A state known for its incredible natural beauty, the waterfalls in Southern Oregon are undoubtedly the most compelling reason to add at least a few days to your Oregon itinerary. The opportunities for landscape and nature photography in the region are often overlooked, though I contend that some of the best waterfalls in Oregon live here.
While Instagram and social media have begun to increase awareness of some of the more famous waterfalls in Oregon, the Rogue Valley and Umpqua National Forest regions are still lesser-visited destinations with some amazing hidden gems to offer.
Whether you are a traveller on a West Coast road trip, a photographer looking for unique destinations, or even a local Oregonian in search of a weekend outing, this travel guide will provide insight into the dozens of accessible waterfalls to help you plan your perfect Oregon road trip.
If you are looking for intense waterfall hikes in Oregon, you may be in the wrong place; none of those covered here require more than a 1.5-mile roundtrip commitment.
Southern Oregon Waterfalls Road Trip
The following itinerary for visiting the waterfalls in Southern Oregon was written in the context of one-way travel north or south, as part of a bigger road trip. However, it can easily be done as a loop, or even as a back-and-forth day trip. Use the maps below for a visual guide to the route we will be taking.
Driving route to the falls
The maps below show 14 easily accessible waterfalls in Southern Oregon that connect via a driving route between Roseburg and Medford. Both of these cities are largely populated and will have everything you may need to pick up before beginning your adventure into the wilderness!
As most travellers will be coming from the North, the waterfall itinerary below will start at Roseburg and end in Medford/Ashland (North to South). Of course, if you are coming from Medford or Ashland, simply reverse the order (driving South to North). The map ABOVE shows the route you will drive if only travelling one way as part of a bigger road trip.
If you are a local or want to continue your road trip via the Oregon coast instead, the map BELOW shows you how to visit all the waterfalls as a loop that ends wherever you began! Essentially, you will return to the starting point via I5, regardless of where you begin.
NOTE: YOU WILL NOT HAVE MOBILE SERVICE DURING MOST OF THIS DRIVE. Make sure you’ve downloaded offline maps if you are worried about getting lost (unlikely), and check road conditions/weather forecasts if you are planning winter travel.
On that topic, this self-drive route is not advisable in the winter following heavy snowfall. Driving can be dangerous, and nearly all of the smaller roads to the waterfalls will be inaccessible as the ploughs (or “plows” in the US) clear the major highways and in doing so, completely block the roads to the falls.
Freedom camping in Southern Oregon
While the itinerary provided here can be driven in a single day, you will not be able to visit every waterfall on the route in that time. Assuming your time in Southern Oregon is part of a larger road trip, I would recommend allowing at least 2 days for this itinerary. In addition, anyone interested in photography will definitely want to add another day to visit Crater Lake National Park (more about Crater Lake at the end of this guide).
Whether you are pitching a tent or sleeping in a camper van, it is worth knowing that in the United States, freedom camping is legal anywhere in National Forest land unless noted otherwise. It is not, however, allowed at National Parks (ie Crater Lake).
As for bathroom facilities, there will be toilets available in most of the waterfall parking lots.
If you plan on staying overnight as recommended, make sure you have brought sufficient food! Your only option once you have entered the Umpqua National Forest will be Beckie’s Diner in Union Creek. Your best bet is to load up in Medford or Roseburg, depending on your direction of travel.
Before getting into the waterfall drive itinerary, I must point out that there are more waterfalls in Oregon than any other state. In fact, it would take you weeks to visit all the falls in Douglas County alone!
While I absolutely encourage you to visit them if you have no time constraints and good weather, they have not been included in this itinerary for a few reasons. Some require substantial detours from our route or have frequent accessibility issues, and some just require longer hikes than I felt most people would be interested in. However, below is the list of all of the waterfalls near Roseburg and Glide that I am aware of to help you decide if you would like to include any of them on your holiday.
- Susan Creek Falls
- Little Falls
- Steamboat Falls
- Jack Falls
- Fall Creek Falls Waterfalls
- Grotto Falls
- Emile Falls
- Shadow Falls
- Deer Lick Falls
- Lemolo Falls
- Duwee Falls
Itinerary: Photographing the Waterfalls in Southern Oregon
Below is a listing of all the waterfalls we will be visiting on the drive to or from Medford and Roseburg. I have also included photography from each of the falls, as well as travel distance, drive time, and hiking distances.
Wolf Creek Falls
Drive time: 45 minutes
Distance: 32 miles
Hike to Wolf Creek Falls: 1.2-mile roundtrip
We will begin with the closest waterfall to Roseburg/Glide, known as Wolf Creek Falls. This first stop is a fitting place to begin your journey, as you will actually be getting two waterfalls for the price of one!
As you near the falls, you will first come across a vantage point of a small waterfall in front of the actual Wolf Creek Falls. It was difficult to get an unobstructed view, but I did find a composition I liked using a fallen log as a leading line (see below).
While this was not necessarily my favourite of the falls, I do enjoy its unique, twisted appearance. Its almost as if someone tried warping it in photoshop!
Yakso Falls, Hemlock Falls, & Lake in the Woods
(from Wolf Creek Falls)
Drive time: 37 minutes
Distance: 16 miles
Hike to Yakso Falls: 1.4-mile roundtrip
Hike to Hemlock Falls: 1-mile roundtrip
Our next stop is yet another double feature (triple if you count Lake in the Woods!). Southern Oregon is the gift that keeps on giving!
To find the waterfalls, set your GPS guidance to Lake In the Woods campground. If you are not using GPS, just follow Little River Road (which you should already be on) 16 miles until you’ve reached the campground.
Lake in the Woods is a beautiful destination in and of itself. We were treated to a freak, unexpected snow dusting on our last visit, which made for some epic photos. The trailheads to Yakso Falls and Hemlock Falls both begin at the campground as well.
Yakso Falls required only a short walk through some beautiful woods and delivered my preferred photography opportunity of the two. You can easily walk down to the falls or shoot from higher up on the trail. I loved the way the large boulder at the bottom broke up the flow of water, as well as the emerald green colour of the water.
Hemlock Falls is likely impressive other times of the year, but was underwhelming when we visited. There are three levels (Upper, Middle, and Lower) that are accessible outside the winter months. Unfortunately, the weather prevented us from accessing most the Hemlock Falls, and the water flow was pretty minimal. I’d love to see it in the spring, but it’s missable in the winter!
(from Lake in the Woods Campground)
Driving Time: 1 hour
Distance: 35 miles
Hike to Toketee Falls: 1.5-mile roundtrip
If you only visit one waterfall in Southern Oregon, make it Toketee Falls! This is my personal favourite in the area, perhaps in the state!
You will be departing from civilisation from this point and following the North Umpqua River along Hwy 138. Expect to spend some time with your nose pressed to the glass!
Upon arrival at Toketee, the hike from the parking lot to the waterfall takes about 15 minutes if you go directly there, but you may be tempted to take some of the foot trails that wander from the main path towards the river. That will be discussed below.
You will arrive at a large, elevated boardwalk that provides a stunning view of Toketee Falls below. At first glance, it almost looks like the North Umpqua River has carved a path through ancient fossilized trees. In fact, the rock that it flows through is columnar basalt. The viewpoint is likely to be busy from midday, and you may notice some people at the bottom. This brings us to a necessary discussion on accessing Toketee Falls directly…
As I have made a point to mention in each of my guides, I believe that my job is not to condemn nor condone, but to inform. To that end, I will try to be concise and specific with my advice on going off-trail if you want to see some of the smaller waterfalls near Toketee Falls, or to get to the base of the main waterfall:
First, there have been multiple drownings at Toketee Falls in the past few years. HOWEVER, contrary to popular belief, these deaths were not caused by the rope trail that leads to the bottom of the falls! As you will surely discover, it would be impossible to slip and fall to a watery death from here, as you are a long ways away from the river. It is, however, a slippery and difficult climb and there is a realistic risk of injury. If you decide to attempt the climb down, bring proper shoes and do not attempt in snowy or muddy conditions. Finding the way down should be pretty obvious, just look for the hole in the fence at the viewpoint.
As for going off-trail during the hike to the falls, there are some beautiful spots to do so, just please do not stand too close to the edge. There are obviously no railings and if you were to fall into the gorge, you would not be getting out. That said, there is nothing inherently dangerous in most of these areas as long as you do not get too brave near the water’s edge.
All that aside, I am an absolute nature lover and it is my belief that we are meant to enjoy its beauty however we connect to it. For me, that means with a tripod and camera. For others, standing on the viewing platform is enjoyment enough. There are even some who live for adrenaline-inducing outdoor adventures, like kayaking straight over the falls! As long as what you are doing does not damage a delicate ecosystem or alter the way of life for its inhabitants, I personally believe that, as a species, we are wired to explore and yes, even take mindful risks from time to time.
(from Toketee Falls)
Drive Time: 5 minutes
Distance: 3 miles
Hike to Watson Falls: 1.2 (steeper grade than any other so far)
Now we have entered the thick of things! There are 4 waterfalls near Toketee Falls alone, all within 15 minutes of each other by car.
Only a 5-minute drive from my favourite Southern Oregon waterfall (Toketee) and you arrive at my second favourite; Watson Falls!
At 272 ft tall, Watson Falls is the largest drop of all the waterfalls in Southern Oregon and the second-highest in the state. The tallest is also the most famous waterfall in Oregon; none other than Multnomah Falls (located in the Columbia River Gorge near Portland).
Be prepared for a more strenuous hike than the others, despite only being half a mile to the top. The good news is that there are many photo opportunities on the way up the trail, meaning you will have a couple of chances to stop, set up a tripod, and catch your breath. My favourite composition is the one above. Just before arriving at the footbridge you can see the falls looming in the distance with some great smaller tumbles to use as your foreground.
The best part about this waterfall is that you can walk right up to it, if you choose to do so. There are plenty of unique compositions for photography enthusiasts, and a comfortable viewing platform for those who want to sit and enjoy.
(from Watson Falls)
Drive Time: 7 minutes
Distance: 5 miles
Hike to Whitehorse Falls: None
After hiking to Toketee and Watson Falls, you will be relieved to know that Whitehorse Falls requires no hike whatsoever! It also has a nice picnic area and restroom facilities if you want to stop for lunch or take a break.
As for the waterfall itself, Whitehorse is considered mediocre when measured against most Oregon waterfalls… the drop is very small, and by this point, you may be acclimating a bit to the brand of wilderness that the Umpqua National Forest provides. However, from a photography standpoint, Whitehorse Falls ROCKS!
What I love about this little waterfall are the criss-crossing logs that form a perfect X shape. With a wide enough angle lens, you should be able to fit the entire scene in one frame from the viewpoint, which results in a photo that is thought by most to be better than the reality.
As a quick aside, one of our Winter Photography Workshops was a full day of photographing the Southern Oregon waterfalls. Whitehorse Falls was our final stop of the day, sneaking in this bonus winter scene just as the light was fading. Our goal was to teach our students about the considerations that go into including a human element in a landscape photo. As this waterfall is small, we didn’t want to shrink it further by being too tall, and the outfit choice will always affect the mood. Out came the famous red dress and with a few cheers, I made my way to lie down on the log!
The photo below is from our camera, but one of our students went on to win first prize in that month’s Grants Pass Photography Photo contest (way to go Cynthia!) with her version of “Lady in Red”!
(from Whitehorse Falls)
Drive Time: 9 minutes
Distance: 5.8 miles
Hike to Clearwater Falls: None
Another great place to picnic, Clearwater Falls is the most unique one we’ll explore on our 1 -2 day itinerary. Rather than featuring a large plunge, the water here tumbles clumsily over vibrant, mossy rocks and logs before draining into the aptly-named Clearwater River.
I have always loved this waterfall for its special character but found it challenging to capture the true essence of Clearwater in a frame. If you have been to Ramona Falls or Proxy Falls, two of the more famous Oregon waterfalls, it may remind you of a smaller version of those.
If you are interested in practising waterfall and landscape photography in Southern Oregon, I would love to see your favourite compositions in the comments below! I’ve still yet to capture it in a way that I love.
DETOUR OPTION: Crater Lake National Park (North Entrance)
After leaving Whitehorse Falls, you will begin leaving Douglas county and entering Jackson county. After 17 miles, you will come to a junction (just past Diamond Lake) as you journey south. We will be taking Hwy 230 to Medford/Ashland/Central Point.
However, if you are travelling in the summer months, you MIGHT also have the option of staying on Hwy 138 instead and entering Crater Lake National Park via the North Entrance.
BE WARNED: the North Entrance IS ONLY OPEN IN THE SUMMER MONTHS! The earliest it will open is late May, but each year is different. As an example, this year, as of June 2019, the North Entrance was still closed to vehicles with the opening not projected until July. You can still visit Crater Lake via the South Entrance which is open year-round. Read below to see how that fits into our itinerary.
National Creek Falls
(from Clearwater Falls)
Drive Time: 50 minutes
Distance: 33 miles
Hike to National Creek Falls: 1.4-mile roundtrip
Be warned that the drive to National Creek Falls requires a bit of a detour down a forest service road, but we were able to visit in a camper van even in the winter using Forest Road NF-6530.
While this waterfall hits all the bullet points of a great photo opportunity on paper, I have always struggled to capture it in a way that translates to a photograph. The light is often extremely harsh here, and fallen trees can cause large obstructions. This seems to be more prevalent in the winter months.
Still, National Creek Falls is on your natural driving route anyway and absolutely worth a stop. If you’re navigating without GPS, you’ll need to keep your eyes on your odometer from the time you leave Clearwater Falls as there is very little signage along the way.
BONUS STOP: Rogue River Gorge & Beckie’s Diner
You will arrive at the Rogue River Gorge at the junction of Hwy 230 and Hwy 62, where you will have the option to detour to Crater Lake National Park or continue south toward Medford/Ashland. At this detour is a small town called Union Creek; home to Beckie’s Diner. This will be your only hot food option throughout the entire loop, but is best known for their world-famous pies! Find out the seasonal specialty and grab a slice, even if you’re not hungry. Beckie’s is a prime example of vintage American diners and a quintessential part of the regional experience!
Also in Union Creek is the Rogue River Gorge. While this is not the most photogenic stop along the drive, it is worth a peek if you have the time.
DETOUR OPTION: Crater Lake National Park (South Entrance)
(from Union Creek)
Drive Time: 41 minutes (1 hour, 22 minutes roundtrip detour)
Distance: 33 miles (66-mile roundtrip detour)
Hike to Crater Lake: None
I know it’s not a waterfall, but no Southern Oregon itinerary would be complete without including the most breathtaking individual sight in the entire state of Oregon… perhaps in the country! Crater Lake National Park is the deepest lake in the country, 7th deepest in the world, but most important, it is absolutely stunning!
You may have noticed that I included the detour times and distances as “roundtrip” above. This is because you will have to backtrack to Union Creek to visit via the South Entrance, which is the only entrance open most of the year.
While there is the Crater Lake Lodge offering high-end accommodation, you will not be allowed to camp anywhere within the park itself. There are, however, a few campgrounds at the bottom of the mountain outside of the park itself. You will want to account for the detour time and inability to sleep here when planning your itinerary, but I think it is absolutely worth the effort.
As much as I would love to tell you all about how beautiful this park is, I think the pictures say more than I ever could. If you are into astrophotography (aka night photography), this is one of the premier destinations in Oregon to photograph the stars!
(from Union Creek)
Drive Time: 17 minutes
Distance: 12 miles
Hike to Pearsony Falls: 0.2 miles roundtrip
Finding Pearsony Falls can be tricky as it is not sign-posted, but the good news is that it is basically in the town of Prospect. Just as you exit the tiny town, you will see an unsigned dirt parking lot on your left (or on your right just before you enter town if travelling North). It is basically across from the “gas station” there, adjacent to Gun Club Road… no joke, that’s the name of the road.
From the parking lot, it is barely a walk to the small but picturesque Pearsony Falls. You won’t find this one in many of the guide books or top waterfall lists, but it is absolutely one of my favourites to photograph; especially in autumn! You’ll encounter mossy, deciduous scenery with beautiful cascading water and a fairytale-like setting. In the fall, the golden-yellow leaves add a nice pop of colour to compliment the greens.
Mill Creek Falls/Barr Creek Falls
(from Pearsony Falls)
Drive Time: 1 minute
Distance: 0.7 miles
Hike to Prospect State Scenic Viewpoint: 0.5-mile roundtrip
We finish our road trip itinerary just as we began; with a 2-for-1 waterfall special! Don’t get too excited though, as the short hike to the viewpoints for Mill Creek and Barr Creek Falls still places you a substantial distance from the actual waterfalls.
The two falls are visible from two separate viewing areas on the trail one after the other. If you think my photo is a bit underwhelming, well, so do I. From the viewpoint, you are simply too far away to really capture the detail without a massive zoom lens, though I have no doubt both waterfalls would look stunning from closer up!
Mill Creek Falls will be the first you discover and is the smaller of the two at 173ft tall. However, your view will be mostly obstructed by trees.
Barr Creek Falls comes next, which is much taller at 242ft tall and is also more visible.
I know it is possible to get to the bottom, but I have only visited in late fall and winter months when the weather has been a bit too questionable for such an adventure. I will look to update this guide if I am able to access the waterfalls on my next visit!
One final note, you may notice Avenue of the Boulders written on the wooden map in the waterfall parking lot. Just a minute up the road is a bridge that overlooks “Avenue”, as well as the impressive Rogue Valley. It is worth a quick stop!
Things to Do in Medford and Ashland
You’ve just finished one of the most scenic drives the United States has to offer and have landed in Medford (or perhaps you are starting your journey here). What do you do now?!
What to do in Medford, Oregon
Medford is the hometown of one of the best photographers in Southern Oregon, Adam Marland (aka @WeOwntheMoment)… although admittedly, I may be a bit biased as he also happens to be my boyfriend (and he promised me chocolate in return for calling him the best!).
The city of Medford is the most populated in Southern Oregon and is a bit overrun with chains, but there are some local things to do and good times to be had if you know where to look. There is also a surprisingly fantastic beer and wine scene here!
If you are planning to focus your road trip on driving the coast instead of taking the freeway, you should at least do a short day trip to see the waterfalls near Medford, Oregon. In one full day, we easily covered all of the falls mentioned above out to Toketee Falls and back.
- DO: Try the Mugshot Sour Cherry Chocolate Stout at Portal Brewing. It is the best beer I have had in my entire life. Ever. Anywhere. Then, get a flight and try the rest as they are all fantastic. Walkabout Brewing, Opposition Brewing, Southern Oregon Brewing, and Bricktown are all also craft breweries in the Medford area with some solid IPAs and craft ales.
- DO: Visit historic Jacksonville! Just a 10-15 minute drive outside of town and you may think you’ve gone back in time! The best restaurants in the area are all here, and if you’re lucky enough to be there in the summer, the Brit Festival provides one of the best venues in the country for outdoor concerts.
- DO: Visit any one of the countless vineyards in the area! Southern Oregon has become a destination for wine enthusiasts, gaining fame and popularity for its Pinot Noirs. Southern Oregon Express do a variety of fantastic wine tours so you can leave the car behind and enjoy the wine!
- DO: Hike Table Rock! It’s a decent trek up, but nothing too exhausting, and provides a nice view of the city. If you are interested in photography, drive toward Table Rock for sunrise or sunset and find a nice foreground to include the pear fields in front of this locally iconic geographic feature.
- DON’T: Bother eating out in Medford. Almost every restaurant is a chain, though a few places are starting to pop up with a more local feeling. The best restaurants in the region are in Jacksonville and Ashland.
- DON’T: Stay out past 2am here! Look, realistically you’ll probably be fine. BUT, fights are almost a given on weekend nights in downtown Medford when the bars close, the city has a history of stabbings and even shootings, and the DUI rate in this small area is quite high.
What to do in Ashland, Oregon
Though only 15 minutes away on the freeway, Ashland could not be more different from Medford. Whereas Medford boasts a strongly conservative, country culture (and some unfortunate drug issues), Ashland is a liberal stronghold with a culture that prides itself on its appreciation for the arts. In its niche, Ashland is known throughout the world for the Shakespearean Festival that takes place here.
Ashland is also the only city in Oregon with a Food and Beverage tax! Despite this, it is the favourite city in Southern Oregon for most visitors. It has a good mix of college town and retiree vibes, the best restaurants in the state outside of Portland, and a constant pulse that changes with each season.
- DO: Try to attend a show at the Shakespearean Festival, if possible.
- DO: Spend some time at the beautiful Lithia Park.
- DO: Hit the hot springs for a soak in the geothermal pools.
- DO: Visit Mt. Ashland for breathtaking scenery, as well as seasonal outdoor activities.
- DO: Take an afternoon to just walk around and visit the local shops.
- DO: Visit Chocolate Falls, Oregon and let me know how it is! It is one of, if not THE only waterfall near Ashland, but is one I’ve never managed to get to!
- DON’T: Try the Lithia water at the drinking fountains. Ok, really you should, but YUCK, it tastes disgusting. It is supposedly a health tonic and, you never know, you might enjoy the flavour. Personally, I’m not a fan!
- DON’T: FEED THE BLOODY COUGARS!