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North Umpqua River trail offers waterfall lovers a treat

If you're entertaining holiday visitors who like waterfalls, plan on a trip to the North Umpqua River, where your guests can see three fine cascades in a single day.

The longest walk to any of the three is just under 1 mile, and you can see them all in less than 3.5 miles. Big storms this week have raised stream levels dramatically, so all three — Watson Falls, Toketee Falls and Fall Creek Falls — should be in full tumult.

All three are near Highway 138, the North Umpqua Highway, which is the route from Roseburg to Crater Lake. Allow at least two hours to get from Medford to Roseburg and on up Highway 138 to reach the falls.

If you're into superlatives, or short on time, just go to Watson Falls, at 272 feet, the highest falls in Southern Oregon. Big, old-growth western hemlocks and Douglas firs stand guard along the trail. Between milepost 60 and 61 turn south on Fish Creek Road (Forest Road 37) and drive .2 miles to the trailhead, at the Watson Creek picnic area.

It's barely .2 miles to the base of the falls, which earned a five-star rating (the best) from Gregory Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest."

If you want natural beauty, choose nearby Toketee Falls, one of the most-photographed falls in Oregon. The river pours through a formation of columnar basalt in two steps — a relatively small upper falls that empties into a pool, and a lower falls of 80 to 90 feet that ends in a larger pool.

Toketee's graceful proportions have graced countless calendars and postcards, even though it rates "only" four stars in Plumb's guidebook. It's a .4-mile walk downstream along the North Umpqua to reach the viewpoint on a path lined with big Douglas fir and sugar pines (the ones with the huge cones and nearly purple bark).

To reach the trail, turn north on Forest Road 34 between milepost 58 and 59. It's about .4 miles to the marked turnoff and parking for the trail to the falls. There's a decked platform that provides a perfect angle to see the falls at their best.

If you want to go for the hat trick, start with Fall Creek Falls (three stars in Plumb's estimation) and work your way up. You can catch this two-tiered cascade on your way upriver to the other two.

The trail to Fall Creek is the longest of the three, but it's still just .9 miles one way — a perfect distance to stretch your legs after the ride upriver. The trailhead is near milepost 32 on Highway 138, on the north side of the road. The trail follows Fall Creek upstream through fine stands of Douglas fir and red cedar to where the creek drops nearly 100 feet.

On the way down the trail back to the highway, you can tell your guests the best is yet to come.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com

Tokatee Falls