Southern Oregon waterfalls road trip in Roseburg: 4 easy family waterfall hikes, 3 rushing rivers, 2 scenic parks, and 1 winding road

Roseburg, Oregon waterfalls

Learned…

… Highway 138 is packed with short, family-friendly easy hikes to beautiful Oregon waterfalls.
… Good leaders care about those they lead.
… To appreciate your time in front.
… To follow when it’s someone else’s turn to go ahead.
… Roseburg is a great base for adventures along one of America’s greatest scenic drives.

Made…

… Chances for each kid to hike in front and behind, even when it led to tears or frustration.
… Sketches for a new comic strip (Connor’s idea).
… Friends with a cool rock seller at the Umpqua Valley Farmer’s Market.
… A reader (Aster’s reading really took off on this trip!)
… Barely a dent in all the amazing easy waterfall hikes between Roseburg and Crater Lake.

Adventure for a birthday girl

Jodie ponders the Oregon waterfalls we need to see next time.
Jodie ponders the Oregon waterfalls we need to see next time.

How we wound up taking an Oregon waterfalls road trip

“How about Roseburg?” said Jodie

Anthony did not expect this.

A few weeks before Jodie’s birthday, Anthony asked her about taking a trip. He had something else, somewhere else, in mind. Yet as she often does, Jodie surprised him. An Oregon waterfalls road trip.

In Roseburg, Oregon.

Not quite 25,000 people. About an hour’s drive south of Eugene, right off I-5. One of Oregon’s many towns that once relied heavily on timber, and that now has reinvented itself. Roseburg continues to evolve: While timber, farming, livestock, and other industry are still important to the area, Roseburg has also become known for more.

The gateway to Highway 138, one of the prettiest scenic drives in the country. Even after 2020’s wildfires… but we’ll get to that.

Incredible Oregon wine.

Shopping, at brands you might be surprised to find in a town.

A growing food and beverage scene, complete with area wineries, craft breweries, artisan desserts, and more.

These things, though, were not what had captivated Jodie and had her wanting to dedicate a birthday trip to the Roseburg area.

She opened an atlas and traced her finger east, away from Roseburg, along Highway 138, toward Crater Lake.

“It’s the waterfalls,” she said.

Anthony followed her finger. Saw waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. And understood.

“Roseburg it is.”

Oregon waterfalls family travel video!

Along the way in this latest family slow travel adventure, we also explored the food, sights, parks, and Oregon waterfalls in and around tucked-away Roseburg:

Roseburg: Growing and changing while keeping it down to earth

Roseburg is not Seattle or Portland or San Francisco or Denver. It doesn’t need to be.

Roseburg has a small town feel even though it’s bigger than you might think. It’s a timber town that redefined itself, for travel, for shopping, for wine, beer, and food. Roseburg has some timber country roughness around the edges, and that’s to the town’s credit. In its quest to reinvent itself, Roseburg honors its history while looking to the future.

Hills ring the large town of not-quite 25,000, and those hills shone with resplendent greens during our April visit. The oaks on the hillsides were still bare except for the bright, silvery, sage green lichen hanging off their branches, like rough, shaggy sweaters.

Even from the parking lot, Watson Falls lets you know it's one the most impressive Oregon waterfalls around.
Even from the parking lot, Watson Falls lets you know it’s one the most impressive Oregon waterfalls around.

Rivers also define the town. And that’s rivers, yes, plural. See, Bend has the Deschutes. Portland has the Columbia and the Willamette.

But Roseburg? It’s got three rivers. The North Umpqua. The South Umpqua. And the Umpqua. The waters roll through town, clear and cold, tumbling and foaming. The North and South roll west down from the Cascade Mountains, to collide into the main body of the Umpqua and roll on westward toward the Pacific.

In Roseburg: What to do around town before you explore Oregon waterfalls

Many of the Roseburg area Oregon waterfalls hikes are accessible for amputees.
Many of the Roseburg area Oregon waterfalls hikes are accessible for amputees.

Roseburg is a great home base for a family travel adventure. There’s an array of food and beverage options. You can find ample hotels, vacation rentals, and camping. Douglas County’s system of parks and playgrounds is located with spectacular scenery in mind, and there are lots of places for the kids to play—all the more useful after long car rides.

Here are a few spots we enjoyed during our visit in the Roseburg area:

Umpqua Valley Farmers Market

If you need to understand one thing about traveling in Oregon, it’s that rain is no excuse. Oregonians romp in the rain, get married in the rain, hike in the rain.

The only activity rain can justifiably delay is sunbathing.

When we rolled into Roseburg at lunchtime on a Saturday, it didn’t matter that it was raining. Rain wasn’t going to stop us: With a later afternoon checkin for our vacation rental, we had timed our arrival with being able to check out a few things around town, including the weekly Umpqua Valley Farmers Market.

The scent of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies dodged the raindrops to find us. Even in the rain a lane of covered stalls was showcasing farm-fresh produce, baked goods, rocks, and more. At the back end of the market, two guys under a stage tent filled the rain-softened air with a folky rendition of the Pure Prairie League classic song, “Amie.”

The kids in particular were drawn to a rock table, where a local rock enthusiast was selling beautiful polished stones, including a space for kids. Her kid table is a must-visit: For the kiddos, anything on the kid table is $1. Connor came away with a lovely piece of petrified wood, and Aster was quite taken with a lovely amber and red piece of carnelian.

Pete’s Drive-In

While we enjoyed our visit to the market, we decided to snag lunch a few minutes away, at Pete’s Drive-In.

Pete’s has an old-time feel, the sort of place where local teens go to get their first paycheck, while mid-century tunes drift along with the scent of fresh french fries.

Pete’s taught our wee fry fiend, Aster, that she doesn’t just like fries, she loves cheeseburgers too (with pickles and ketchup).

The grownup pick? The “Roseburger.” Along with being one of the most perfectly punny burger names ever, the Roseburger was delicious. The secret? A cheeseburger…. topped with ham. Salty, sweet, and savory, all in one.

Parked under the drive-in’s enclosed outside dining area, we ate with the Outback’s windows down. The rain was blowing over. Clouds still roamed the sky. A northerly bite chattered through the breeze, a fading, lingering reminder that the region is still making its slow, defiant way out of winter’s chill.

Discovery Gardens and Rivers Fork Park

Part of the fun of gardens? The cool things hiding here and there and everywhere.
Part of the fun of gardens? The cool things hiding here and there and everywhere.

A little northwest of downtown, off a winding road that passes acres of vineyards running to the hills in the distance, there’s an amazing place.

Run by Oregon State University, the Discovery Gardens combines multiple types of garden in one flowing space. The gardens seamlessly nestle a Japanese Garden that grows serenity and nurtures calm, next to a Children’s Garden where the kids have some options for romping and climbing. All around are quirky sculptures, native plants, bulbs in raised beds, a rock garden, and even a large, central shelter for picnics or events.

Turning right from the Discovery Gardens parking lot, you quickly find yourself at a gorgeous scenic park, with long views to the hills in the distance. In addition to vast fields, Rivers Fork Park has two playgrounds (one of which is designed for accessibility) for the kids to romp on. You can also wander over to the edge of the park to see not only the North Umpqua River and Umpqua River, but also the confluence of the North and South Umpqua Rivers.

Loggers Pizza

A pizza...with barbecue. And yes, it works. Really well.
A pizza…with barbecue. And yes, it works. Really well.

After some easy waterfall hikes and back roads wanderings, it’s pizza time. Loggers is a local pizzeria, with hearty and inventive pizzas. We chose a large: Half Hawaiian (pineapple and ham) for the kids. For the parents? The Smokehouse—smothered with barbecued brisket, pulled pork, tri-tip, bacon, sliced dill pickles, red onions and BBQ sauce—was quirky, delightful, and delicious.

Backside Brewing

Some years back, Anthony wrote a series of articles for the now-defunct Oregon Beer Growler newspaper, about Roseburg’s growing craft beer scene. Among the many breweries was one within walking distance of our Roseburg vacation rental: Backside Brewing.

Our first evening, Anthony wandered down to Backside to pick up a small growler of Deer Creek Porter. We also snagged a Backside Golden Peach Ale (like a peach version of Magic Hat #9!). Excellent beers all around—one of many amazing breweries in the Roseburg area.

Cascades Coffee House

Located near downtown, Cascades Coffee House has a classy space and a fun, innovative drinks menu. Their snacks case also has plenty of tasty treats—great for when you want a beverage and a nibble after a day of hiking!

Even burned, Highway 138 is beautiful

There may be occasional delays while crews work on Highway 138 and the surrounding forest, but the drive is worth it for all the Oregon waterfalls you find along the way.
There may be occasional delays while crews work on Highway 138 and the surrounding forest, but the drive is worth it for all the Oregon waterfalls you find along the way.

Whether right off the highway or down the backcountry, the Highway 138 area east of Roseburg is full of waterfalls, thanks to Oregon’s volcano-influenced, lava-covered geology.

Highway 138 is also a magic road. When Anthony first visited Oregon from Virginia in 1998, driving this winding road, with the river, hills, and forests, is no small part of what made him decide he wanted to move to Oregon.

Driving east, it’s just you, the North Umpqua, and mile after mile of flowing waters, sometimes almost clear, sometimes a rich dark green, sometimes almost blue. Small rocks, massive boulders, and rock formations dot the water, pretty much all cooled lava that’s been chucked about.

Little jagged islands dot the center of the river. On one of them, in 2008, Jodie and Anthony got bumped out of a kayak after running a Class IV rapid went wrong. That story ended well, thank goodness, but it’s given us a special memory, an extra regard, for the North Umpqua. It’s one of the places we’ve been longing to take Connor and Aster too, and now, at last, we are here.

Scarred beauty

When we drove through this area in 2021, though, it came with mixed emotions. Highway 138 is still beautiful, but right now it’s a scarred beauty. Wildfires tore through the area in 2021. Blackened, dead trees stood on the hillsides like burned-out matchsticks.

The area was hurt—but it remains resilient. Even as we looked at the burned trees, we could see areas where ferns were coming back.

The fire damage will remain for a long time, but that also shouldn’t be a deterrent. Some of Oregon’s best spots to recreate are on Highway 138—especially family-friendly hikes. The highway is so full of Oregon waterfalls, it’s as if Oprah were handing them out to an audience. Short falls. Double-decker falls. Falls so high up you that even with a vertical shot, you still can’t fit the whole thing in one frame.

Who's in the lead? Take turns!
Who’s in the lead? Take turns!

And nearly all of these falls can be hiked in less than a mile. Round trip. There’s some elevation gain, and some narrow bits and all that, but overall, these easy waterfall hikes are perfect for families. There are logs to climb, nature to identify, greenery to marvel at, rapids to be stupefied by. Oh, and there are Oregon waterfalls begging to be the setting for some sort of impressive movie action scene.

These are public lands at their best.

4 kid-friendly Oregon waterfalls hikes in the Roseburg area and off Highway 138

Yakso Falls

Southern Oregon waterfalls: Yakso Falls
Southern Oregon waterfalls: Yakso Falls

Across from Lake in the Woods Campground on Little River Road

For our first waterfall hike, we chose to turn off Highway 138, onto Little River Road. You head into the hills—high enough to feel your ears pop from the pressure change. Eventually, the road becomes packed gravel. There are some potholes, but the road was easily navigable. Along the way, we passed sedans coming back down from a day up in the woods.

When going to Yakso Falls, you may need to ignore your GPS or directions app. Ours had the endpoint about a mile away from the actual trailhead. Fortunately, a sheriff was coming downhill at the time, and he quickly set us straight.

You’ve reached Yakso Falls trailhead when you’ve reached Lake in the Woods Campground. The parking lot may be open for parking, and you can access the trailhead by leaving the campground, crossing the road, and picking up the trailhead at the side of the road. 

Building leaders

This hike was an opportunity for Connor and Aster to start figuring out how they could take turns on who got to hike in front. It didn’t always go smoothly. There were squabbles and arguments. Sometimes the lead child would walk too far ahead, and we’d have to call for them to stop and wait. In time, though, the kids started to find a rhythm. They remembered they could talk things over, negotiate, and decide for themselves how they could split up who got to walk in front, and when they would swap.

The trail to Yakso Falls is pretty easy going. The end trail is a little narrow and steep, but you get to go down to the side of the pool where the 70-foot fall hits the water—perfect for throwing rocks in the pool or doing a little wading.

Lake in the Woods campground also has picnic tables and pit toilets—and you can take a short drive to another well-regarded waterfall, Hemlock Falls, along Hemlock Creek Trail #1505.

Toketee Falls

Southern Oregon waterfalls: Toketee Falls
Southern Oregon waterfalls: Toketee Falls

Highway 138

When you turn off Highway 138 and take the short road to the Toketee Falls Trailhead, the first thing that will blow your mind is the pipeline.

“Daddy, are those the waterfalls?” Aster joked.

No wonder too. Winding by the parking lot like a 12-foot-high snake made out of barrels, a long pipeline was also full of holes. Water streamed out of it. Little waterfalls and sprays showered over the parking lot.

The pipeline is no narrow little thing either. Built of redwood and completed in 1949, Toketee Pipeline runs for 1,500 feet. The pipeline both regulates water flow, so Toketee Falls maintains a consistent level all year, and it runs to the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project, which generates enough power to run over 22,000 homes.

The trail itself is less than half a mile. In the earlier stretch of the trail, you wander through a forest of fir and hemlock—and there are some great downed trees the kids can romp on. As you make your way toward the rockier sections, expect some ups and downs. However, the trail has staircases, natural rock steps, and fenced-in sides to help you along—and give some measure of safety. Looking down from some parts of the hemlock-lined trail, you can just see the North Umpqua, flowing through the bottom of a steep, narrow, tall canyon.

Kids checking on amputee mama hiker

As we made our way, Connor would often check back to see how Jodie was doing, since she usually walks behind us. Aster would sometimes go back to her, or tell us we needed to pause. Connor would offer a shoulder or an arm if Jodie needed help getting through a tricky descent.

Toketee itself is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Oregon. Set in the midst of a curved wall of volcanic basalt, the falls seem to be in a centerstage spotlight. From where the water first tumbles over its high crest, a 40-foot cascade flows into a middle pool, tucked into the rock. Then the waters plunge again, falling 80 feet to the pool below.

Toketee is an amazing sight, but be ready to appreciate it not from the bottom pool, but higher up. The trail takes you to a fenced-in overlook (with a convenient bench), so you can see the falls in all their glory, if at a bit of a distance.

Watson Falls

Southern Oregon waterfalls: Watson Falls
Southern Oregon waterfalls: Watson Falls

Highway 138

Oregon’s third-tallest waterfall is just a short drive from Toketee. Watson and Toketee are a natural combo: They’re close by, and each hike is so short it’s quite doable to visit both in the same day.

Watson Falls also lets you know right away that it’s majestic and worth the steep hike. Even from the parking lot, through an empty-tooth-like gap in the trees, you can see the crest of the falls.

The parking area has picnic tables, toilets, and interpretive signs. You’ll cross the parking lot and the road to reach to the Watson Falls Trailhead. The trail can be steep in sections. You can feel the fan-shaped area narrow as you make your way toward the basalt cliffs where the falls rush down nearly 300 feet. In some sections the the stream is nearly vertical. Burbling rapids tumble over mossy black rocks.

The high waters thunder down a scooped-out, lava-formed natural grotto, almost like an amphitheater, if amphitheaters could be covered in trees, boulders, and tumbling white waters. As you make your way up the trail, the course of the water can be hard to track. The stream zigs, zags, and tumbles so much, you feel like you’re on a hike designed by MC Escher.

Splitting up

The kids decided between them who would lead, and when they would switch. Each leader watched out not only for where we were going, but they looked back, to see how everyone was getting on. And we, as a group, stuck together. The kids found their rhythm. And they told us how being in the lead also meant checking on who was behind you.

After already doing the Toketee hike, Jodie and Aster decided that Watson’s lower vantage was a good stopping point for them. They hung out at a bench near the bottom of the falls, where the waters had fallen so far they were more mist than stream.

Connor and Anthony continued up the trails’s switchbacking, narrow, final few hundred yards to the finale overlook, which looks out about midway up Watson Falls. The overlook is fenced for safety, but it can be wet and slippery. The chill mist of the falls touches you here, and you can see out clearly all the way from the crest to the pool.

Little Falls

Southern Oregon waterfalls: Little Falls
Southern Oregon waterfalls: Little Falls

Steamboat Creek Road

“Mama, is this hike really zero miles?” said Connor.

That’s right, kid, that’s right.

A few minutes north of the junction of Highway 138 and Steamboat Creek Road, Little Falls isn’t actually a hike. You pull off the road… get out of the car… and there they are, part of Steamboat Creek as it makes its way toward the North Umpqua.

While there’s no hike and the short wee falls themselves are less than 10 feet high, Little Falls is a perfect “waterfall hike” for a different reason.

Some Oregon waterfalls can make a perfect picnic spot

The stream runs past a long, wide, flat expanse of rock. We talked about what a great spot this would be in summer: Spread out some towels. Bring a picnic. Set some cold beverages in the water. Wade in the cool waters. Romp across the rocks. Sit by the tumbling little falls.

Little Falls makes a great end-of-day chill out treat. Or, use it as an easy stop to break up your day’s drive or adventures. It’s a place we want to check out again in summer—and make our way up the road more too, to check out some of the other spots and camping areas just a few miles off 138.

Plan your Southern Oregon waterfalls hikes and road trip with these resources

Oregon waterfalls are a great hiking motivator!
Oregon waterfalls are a great hiking motivator!

We might have visited four waterfalls, but we barely dipped a toe in all the waterfalls in this area. If you want to explore more of the waterfalls here and plan your own visit, check out these resources too:

Roseburg and Oregon waterfalls: A great family slow adventure of a fun town and the great outdoors

From boulders to logs, short hiking trails still lots of big fun for the kids to move and have fun.
From boulders to logs, short hiking trails still lots of big fun for the kids to move and have fun.

When we weren’t out exploring Roseburg, Highway 138, and some of Oregon’s beautiful waterfalls, we hung out at our vacation rental house. Connor started drawing a new comic strip. Aster’s reading kicked up into higher gear—as did her solitaire skills. 

Our adventure style is not backpacking and bushwhacking. We are not fast-paced people. We wander. Meander. Enjoy slow days full of small adventures. If your family, like ours, loves rolling up somewhere and doing a wee hike, then Highway 138 has the short-hike waterfall wonders you’ve been looking for.

A good hike in the forest is good for the parents too!
A good hike in the forest is good for the parents too!

So many waterfalls dot the highway, and more can be found off adjacent Forest Service roads. Some are tall. Some are small. Any are a way for you and your family to get in a short hike with a big payoff: Most of these hikes take less than an hour, and are a mile. Round-trip.

Roseburg is also a great hub and adventure home base for waterfalls, river play, great local parks, good food. It’s your gateway to the magic road of Oregon’s Highway 138.

We can’t wait to go back.

Directions to Roseburg, Oregon

Your home base for Oregon waterfalls hikes and adventures

Where to stay in Roseburg, Oregon (and what to do)

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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