Exploring the Umpqua National Forest Waterfalls in Oregon


Just arriving to our free boondocking spot in the Umpqua National Forest was a journey worth remembering. We overshot our free camping spot near a small lagoon. Well, really the pin wasn’t in the right place – Google Maps Fail!

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Our boondocking spot in the forest

We drove past the lake and deep into the forest, down a narrow dirt road that kept getting narrower and narrower. Our instincts told us we were in the wrong place, confirmed by our friend’s “Oh shoot you’ve gone too far message.”

Oh shoot alright, there was no space for turning around. It was either a very long and slow one mile reverse back out, or find some way to turn around.

We found a semi-wider space and had no other option but to reverse her into the forest in a 25 point turn to get back out, ripping out part of our 37 ft. travel trailer siding on the way out!!

Hey, as long as it’s a story to tell in the end its okay.

You can see it in this video.

The Umpqua National Forest is located on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains in southwest Oregon. It’s just over an hour east of Eugene, nearly three hours south east of Portland, and under two hours south west of Bend.

The 66 mile Umpqua River Scenic Byway cuts through it, following the Umpqua River and the beautiful forest of the Coast Range. 

This corridor has seventeen waterfalls you can explore on short hikes, some sections of the river can even be enjoyed on an adventurous whitewater rafting trip.

We had come here just for a few days on our way to Bend to enjoy some hot springs, waterfalls and a day trip to nearby Crater Lake National Park.

Umpqua National Forest

The word Umpqua loosely translates to either “Thundering waters” or “across the waters,” but another translation for this surviving word of the Umpqua language is “satisfied” referring to a full stomach.

This beautifully diverse, region of Oregon was created thousands of years ago by powerful, geologic activity.

You’ll find tumbling waterfalls, lush forest vegetation, rushing rapids and alpine lakes. This is the place to come for outdoor adventure and natural respite.

Most activities are found off Route 138 in the Umpqua National Forest.

boondocking Umpqua national forest
Serene boondocking spot

There are plenty of campsites and boondocking places. Check Campendium for tips. I can’t remember how to get to ours but I know we were on a small lake and you could get slight views of Twin Lakes down in the valley.

Waterfall chasers will love knowing there are many waterfalls to discover in this region, many on short accessible trails AND you may even get the waterfall all to yourself. We did on a couple of the waterfall trails. I wish we stayed longer to explore more.

Watson Falls Trail

I really enjoyed this easy one mile hike to the viewing area of the 293 foot Watson Falls. It is the third tallest waterfall in the state and thunders over a craggy cliffside surrounded by a lush forest of Douglas-firs and moss covered boulders at its base.

The path is has a steep incline in one section but is very manageable. It can get slippery in the area that catches its spray.

Toketee Falls Trail

Tokatee Falls, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon
The stunning Tokatee Falls

Toketee Falls had a lush, tropical beauty that reminded me of Hawaii. It’s one of the best waterfalls I saw in Oregon (including Multnomah Falls.

It’s an easy 0.6 mile trail to the lookout point to see this two-tiered waterfall thundering into the pools below. The upper falls descent drops 40 feet, and the lower falls plunges 80 feet over a sheer wall of basalt. 

The trail passes through an old-growth stand of Douglas-fir, Western red cedar, big leaf maple, and Pacific yew. he North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River is visible at several points, cascading through a narrow rock gorge.  

People were climbing down to the pools below, but a sign clearly says to Stay on the path. Remember to respect signage and take care of our forests. The viewpoint is a perfectly wondrous place to see the falls and capture a photo.

Toketee Falls were featured in our Best Waterfalls in the US list.

Umpqua Natural Hot Springs

Umpqua Hot Springs overlooking the Umpqua Wild and Scenic River
Umpqua Hot Springs overlooking the Umpqua Wild and Scenic River

So this was a beautiful series of terraced geothermal hot springs in the Umpqua National Forest. You reach them on hte short, steepUmpqua Hot Springs Trail trail (very doable. Someone was carrying a bike up there when we were coming down.) It can be slippery so be careful.

Water seeps through an active fault, resulting in temperatures of 100 to 115 degrees. From the tub, there is a view of Surprise Falls across the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River.

I was up and down about my feelings for this hot spring. If we came when it was quieter I think I would have fallen in love as the scenery is just spectacular.

But it was very busy so our best hot spring option was on the bottom layer which was verging on what I’d call cool. Paired with a cold day, it wasn’t ideal.

The springs at the top of the terrace were the hot ones and were much bigger.

The terraced Umpqua Hot Springs
The terraced Umpqua Hot Springs

Oregon is a very raw and unfiltered state, so families be warned, many people will be nude at these hot springs.

I don’t have a problem with this at all. Savannah thought it was hilarious and Kalyra was put off and begged me not to strip off. No chance honey!

Most people were very modest and decent about it.

The only off-putting thing was that as soon as we arrived to the hot springs, our very first image as a little jarring. A man standing only knee deep in the water fully nude on display and sweet talking the girl next to him. Most other people at the springs were body immersed.

Definitely not a prude here, but it was a ust a jarring first image I can’t erase!! You need a little warming up to it, right?

Maybe sneak slowly up to scout it out first.

Worth a visit though and go early for a better chance at serenity to yourself!!

Car and RV Rental

You will need a vehicle to explore this region. You could do a road trip loop

Rentalscar.com is who we trust to find the best car rental deals. Find availability in Eugene or Portland.

RVshare is the first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace. They can accommodate any kind of outdoor adventure for your Pacific Northwest road trip.

Whether a weekend camping trip or longer tour of multiple states, they have a range of rentals from affordable travel trailers to luxury motorhomes.

See availability here.

Other Great Oregon Travel Tips

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