'Dread and terror' hike
The trail along the North Umpqua River is one of the most picturesque in Southern Oregon.
The trail follows the river past several hot springs and a number of waterfalls. Tributary creeks add their load to the river, chattering across the lava rock as they rush toward the North Umpqua.
This trail is damp in any season, so you'll want shoes that are well waterproofed or a pair of sturdy river sandals that accept wet feet as part of the adventure. If you have rubber boots that are comfortable for extended walking, this might be the place to wear them, especially on a rainy day.
The going may be wet, but it's not steep. The trail gains barely 500 feet over five miles. There's a road connection at both ends, so you could make a shuttle hike if your group has two vehicles. It's low elevation (mostly below 3,000 feet), which means it's open and snow-free during all but the coldest winter storms.
This part of the trail is known as the "dread and terror" stretch, a moniker apparently coined by forest rangers in the early 1900s at the prospect of fighting any fire that might have broken along a ridge of thick ceanothus just south of the river.
You'll spend a few hours getting there, but not much more than a day trip to Crater Lake. The road trip begins by following Interstate 5 north to Roseburg and leaves the freeway at the exit for the North Umpqua Highway (Oregon 138). Proceed to the Toketee Lake turnoff (milepost 59) and follow Forest Road 34 two miles to Forest Road 3401. Turn left on this gravel road and go two miles to the parking lot for Umpqua Hot Springs.
The trail (number 1414) begins several hundred feet east of the parking lot for Umpqua Hot Springs, a worthy destination in its own right if you enjoy rustic bathing. Be warned that the small covered soaking area is well known and things can get crowded. Nude bathing is common, so be prepared to encounter bathers au naturel if you venture across the footbridge to the hot springs.
If you want to soak in solitude, plan a midweek visit, early or late in the day.
The trail follows the river on the opposite side of the stream from the hot springs, and within a quarter-mile it skirts a large, cold spring gushing out of the rock. A little farther upstream you'll find a formation some hikers have dubbed "Weeping Rock" for the water that trickles down a large block of columnar basalt — those hexagonal blocks of lava that can be found scattered across the volcanic Northwest.
A mile from the trailhead, the path crosses a tributary creek on a footbridge. Above the bridge the creek has formed a pool where the water seems to glow with a shade of blue rarely seen on little freshwater creeks.
Springs and small streams tumble out of the lava as far as you're willing to walk. If you go the full five miles, the trail drops down into a boggy area where skunk cabbage thrives. This is where you should look for the Thorn Prairie Connector Trail, which turns sharply to the right, while the main trail continues to follow the river.
The connector trail climbs about 250 feet to the trailhead, where there's a parking area and Forest Road 710, which will take you back to Forest Road 3401 and the west trailhead, near the hot springs.
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org