Photo: Andrew R. Slaton/Tandemstock

Adventure Guide: Umpqua National Forest

Frolic among alpine wonderland in the crown of the Rocky Mountains.

Forged by volcanoes and shaped by glaciers, southern Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest offers some of the most otherworldly landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. Taking advantage of that dynamic and varied terrain, mountain bikers and hikers will find hundreds of miles of shady singletrack, while rafters and anglers can spend long afternoons on the forest’s meandering rivers. And when the first snowfall starts in late fall, the forest transforms into a winter wonderland with skiing and snowshoeing galore.

 

Visiting the Forest

Umpqua National Forest comprises four ranger districts, all of which can be accessed within a two-hour drive north from Medford, Ore. At most trailheads, you’ll have to pay a day-use fee unless you have an annual Northwest Forest Pass or another valid recreation pass. Most campgrounds are reservation-only during the summer months, so plan your trip several weeks in advance if possible. (Reservations can be made at recreation.gov.) 

 

Seasons

From fishing and rafting to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, Umpqua National Forest is a perfect destination for year-round adventure. 

Winter: Deep snow can render much of the forest accessible only to skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. Translation: If you have the right equipment, you’ll have the trails all to yourself. Diamond Lake Ranger District on the east side of the forest is home to many of the best snowshoeing trails, as well as the Three Lakes Sno-Park, which offers downhill skiing and snowboarding. 

Spring: Snow lingers through late spring, though temperatures begin to warm as the days lengthen. If you don’t have winter equipment, stick to the lowlands, where you’re more likely to find open campgrounds and easily accessible roads through May.

Summer: Warm weather, wildflowers, and snow-free trails make summers the most popular time to visit Umpqua National Forest. Fishing is plentiful on the many streams and rivers, rafting begins on the higher-volume rivers (notably on the North Umpqua), and camping returns—though the most favored sites around Diamond Lake tend to book up quickly. Ditch the crowds on busy weekends by opting for dispersed camping instead. (Call a ranger station for updated rules and regulations before you go.)  

Fall: Autumn brings crisp afternoons and cold nights to Umpqua National Forest. Early fall hits a sweet spot—the crowds have begun to disperse, but snow hasn’t yet obscured the trails. While many of the trees here are evergreen, you’ll be able to glimpse bursts of orange and red here and there, especially along the riverbanks (color tends to peak mid-October.) 

Photo: Dana Halferty/Tandemstock

Hiking

Over 500 miles of hiking trails crisscross Umpqua National Forest. Here are a few of the best day-length trips. 

Umpqua Hot Springs: Find travertine-ringed soaking pools that reach 108 degrees Fahrenheit on his popular half-mile out-and-back. The hike begins at the Umpqua Hot Springs trailhead, which is located in the Diamond Lake Ranger District near the middle of the national forest. 

Mount Thielsen: Snag views of the Cascades, Mount Shasta, and Diamond Lake from the tip of this jagged, 9,182-foot volcanic spire. The hike, which starts at the Mount Thielsen trailhead, is just over 9 miles out and back. (Word to the wise: The last 80-foot stretch is exposed, fourth- and low fifth-class scrambling. If you’re not an experienced climber, enjoy the view from the ledge at the base of the final headwall—and save the summit for another day.) 

Toketee Falls: This 0.4-mile trail leads into a secluded amphitheater where 80-foot Toketee Falls pours over a lip of columnar basalt. It’s one of about 16 waterfalls on the North Umpqua River, but Toketee’s setting and geology make it one of the most visually stunning. 

 

Camping

With over 40 developed campgrounds, Umpqua National Forest offers plenty of sites to choose from. Here are a few highlights. 

Pickett Butte Lookout: OK, so it’s not quite a campsite—but this 40-foot-tall, 1940s-era fire lookout tower is guaranteed to give you some of the best camp-coffee views anywhere in the Umpqua. Wake up to vistas of snow-capped mountains, rolling forest, and the entire expanse of the Jackson Creek Drainage—and then spend the day exploring those same landscapes on the surrounding trails. (The tower can be reserved online between Oct. 1 through July 15.)

Toketee Lake Campground: Located within walking distance of Toketee Falls (see above), this 32-site campground makes an ideal basecamp for summer adventure. The 272-foot Watson Falls is also close, as is the paddler-friendly Toketee Lake and the North Umpqua Trail, which is popular among mountain bikers. All sites must be reserved in advance online

Threehorn Campground: Only a 45-minute drive from Medford, this shady, high-elevation campground makes a quiet respite from the summer heat. There are only five sites and it’s first-come, first-served, so try to arrive early to snag a spot. 

 

Fishing

You’ll find 18 different species of fish in the national forest, including a legendary summer steelhead run on the North Fork of the Umpqua River, and rainbow trout in Diamond Lake. Smallmouth bass and Chinook Salmon also frequent the Umpqua. In the winter, you’ll also find a few good ice-fishing spots scattered throughout the park. 

For species, seasons, and access info for some of the best fishing spots in the southwest, check out the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website. (Also be sure to get a valid fishing license before you head out.)  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.