Splashy waterfalls liven the Union Creek Falls Trail
It was almost too easy.
As promised, it was only about a third of a mile from the parking area/trailhead to bubbling Union Creek, where immediately we heard and saw a series of delightfully splashy waterfalls.
Depending on the starting point, where the trail meets the creek it’s either the start or finish/turnaround point for the Union Creek Falls Trail.
We could have reached Union Creek Falls, actually a series of tumbling cascades, by a longer 4-plus-mile hike that’s known, and criticized, for its lack of trail maintenance. Because of obstacles, hikers beginning near the Highway 62 community of Union Creek often have to climb over and find routes around fallen trees and other debris. Instead, friends and I opted for the shorter route, one that’s so easy that people who don’t like to hike love it.
Once along the creek there aren’t any spectacular “Golly-Wow!” breathtaking moments, because the falls don’t plunge down dramatic heights — the tallest, Union Creek Falls, drops about 10 feet. But what the series of falls lacks in height it makes up with variety as the water variously curls, wriggles and carves its way along the creek through narrow clefts in the basalt rock. Even in early fall Union Creek whistles with water, weaving and slicing along and through gorgeous mini-gorges.
The trail to the falls from its east side trailhead is short and sweet. It’s reached from the Rogue Valley by driving east on Highway 62 to Union Creek. To reach the shorter trail, drive north past Union Creek for about 3-1/2 miles toward Crater Lake. Turn right on Forest Road 600 and after about a quarter-mile turn left on Forest Road 610 for the jaunt to the falls’ upper trailhead. From there it’s an easy downhill walk to the creek. For the longer hike, before the bridge in Union Creek, park at a pullout near the trailhead sign.
Once at the creek, explore upstream to view more sections of the lively, frothy creek and more pools of swirling rapids. The actual trail goes west toward Union Creek and the Union Creek Resort and Beckie’s Café. Along the way, the trail sidles alongside the creek, offering several openings in the old-growth forest where it’s possible, and recommended, to see new perspectives of the creek’s splashy sights.
According to “A Guide to Trails on the High Cascades Ranger District,” the creek’s channel is ever-changing because of diversions created by logjams, some from timber cutting, beaver dams, windthrow and the undercutting of tree roots by the flowing water.
The trail also passes alongside massively large and broad Douglas fir — see how many people it takes to form a human chain around the larger giants.
Less conspicuous are flat-needled yews, trees that are revered by some because their bark provides taxol, a known anti-cancer drug, and feared because the bush is extremely poisonous to humans and animals. The wood of yews, known for its elasticity, was also used by Indians and medieval warriors for making bows.
Farther west, the Union Creek Trail reaches a junction with the Old-Growth Trail, which is mostly used in winter by cross-country skiers as part of a 5-mile loop from Union Creek Resort.
For people wanting more hiking, several other hikes begin near the community of Union Creek, including a personal favorite, National Creek Falls, which begins nine miles north of Union Creek off Highway 230 and is less than a mile round-trip. About 16 miles south are Mill Creek Falls and Barr Creek Falls. From Union Creek, an easy 2-1/2-mile loop trail leads to the Natural Bridge, while another 2-1/4-mile loop hike goes to Union Creek and the Rogue River Gorge.
For information on various day hikes near Union Creek, see the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/rogue-siskiyou, then click on recreation, then hiking, then day hiking and scroll down to the High Cascades Ranger District.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.