Natural Splendors in Oregon: Rogue–Umpqua Scenic Byway | Reader's Digest

Natural Splendors in Oregon: Rogue–Umpqua Scenic Byway

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

5. Toketee Falls
Thousands of years ago, a massive volcano called Mt. Mazama rained a thick layer of fiery debris across much of this region. Many centuries of erosion, however, have worked their magic, washing away and reforming the volcanic deposits. Several of these rock formations are likely to catch your eye on the way to Toketee Falls.

Large outcrops of porous, sand-colored pumice shine at intervals on the riverbanks, and Eagle Rock, composed of tightly packed pillars of basalt, stands just past Eagle Rock Campground. Also visible from the road are Old Man and Old Woman rocks—two stony peaks that rise above the surroundings.

Farther on, follow Rte. 34, a forest road that leads to the parking lot at the start of the Toketee Falls Trail. Tracing the North Umpqua River through a narrow chasm, the hike ends at an observation platform. The view overlooks the two-tiered waterfall. The first cascade plummets 40 feet into a pool, and the second makes an 80-foot drop to the North Umpqua River Canyon below.

Farther east, the Toketee Reservoir makes an ideal camping spot, with some waterside sites. For those who fish, the catch might include brook, rainbow, and brown trout—tempting campfire fare.

6. Watson Falls

Not far from the highway, Watson Falls plunges 272 feet, making it one of the tallest waterfalls in Oregon. A half-mile trail leads to the thunderous marvel. Still more cascades, Clearwater and Whitehorse falls, lie to the east.

7. Lemolo Lake
Rte. 2610, a side trip to the north, traverses the forest to Lemolo Lake, a picturesque locale with deep coves and sandy beaches. Located some 4,000 feet above sea level, the lake is usually chilly, but water-skiers are undeterred, chancing a frigid dip in its waters for an exhilarating ride behind a speeding boat. Those unwilling to brave getting wet might try fishing; landlocked kokanee salmon and German brown trout are among the potential prizes for anglers. In winter the area becomes a sports haven for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers, who follow trails through the snowy pines.

8. Diamond Lake
After swinging to the south, Rte. 138 passes fragrant fields of summer wildflowers on the way to Diamond Lake. Filling part of a glacial basin, the watery jewel is flanked by mountains. To the west is 8,363-foot Mt. Bailey, its icy face sometimes shimmering in the morning sun. Mt. Thielsen—a steep, narrow peak cresting nearly a thousand feet higher in the east—has earned the nickname Lightning Rod of the Cascades.

9. Hamaker Campground
South of Diamond Lake, the drive forks west onto Rte. 230, descending past now-hardened lava flows and a forest of lodgepole pines. The byway then meets the Wild and Scenic Upper Rogue River, which carves a 200-mile course on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Two excellent trails let visitors explore the waterway. The Upper Rogue River National Recreation Trail, easily accessed from Hamaker Campground, shadows the river for 48 miles, passing old-growth Douglas firs, some 500 years old and 200 feet tall. Leading from Rte. 6560 to the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, the Hummingbird Meadow Trail guides hikers across aromatic fields of wildflowers—and may offer a glimpse of a hummingbird sipping nectar.