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Viewing the Grand Canyon of the Klamath

Photo by Lee Juillerat Hikers enjoy views from an overlook above the Klamath River Canyon.
Photo by Lee Juillerat The sweeping view from Grizzly Butte offers a different perspective on the Grand Canyon of the Klamath.

Hans Kuhr calls it the “Grand Canyon of the Klamath River Hike.”

Much of the hike to the canyon overlooks was, well, pedestrian. But the views from multiple overlooks peering down into the Klamath River Canyon were worth the effort.

Getting to the overlooks required a hike of about 2.5 miles, mostly on a sparsely traveled dirt road to a series of perches that look down-down-down to the Klamath River. From those the perches the river appeared as a narrow blue thread gently weaving its way through the depths of the Klamath River Canyon not far north of the Oregon-California border.

The Klamath is a long river, one that begins its 263-mile journey from Upper Klamath Lake and the Link River in Klamath Falls before emptying into the Pacific Ocean near the California town of Klamath.

Now is the time to see the river in its fall glory, when trees along the canyon rim are golden and vibrant.

There’s not much time remaining when the views can be easily accessed. It’s currently possible to drive to a parking area and then take the easy hike to the viewpoints. But that will become far more challenging later this month when gates off Highway 66 are closed by Green Diamond Resource Company, which owns portions of the land between the highway and canyon viewpoints. According to the company’s website, the annual road closure will begin Nov. 20 and extend until March 31 “to protect wildlife and other resources.”

From Ashland, take Highway 66 to milepost 39 and turn right onto Ward Road, then follow the mostly well-maintained gravel road for 7.5 miles to an open area with a large field with room for parking. High-clearance vehicles are recommended.

We parked and began hiking because the road, which enters Bureau of Land Management lands, including a fenced-off area that provides habitat for white-tailed deer, becomes steep and rocky. We saw no deer on the walk to the viewpoints but found many signs of elk, their tracks easily visible in the semi-damp, sometimes muddy road.

The hike itself is pleasant but offers no clues of what’s to come. After about 2.25 miles, we angled sharply left, then traipsed another quarter-mile to a place where the gentle terrain suddenly and abruptly gives way, exposing the steep-sided canyon several hundred feet below.

Golden leafed trees provided a contrast to trees along the river, many showing off orange-tinged leaves mingled with stands of green pines. The river itself played peek-a-boo, disappearing from sight as its curled through the canyon.

There’s no single “best” viewing spot, so we wandered along the rim for different vantages.

After a lazy lunch, we followed the road back toward the parking area. But with still a mile to go, we forked off Ward Road and traveled a faint trail east, climbing about 400 feet to Grizzly Butte, which offered more views and slightly different perspectives of the winding river.

From any perspective, the Klamath River and canyon are impressive. The Klamath is an unusual river, one that begins in Southern Oregon’s Cascades, fed by the Williamson and Wood rivers that empty into Upper Klamath Lake, where it eventually flows into and through the Link River and Lake Ewauna before officially becoming the Klamath River. As it continues toward the ocean, the Klamath carves its way through wetter, more temperate terrain, an area marked by rugged mountains, canyons and forests.

The Grand Canyon of the Klamath overlooks offer sights of only a segment of the river. But, just as Hans promised, those views are Grand.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.