Exploring Oregon's proposed Wild & Scenic Rivers

Kentucky Creek in the Oregon Coast Range

People enjoy different hikes for different reasons. Some like to get to a summit to enjoy the views, some like wildflower meadows, and others like finding huge trees. Count me in for all of this, but my ideal hike definitely includes both beautiful forests and a free-flowing river or stream (or multiple!) There’s something about how much more lush the vegetation is along a stream, the sound of burbling water as you hike along, or dipping your hands into icy water to splash on your face at a rest stop. In researching Oregon’s Ancient Forests, I had a chance to hike along (or to) many, many beautiful streams - admiring both the ancient forested corridors I hiked through and also the wild nature of these streams stacked with log jams, collecting spawning gravels, and spilling over boulders. 

It’s not too hard to find a trail to hike beside a designated Wild & Scenic River in Oregon - we have over 2,100 miles of these waterways protected under the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act across the state, making Oregon second only to Alaska. As such, these streams are protected from dams and mining, and the corridors (often forested) that surround them must be managed to protect the fish, wildlife, recreation, and other public values they are designated for. Several of the hikes featured on Oregon’s Ancient Forests are along Wild & Scenic Rivers: from the Rogue River headwaters to its famous lower rafting stretch; Fifteenmile Creek on the east slope of Mount Hood to Central Oregon’s treasured Metolius and Deschutes; and the Ponderosa-pine lined Malheur and Imnaha Rivers in eastern Oregon - these Wild & Scenic River hikes were some of my favorite. 

Malheur River
Malheur Wild & Scenic River

But in a place with as many spectacular wild rivers as Oregon, those designated as Wild & Scenic make up just 2% of our waterways. Sure, not all streams are worthy of Wild & Scenic status, but thousands of more miles meet the criteria for these protections - they are free-flowing, on federal public land, and possess at least one Outstandingly Remarkable Value (ORV). 

It’s therefore no surprise that it’s also not hard to find ancient forest hikes along UNprotected  wild and scenic rivers. In fact, there are 43 such hikes in my book - now proposed for Wild & Scenic designation by Senator Wyden in his newly River Democracy Act of 2021

It’s no coincidence that many of our remaining ancient forests can be found along rivers and streams on our federal public lands. Streamside protections in place for decades on public lands have helped keep ancient forests intact and safe from logging. Unfortunately, these strips are often narrow, with logging happening just outside. With the newly proposed Wild & Scenic Rivers, though, each stream will get a protected buffer of ½ a mile on each side, where protection and restoration of the unique qualities of each stream would take precedence. 

Upper Middle Fork Willamette River
Upper Middle Fork Willamette River proposed Wild & Scenic River

While the trails and hikes in the book are by no means exhaustive of the lovely trails you’ll find alongside the nearly 4,700 miles of newly proposed Wild & Scenic Rivers, I’d venture to guess they are some of the best. So grab your book (you can get it here if you don’t already have one!) and get out and explore some of these gorgeous hikes!

 

Hike name (#) Wild & Scenic rivers & streams Wild & Scenic status
Cape Perpetua & Gwynn Creek (7) Gwynn Creek  proposed
Kentucky Falls (9) Kentucky Creek, North Fork Smith River proposed
Lower Rogue River (13) Rogue River existing
Illinois River Trail: Buzzard's Roost (14) Illinois River existing
Babyfoot Lake (15) Babyfoot Creek proposed
Redwood Nature Trail (16) Chetco River and Emily Creek are both nearby existing, proposed
Oregon Redwoods Trail (17) Moser Creek proposed
Oregon Caves NM (18) Cave Creek, Lake Creek proposed
Sucker Creek (19)* Sucker Creek  proposed
Grizzly Peak (21) Walker Creek, Gaerky Creek originate here proposed
PCT: Hyatt Lake (22) Burnt Creek, Left Fork Creek, and others streams nearby proposed
PCT: Green Springs Summit to Hobart Bluff (23) Keene Creek proposed
Salmon River (25) Salmon River existing
Boulder Creek & Boulder Lake (27) Boulder Creek proposed
Fifteenmile Creek (28) Fifteenmile Creek  existing
Clackamas Riverside Trail (29)* Oak Grove Fork, Clackamas River  proposed, existing
Memaloose Lake (30)* Memaloose Creek  proposed
South Fork Breitenbush (33)* South Fork Breitenbush River  proposed
Crabtree Valley (34) Crabtree Creek proposed
Three Pyramids (35) North Fork Park Creek proposed
House Rock (36) South Santiam River, Latiwi Creek proposed
Browder Ridge (38) Gate Creek proposed
McKenzie River Trail: Fish Lake Creek to Great Spring (39) Fish Lake Creek proposed
McKenzie River Trail: Carmen Reservoir to Tamolitch Falls (40) McKenzie River existing
Tidbits Mountain (41)* Calapooia River originates on slopes  proposed
Delta OG Nature Trail (43)* Delta Creek  proposed
Shale Ridge (44) North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River

existing

Black Canyon (48) Waldo Lake proposed
Island Lakes (49) Ray Creek, Gold Lake, Salt Creek proposed
Upper Middle Fork Willamette: Indigo Springs (51) Indigo Creek, Middle Fork Willamette River proposed
Brice Creek (52) Brice Creek proposed
Fairview Creek (53) Fairview Creek proposed
Tokatee & Watson Falls (55) North Umpqua River  proposed, existing downstream
Twin Lakes (56) Twin Lakes Creek proposed
Upper Rogue River Trail (60) Rogue River existing
Union Creek (61) Union Creek proposed
South Fork Rogue River (62) South Fork Rogue River proposed
Brown Mountain (64) South Fork Little Butte Creek proposed
Metolius River (65) Metolius River existing
Benham Falls (66) Deschutes River existing
Cultus River & Benchmark Butte (67) Cultus River proposed
North Fork Walla Walla (74) North Fork Walla Walla River proposed
South Fork Walla Walla (75) South Fork Walla Walla River proposed
Dutch Flat Creek (78) Dutch Flat Creek, Van Patten Creek proposed
South Fork Desolation Creek (79) South Fork Desolation Creek proposed
Sheep Creek (83) Sheep Creek, North Fork Malheur River nearby proposed, existing
North Fork Malheur (84) North Fork Malheur River existing
Malheur River Canyon (85) Malheur River existing
Myrtle Creek (86) Myrtle Creek proposed
North Fork Catherine Creek (89) North Fork Catherine Creek proposed
Imnaha River (90) Imnaha River existing
Eagle Creek (91) Eagle Creek existing

*Note: These trails or access to them are closed due to the 2020 fires. Updates can be found here.

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Photo Credits
Chandra LeGue