One could spend months traversing the mountain lakes, river gorges and lush forest trails of Oregon, and still not scratch the surface. Having never been to Oregon and with a layover in nearby Seattle, I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and take in as much evergreen as possible over a one-day road trip through the state. I spent the next 24 hours driving, hiking and swimming through Willamette National Forest and Umpqua National Forest. With gray skies and the temperatures of early spring still frigid, I chose to forego the coast in pursuit of two of my favorite things: waterfalls and hot springs.
Willamette National Forest
Deep within Willamette National Forest is a hot spring I had dreamt of visiting ever since dozens of photos made their way onto my Instagram feed. My excitement was quelled, however, when I arrived at a road blockade. Apparently, the road (and the hot spring), had been closed for the past several months due to landslides. In my hasty planning, I had forgotten to check. Luckily, I knew of a nearby hiking trail that ran along dozens of scenic waterfalls. I spent the morning hiking deep in the woods on the McKenzie River Trail, which stretches for 26 miles in its entirety. There are a multitude of natural gems within Willamette National Forest; including Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) and Clear Lake. These were sights saved for another trip, in my case. In order to make my final stop before sundown, I had to hit the road.
A 113 foot waterfall on the North Umpqua river left me with little doubt as to why it is one of Oregon’s most famous. Toketee Falls’ overlook is less than a one mile hike from the trailhead and offers a birds-eye view of the 2-tier natural beauty. Beyond the overlook, a makeshift trail of ropes draped over steep drops of dirt and rock lead me to the bottom of the falls. I found myself saturated by a cold mist as the water careened from above the moss covered-basalt cliffs and crashed violently into the pool at my feet. As I hiked out, I eagerly anticipated the relaxing serenity of my final stop of the day, which happened to be just up the road.
Umpqua Hot Springs
Umpqua Hot Springs is a fairytale collection of geothermal pools situated in the middle of the forest. The warm bluish-green waters spill over the rock face into the North Umpqua River below. Getting to this woodsy oasis was no easy task. During the summer months, the springs sit only a short stroll from the parking lot. In the off season, however, the road is blocked by snow and a 2 mile hike both in and out is required. I found this ideal as it meant the springs were free of other visitors during my time there.
With the help of an anchored rope, a climb down the slippery rock face led me to a little pool tucked away next to the river. I spent an hour soaking in the thermal waters and relishing the peaceful atmosphere until the sun began to set. With no ambient light, I quickly found myself in complete darkness as I rushed to climb back up the rocks. Luckily, I brought a headlamp to complete the 2 mile hike out in the dark.
Upon reaching my car I pushed through exhaustion and began the 7 hour drive back up to Seattle. I left Oregon with a handful of memories and a whole new checklist for another visit. My time spent in solitude at Umpqua Hot Springs was absolutely magical; while I would most likely forgo the springs to the crowds of summer, I would embrace the trek in the off season again without hesitation.