Southern Oregon trail courses 79 miles through a wonderland


GLIDE, Ore. (AP) — Hike the entire length of the North Umpqua Trail, lovingly called “the NUT” by some, and you could have traveled on foot across the widest part of Vermont.

Sure, Vermont is only the 45th-largest of the 50 states, but the comparison conveys the impressive scale of the trail to recreational riches along Southern Oregon’s North Umpqua River, one of this state’s most pristine waterways.

Covering 79 miles and rising about 5,000 feet from west to east, the NUT begins at Swiftwater Park just outside Glide and culminates at Maidu Lake, the river’s source in the rugged Mount Thielsen Wilderness of the High Cascades.

Imagined in the 1970s and completed in 1996, the NUT hugs the river for most of its length. It includes 12 segments that range from just more than 3 miles, in fairly flat lower elevations, to 13 up-and-down miles with sheer drop-offs as the trail rises into the Cascades.

What every trail segment shares is the power to transfix visitors — from leisurely wildlife watchers and nature photographers to go-get-‘em hikers and mountain bikers — with varied vantage points onto the North Umpqua’s uniquely rocky-yet-verdant canyon terrain.

Tumbling tributaries and rushing waterfalls put on a side show along both sides of the river, itself a moving picture-postcard of jade-green pools and frothy white Class I-IV rapids plied by paddlers at the base of ancient basalt cliffs, spires and boulders. Towering Douglas firs, including some more than 800 years old, shelter shady groves with mosses, lichens and ferns in endless hues of green.

A 34-mile stretch of the North Umpqua is anointed a National Wild and Scenic River, and these fly angling-only waters are known as some of the world’s best.

The NUT offers access to all of this, and many other sights and experiences.

A few highlights include the recently built Tioga Bridge, an eye-catching footbridge near Susan Creek that offers a new perspective of the river and easier access to a popular part of the trail; and, going upriver, the Medicine Creek Indian Pictographs, Toketee Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs.

The trail’s allure might not be justly described in a few hundred words, or even fully realized in just a few days of exploring. But here’s the NUT in a nutshell, with snapshots of each segment heading west to east:

Swiftwater

. Length: 7.8 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Swiftwater, Tioga

. Highlights: First 1/4 mile of the trail is “barrier free” and open to people with disabilities, and leads to an observation area at Deadline Falls where steelhead and salmon can be seen jumping between May and October. Fern Creek Falls is another 1.6 miles and Bob Butte, at about the 5-mile mark, is a good turnaround for day-hikers after a fairly steep climb for the last mile.

Tioga

. Length: 8 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Tioga/Susan Creek, Wright Creek

. Highlights: Two miles east of Bob Butte is Tioga Bridge, a historically inspired wooden footbridge built in 2012 on piers that remained from the Youngs Bay Bridge that washed out in 1964. A 3/4-mile connecting trail leads to the Susan Creek Falls day-use area (access to the falls trail is across the highway). The Tioga segment meanders for many miles upriver through mixed old-growth.

Mott

. Length: 5.5 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Wright Creek, Mott

. Highlights: Old-growth forest; many scrambles down to water’s edge; views of the Williams Creek Fire of 2009; access to two side trails. The 6-mile Riverview Trail can be combined with the Mott segment to form a loop, with high-up views of the river from the north side of the highway; and the 4-mile McDonald Trail goes southeast by an old homestead and through abundant spring wildflowers. Across the historic Mott Bridge is the famed Steamboat Inn.

Panther

. Length: 5 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Mott, Panther

. Highlights: Upriver from Mott Bridge and the Steamboat area, this length of trail offers dependable year-round conditions for hikers, bikers and equestrians. It passes scenic alder-shaded gravel bars along the river, then ascends to rocky bluffs removed from the river.

Calf

. Length: 3.7 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Panther, Calf

. Highlights: Starting across from Apple Creek Campground, this segment clings to the river and captures the sights and sounds of rapids along the edge of the 17,000-acre Apple Fire of 2002. It ends just beyond Horseshoe Bend, where the river takes a sharp curve to the south and back.

Marsters

. Length: 3.6 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Calf, Marsters

. Highlights: Emerging from the Apple Fire area, the Marsters segment passes through lush, mossy forest and climbs to high rocky bluffs with some of the best bird’s-eye views of the river. It also skirts an old-growth Douglas fir grove that includes several trees up to 7 feet in diameter and more than 800 years old.

Jessie Wright

. Length: 4.1 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Marsters, Soda Springs

. Highlights: Trail crosses to the north side of the river at Marsters Bridge, then travels along an old roadbed near the 1915 homestead of Jessie and Perry Wright; through Dark Canyon and a fir-maple forest; and below the volcanic-remnant spires of Eagle Rock and Old Man Rock. Intersecting trails lead to Illahee Flats, a popular equestrian meadow that once was a Native American gathering place, and into the Boulder Creek Wilderness via the Boulder Creek and Bradley trails (both closed to mountain bikes).

Deer Leap

. Length: 9.6 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: Soda Springs, Toketee Lake

. Highlights: Sights abound along this long stretch, starting with spectacular lichen-covered cliffs of columnar basalt near Soda Springs Dam. The trail crosses Medicine Creek, then Slide Creek, then climbs along the canyon rim for high views, including from a bluff 500 feet above the river. Side trails lead to the Medicine Creek Indian Pictographs, a cultural heritage site featuring rock paintings as old as 250 years, and the remarkable double-tiered, 120-foot Toketee Falls.

Hot Springs

. Length: 3.5 miles

. Difficulty: Easy

. Trailheads: Toketee Lake, Hot Springs

.Highlights: Short segment crosses the river three times, with views of the hydroelectric structures at Toketee Lake including a 169-foot metal penstock that channels water down a steep cliff. The lake is popular for camping and fishing. At the eastern trailhead, a 1/3-mile side trail leads to the clothing-optional Umpqua Hot Springs — a 108-degree earthen pool and a “tub” covered by a rustic log structure on a bluff above the river.

Dread and Terror

. Length: 13 miles

. Difficulty: Difficult

. Trailheads: Hot Springs, White Mule

. Highlights: The longest unbroken segment of the NUT is among the most challenging with progressively sharper grades, steep drop-offs and narrow, rough areas (horses not recommended here). But the payoff is big, with rugged beauty and abundant flowing water along the way. Surprise and Columnar Falls are near the western end, and Lemolo Falls — a 102-foot horsetail-style drop — is 11 miles east.

Lemolo

. Length: 6.3 miles

. Difficulty: Moderate

. Trailheads: White Mule, Kelsay Valley

. Highlights: Travels along the lower slopes of Bunker Hill through mixed-conifer forests, with southern access to the four campgrounds, day-use area and resort that surround 435-acre Lemolo Lake. Just more than halfway through the Lemolo trail segment, a 1/2-mile side trip on Road 700 leads to Crystal Springs — picturesque moss-covered springs in porous volcanic rock.

Maidu

. Length: 9 miles

. Difficulty: Difficult

. Trailheads: Kelsay Valley, Digit Point

. Highlights: Meanders from Kelsay Valley horse camp through grassy flats before entering Mount Thielsen Wilderness after 2.7 miles (mountain bikes prohibited here), then climbs pumice deposits left by Mount Mazama’s eruption 7,700 years ago. The NUT then passes 9-acre Lake Lucile, before ending where the river begins — 20-acre Maidu Lake. A 4.75-mile Winema National Forest trail continues southeast to Digit Point Trailhead at Miller Lake, crossing the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail at about the halfway point.

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