    Also reached in just brief hikes from main roads or campgrounds along the North Umpqua are the tiered Fall Creek Falls — just east along the highway from Susan Creek — and Whitehorse and Clearwater falls, both adjacent to campgrounds east along the highway from Watson Falls.
    Download the interactive "Thundering Waters" map at http://on.doi.gov/1hCf0em. For more information or to receive a map by mail, call the national forest's North Umpqua Ranger District at 541-496-3532.
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