5 River Democracy Act Streams to Visit This Summer

5 River Democracy Act Streams to Visit This Summer overlayed on top of river photo

It may not feel like it given the snowfall we experienced this Spring, but the calendar has turned to May and the promise of longer, sunnier days in Oregon lay ahead. For many of us, that means it’s time for the annual tradition of dusting off the camping equipment, rigging up the fly line, or breaking in a new pair of hiking boots. These seemingly mundane tasks become meditative rituals as our minds wander towards the places we will go, the fish we will catch and the splash of crisp, alpine water on a hot summer day. 

We are approaching the time of year when we flock to our local waterways and enjoy the endless recreational opportunities they provide. From the raging rivers of the Coast Range, to the canyon-carving desert streams of the Owyhee and the crystal-clear spring-fed waters of Central Oregon, these wild waterways are treasured places where Oregonians camp, hike, fish, paddle, and enjoy our public lands. Among these places are streams that are currently proposed to be protected under Senator Wyden’s River Democracy Act. This legislation would designate over 3200 new miles of Wild and Scenic rivers across the state, providing essential protections for fish and wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, and cultural and recreational values. With your help, we can pass this bill and protect these cherished waterways for future generations of Oregonians to come. 

In the meantime, as the weather warms and the snow melts, and you begin planning your Spring and Summer outings, here are 5 streams included in the River Democracy Act where you can cool off, get away from it all, and enjoy the best that Oregon has to offer.

Fall River

Photo: Fall River, Sami Godlove

Central Oregon’s Fall River is a spring-fed stream that meanders its way through old-growth ponderosa pine forest until it joins the Deschutes River near Sunriver. Famous for its cold, clear water and vibrant blue pools, the Fall River is a fly angler’s paradise for those in search of rainbow, brown, and brook trout. There is also a small campground next to the river and an easy 6-mile out-and-back trail that starts at the campground and parallels the river towards the headwaters where, seemingly out of nowhere, the river ‘springs’ from the ground. 

The Fall River provides important fish habitat and also contributes to the water quality of the Deschutes with its pristine waters. As climate change and prolonged drought impact streamflow and temperatures, cold-water refugia such as the Fall are important sources of cold, consistent, clean water for fish and downstream communities.

Paulina Creek

Photo: Paulina Falls, Victoria Ditkovsky

The pools and natural waterslides of Paulina Creek are a favorite destination for locals on a hot summer day. These slides can be accessed via the Peter Skene Ogden Trail which follows the creek towards its source at Paulina Lake. Hikers will encounter waterfall after waterfall including Paulina Falls–the most impressive of all, which falls 80 feet into the pools below. 

Paulina Creek is located within Newberry Volcanic National Monument which offers a multitude of recreational opportunities including hiking, camping, swimming, paddling, and fishing around the two lakes–Paulina Lake and East Lake–within the volcanic caldera.

Upper McKenzie River

Photo: McKenzie River, Joel Zak

The McKenzie River corridor is well-known and well-loved by Oregonians and visitors from all over. The area is popular for hiking, biking, camping, rafting, and fishing. Much of the mainstem of the McKenzie is already designated as Wild and Scenic, but the River Democracy Act would designate the unprotected portions of the upper river, as well as its headwaters and several important tributaries. Proposed additions would include stretches of the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail, which passes through old-growth forests, alongside lava fields and waterfalls, and next to some of the most spectacularly clear and deep-blue water around. Even though there are numerous spots to jump in and cool off while hiking or biking the McKenzie River Trail on a hot day, this is not for the faint of heart due to the frigid water temperatures!

Brice Creek

Photo: Brice Creek, Chandra LeGue

Brice Creek, in the Umpqua National Forest, is a popular camping, whitewater paddling, and hiking destination. The main attractions here are the Brice Creek Trail, a plethora of swimming holes (and adjacent sun-soaked rocks to lounge on after a brisk dip), and an endless array of waterfalls. The creek cascades through dense, old-growth Douglas-fir forest, much of which has never been logged. This relatively intact forest system helps filter and maintain the excellent water quality of the upper watershed, which is the source of drinking water for Cottage Grove. Designation under the River Democracy Act would help protect these numerous and diverse values of the area. 

Drift Creek

Photo: Drift Creek, Conrad Gowell

The Drift Creek corridor is another area that has escaped much of the effects of past logging activity and is one of the few watersheds in the central Coast Range that still contains relatively intact old-growth forest. This means much of the forest on either side of Drift Creek contains critical wildlife habitat for species, such as the endangered marbled murrelet and the threatened northern spotted owl, and provides a key climate solution by storing tremendous amounts of carbon. Just outside of Lincoln City, and within the Siuslaw National Forest, these ancient forests and the spectacular 75-foot Drift Creek Falls draw both locals and visitors year-round. 

There aren’t as many swimming opportunities here, but the trail stays cool from the shade of towering Douglas-firs. Although, if swimming in cold water is your thing, the Pacific Ocean isn’t too far away!