Sometimes great adventure happens when you pick a destination you know nothing about.
We had an unplanned day on a road trip to Bend, Oregon and were looking for an epic one-day adventure. A friend suggested the North Umpqua Trail (he had never done it, and we had never heard of it). After a bit of internet research and the promise of winding trail, tall trees and waterfalls, we were committed. After all, what part of “Dread and Terror” doesn’t sound like fun for a few hours. The very name is like a gauntlet thrown down in challenge, a carrot on a stick… for masochists.
The North Umpqua Trail (NUT) is a 79-mile long multi-use recreational trail that runs along, you guessed it, the Umpqua River in Central Oregon. The NUT is divided into eleven sections of varying lengths each with its own distinctive name. We chose to ride the “Hot Springs” and “Dread and Terror” segments as an out-and back. Actually the name “Dread and Terror” is attributed to rangers who named the trail because of impenetrable thickets of white thorn in the area. The trail itself is well established and beautiful.
The Bureau of Land Management has an excellent website and brochure on the North Umpqua Trail.
We arrived the night before and spent the night at the Lemolo Lake Resort– a great, family oriented rustic resort and campground with quirky lodging. Perfect if you appreciate low-key, “rustic” lodging; hell if you prefer posh hotels. We stayed in a narrow A-frame cabin without TV, Internet, phone, radio, or cell service.
Prior to getting on our bikes we hiked down to Toketee Falls with Daisy Trail Dog. Toketee Falls is a double waterfall (about 120 feet total) that plunges into an emerald green pool surrounded by steep walls. It’s well worth a visit, and worthy of a blog post in itself.
We had to get Daisy Trail Dog out for some exercise. Thirty four miles is too far for Daisy to chase us on bikes, so we took her out for a few miles on the Deer Leap segment of the NUT, where she bounced and rolled and played.
The Dread and Terror segment rises and falls along the Umpqua River Canyon, eventually climbing about 1,400′ back to Lemolo Lake where we stayed the night before.
There is little flat trail on the NUT. Despite an elevation gain of only 1,400′ from low to high points, we added thousands more feet of elevation gain with steep climbs and descents. (My Garmin GPS showed over 8,000′ of elevation gain, mostly in short steep climbs). Up and down we rode; through ferns and firs. The sound of roaring water was constant.
There are dozens of waterfalls, large and small. Many unnamed, others large and spectacular. One of the most interesting was Columnar Falls. Columnar Falls wasn’t tall, but perhaps 50 feet wide with rivulets of water spilling over mossy grooved rock. Too many waterfalls and beautiful scenes to take pictures of them all and still make it home by nightfall.
Green upon green upon green. The forest was often so dense, and the canyon so deep that my camera struggled to take clear pictures.
Near the turnaround point (and at the only pavement crossing of the day) my cleat pulled out of my clipless mountain bike shoe. H lay sprawled on the warm pavement while I fixed my shoe. We rode another mile or two to the Lemolo Lake Resort to refill our water bottles and eat ice cream sandwiches.
Reinvigorated by an ice cream sugar high we turned around and blazed it back to the car!
That was a lie. We were tired from hours of short steep climbs and navigating slippery, rocky trails. But Daisy Trail Dog and food awaited us in the car, 17 miles away. So we turned and rode with a purpose.
H and I have been together for more than a decade now, our relationship forged by our love of bikes and outdoor play. We’ve logged tens of thousands of miles together sometimes cold, hungry, tired, wet, hot, bloody, or sore. There’s that point in long hard days where we talk little, and are focused in getting home to food, warmth, and dry clothes.
Fortunately, the ride back was much faster. The trail flowed like the river in the other direction. Fewer steep climbs and more descents. (Most people ride the trail in the downhill direction only). We knew the trail and made few stops. Of note was Lemolo Falls, a 102-foot waterfall in a narrow canyon. We heard the roar of the falls from far away as we approached. The falls were spectacular, but we didn’t have time to hike around for a clear view spot. If we visit again, we’d hike to the bottom and swim in the falls with Daisy Water Dog.
When we finally made it back to the car, we were cooked. Fueled only by energy bars and an ice cream sandwich, we had logged over 42 miles of technical riding on the mountain bike, and a short hike with Daisy.
Another long, epic, great, beautiful, physically challenging day…
Toketee Lake (the trail head for the “Hot Springs” section of the NUT is located about 40 miles Northwest of Crater Lake just off Hwy 138 in Central Oregon.
Most people do the ride as a one-way ride in the downstream direction with a car shuttle, starting at Lemolo Lake. Naturally, we recommend doing the ride as an out-and-back. (There is a 1,000 point macho deduction for shuttling. Besides, if a girl can ride both ways, you can too). Climbing upstream first, you’ll also see many more waterfalls and beautiful sights that will fly by while descending. Plus you’ll get lots of extra climbing, and that’s awesome!
I’ve included my Garmin GPS track of the ride (opens in a new window):
North Umpqua Trail
Because of the slippery roots, rocks, and steep terrain I’d categorize this as a strong intermediate to advanced level ride. The trail is relatively well maintained and well established. Go prepared with tools, tube, and extra food. As a hiking/running trail, I’d also bring layers, water, and extra food. Even on warm days, there are many dark, damp, shady areas, and you’ll want to add and remove layers as you hike up and down.
There are few towns and services nearby, so go prepared with a full tank of gas and post-adventure food and drink.
See you on the trail…