North Fork Umpqua River in Oregon

 

 
Stretch: Soda Springs reservoir to Susan Creek or Cable Crossing
Difficulty: class II-III with some class IV-
Distance: 25 to 32 miles, 2 to 4 days
Flows: kayaks 500 - 4000 cfs, raft minimum 800 cfs
Gauge: measured near put-in at Copeland Creek (USGS site)
Gradient: 30 fpm average; more on upper runs, less on lower runs
Put-in: boat ramp at Boulder Flat campground, 1620'
Take-out: river access below Susan Creek campground, 880'
Shuttle: total 23.2 miles (30 minutes at most) one-way
Maps: USFS Umpqua, AAA Oregon, Topo
Season: runnable most of the time, from springs and snowmelt
Agency: USFS (Umpqua NF) and BLM
Notes: © 2019 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

As a scenic class III river, the North Fork Umpqua is almost as wonderful as sought-after permitted rivers such as the Rogue, Selway, or Middle Fork Salmon. Oregon highway 138 follows the river, and USFS campgrounds substitute for wilderness camping, but rapids are frequent and enjoyable, scenic rock and forests line the river, and water is clear green or turquoise. Considering river quality, crowding is minimal, perhaps due to isolation between California and the Willamette Valley.

Reservations can be made at various USFS campgrounds. Susan Creek campground has showers and is suitable for motorized camping vehicles. Canton Creek campground, Horseshoe Bend, and especially Tokatee Lake campground are distant from traffic noise on highway 138. Anti-mosquito technology is recommended at all campsites. Accommodations are available at Steamboat Inn and Umpqua's Last Resort.

You can hike in the morning and run four sections at a leisurely pace, or start your hikes early and run two sections per day on successive days. Sections are divided according to the USFS-BLM map available at kiosks:

  1. Boulder Flat to Horseshoe Bend
  2. Horseshoe Bend to Gravel Bin
  3. Gravel Bin to Bogus Creek access
  4. Bogus Creek to Susan Creek access

All sections are primarily class II-III although Pinball is rated IV, and Bathtub might require portaging at low flow. The fifth section below Susan Creek contains lots of flat water.

Photos were taken with the Copeland gauge around 1600 cfs. Distances are in cumulative miles for each of the four sections, and (in parentheses) miles above the South Fork Umpqua confluence.

–1 (69)
Rafts can put in at the power plant, if you don't mind lowering your boat and climbing down rip-rap. An easier put-in for kayaks lies shortly downstream along a dirt road, below the first rapid at an old stick gauge. Rapids below the stick gauge are no more difficult than those downstream.
Cool mornings
provide an opportunity for
at least five waterfall side hikes.
N Fork Umpqua OR
N Fork Umpqua OR
Nearby side hike to Tokatee Falls  Significant rapid below the dam
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Power plant and first rapid  Busy whitewater above Old Man Rock
0 (68)
Boulder Flat boat ramp is upstream of the campground. It's a pleasant put-in with sun and shade from trees, a large temporary parking area, changing rooms, and a vault toilet near long-term parking spots.
.1 (67.9)
Boulder Hole. A long rapid culminating in a steep chute on the right with a rock below, and a sudden drop-off on the left. Snag Rock follows on the kiosk map, but it's unclear whether this is an island with possibly downed tree, a big rock in the middle, a river-wide boulder slalom at .4, or a big rock on the right at .7 mile.
.8 (67.2)
Gauging station, which reports “at” Copeland Creek, although the creek is actually .6 mile downstream on the left.
1.2 (66.8)
The Wall. Most of the current piles into the right wall, making a difficult ferry if you start right of the island above.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Umpqua's iconic Eagle Rocks  Eagle Rocks from downstream
3 (66)
Eagle Rock campground on the left, with a view of Eagle Rock from downstream.
3.5 (65.5)
Weepers, possibly a big wave right of an island, or more likely, a rocky rapid starting just before the highway bridge.
3.6 (65.4)
Highway crosses from left bank to right bank. Scarring from the 2017 Umpqua fire is evident on the left bank. The road remains close to river level for almost 3 miles, until it climbs to Umpqua's Last Resort and nearby convenience store.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Panther Leap portends Weir series  Cardiac Arrest weir after right bend
4.7 (63.3)
Lunch Counter, starting in a right bend, ending with a river-wide ledge and a sharp right turn, with boulders everywhere.
5.6 (62.4)
Dog Wave. The river narrows down and creates a large wave and hole, usually avoidable to either side.
5.8 (62.2)
Cardiac Arrest, starting at an island. Most current goes left into one of the smaller ledges, but kayaks can go right of the island. After .1 mile you encounter a larger ledge, most easily run far right.
6.2 (61.8)
Weird Weir, true to its name, also run most easily on far right. A smaller ledge follows.
6.3, 0 (61.7)
Horseshoe Bend river access, with parking area shortly downstream of the bridge to Calf Creek. This is the most popular stretch for commercial rafting.
1 (60.7)
First sandy beach of Horseshoe Bend campground, above a set of islands. Another landing area with rock then sand is downstream another .2 mile, below the islands.
1.6 (60.1)
After the river approaches the road and turns northwest, you encounter five rapids in quick succession: Toilet Bowl and Frogger 1, 2, 3, and 4. The river turns due west during a short respite, and you encounter two more rapids.
2.5 (59.2)
Rollout, with a large pour-over in the center at the end. Four or five lesser rapids ensue.
3.1 (58.6)
African Queen, AKA Eiffel Tower. Weirdly named rapid against the right cliff with a big eddy below on the right. Two lesser rapids ensue.
3.3 (58.4)
A big steep rapid, apparently unnamed, not listed on the USFS-BLM map. After this point, the gradient eases.
3.9 (57.8)
Apple Creek campground on right bank, with difficult river access. Bridge to road up Panther Creek, which enters upstream of the bridge.
4.5 (57.2)
Beginning of Pinball rapid. On the right side, a series of waves culminates in The Alligator, which tends to flip kayaks, and is best avoided to prevent swims. The next obstacle is a maze of big rocks, which at typical water levels is entered some distance to the right of a big rock on far left. It's similar to Hell's Kitchen on the Tuolumne, with more room to maneuver.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Unobtrusive entrance to Pinball  Start left, stay left, then center
The remainder of Pinball is easier. You could run it almost anywhere. After a respite, discrete rapids occur for almost half a mile, similar to the distant one shown below.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Upper section of Pinball  Lower section of Pinball, resting
4.7 (57)
Shortly after Pinball the USFS-BLM map lists Headknocker Moe and Headknocker Curly. Larry was too smart to have his head knocked. Honestly we could not tell which was which. All seem straightforward. Five rapids come in quick succession, then one separated by pools, then a long one, and finally a river-wide ledge. Afterwards gradient eases as the river flows almost due north.
5.8 (55.9)
A constriction rapid starts a long series of five or six rapids culminating in Silk's Hole at the mouth of Redman Creek, mile 6.2 (55.5).
6.6 (55.1)
Another constriction rapid starts a series of rapids with increasing space between.
7.7 (54)
Island Campground, not to be confused with Island Rapid downstream, although there is a rapid upstream of the campground beach. The name seems to be a non-sequitur: there is no island here. If you get a camp near a trail down to the river, you can tie up your boats overnight and pretend you are on a permitted river.
7.9, 0 (53.8)
Gravel Bin river access, an excellent place to take out or put in, although shade is sparse mid-day and the gravel boat ramp is steep.
.6 (53.2)
Bridge to community of Steamboat on river left.
.8 (53)
Steamboat Creek confluence. After this point the river channel is full of small islands. Two shallow rapids occur, one just below the confluence, another near the last houses of Steamboat.
1.1 (52.7)
Steamboat rapid begins, slightly upstream of Steamboat Inn. You should already be on river left, unless you have scouted and want to run the class IV chutes on river right.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Moving left above Steamboat  Left side drops more gently than right chutes
Around the bend from Steamboat are two rapids with rocky islands, then a more significant drop at mile 1.7 (52.1) dropping into the right channel.
2.3 (51.5)
A long rapid that drops quite a bit, though without drama. Williams Creek enters on river right at mile 2.7 (51.1). Around the corner .1 mile further is a sandy beach with parking above, and in another .1 mile, a rapid with jutting bedrock on the left.
3.4 (50.4)
Burnam rapid. Another long section of whitewater with maneuvering required over multiple drops, some boulder infested. After Archie Creek enters on river left, you encounter a v-wave rapid.
4.7 (49.1)
Wildcat rapid. After mild entry rapids, most flow drops into a narrow channel cut in the bedrock, which causes turbulent side eddies below. This rapid may be the second most difficult on this stretch, after Steamboat. Cougar Creek enters on river left shortly below.
5.1, 0 (48.7)
Bogus Creek river access. This one is not obvious from river level, nor is turn-out parking well marked when you are driving downstream. Somebody in your shuttle party should hike down and look at the take-out.
.1 (48.6)
Bogus rapid, a big drop into the right channel.
.6 (48.1)
Burial rapid. So named because the standing waves are very deep as the channel narrows and flow refracts off boulders on the left. Shortly below is the bridge to Wright Creek road, where you can take out on river left if you miss Bogus Creek. Another rapid lies just below the bridge.
1.0 (47.7)
Bathtub rapid. Possible portage on the left at low flows. Even at moderate flows, watch out for a rock in the center at the bottom. At higher flows, this rapid is easier to run. Photo below by Ed Roseboom of Joshua Foster.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Bathtub still runnable at 1000 cfs  At low flows, left portage is wise
Shortly below Bathtub you encounter a minor rapid and a double ledge drop.
1.7 (47)
Mailbox rapid. After a left bend, the right channel becomes stranded and the left channel drops in the center between rocks. Slow water and two rapids follow in quick succession.
2.2 (46.5)
Fall Creek enters on the right, with a side hike thru Job's Garden. About .4 mile below is a rapid where you enter left then cut right.
2.8 (45.9)
Rapid at Thunder Creek. Bedrock extends from the right bank. A good route is available center right.
2.9 (45.8)
Burnt Creek rapid. Debris fan from the creek on river right creates this one.
3 (45.7)
Elevation Drop rapid, below a large rock outcropping on river left. Steep and rocky but not as difficult as it looks.
3.3 (45.4)
Island Rapid begins. Stay to the right of the island! Left channel ends badly.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Big waves to right of island  Aerial view shows right side entrance
Island Rapid has big waves at the top, and more big waves near the bottom. The drop near the bottom is called Rooster Tail on the USFS-BLM map.
N Fork Umpqua OR N Fork Umpqua OR
Line for second set of big waves  This is why you avoid left channel
3.9 (44.8)
Rapid at Swamp Creek. Then about a quarter mile below is another rapid.
4.4 (44.3)
Ledges rapid, with multiple drops. Shortly below, Fox Creek enters on the left. Umpqua National Forest ends and BLM management begins. Another rapid after a quarter mile, then just moving water for a mile.
5.7 (43)
Susie rapid. First a rock shelf with boulders, followed by a right turn, than a drop among boulders, and finally a third easier passage. Susan Creek campground is high on the right bank, with trails down to the river.
6.3 (42.4)
Good river access downstream of Susan Creek campground.
Downstream, there is one good rapid above Tioga pedestrian bridge, then not much until a horseshoe bend (mile 40.5) and Upper Baker (mile 38) followed by Baker Falls. As the USFS-BLM map advises, take out before Deadline Falls!

Shuttle Directions

If you are arriving from I-5 near Roseburg, take exit 124 onto highway 138 and cross the South Fork Umpqua. Steamboat Inn is about 40 miles upstream from Roseburg.

If you are arriving from the east near Crater Lake, take highway 230 north past Diamond Lake, and turn west onto highway 138.

All access points are easily reached along highway 138. There are many USFS campgrounds near the highway.

 

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