Fall Creek National Recreation Trail: Dolly Varden to Puma

Fall Creek National Recreation Trailhead near Dolly Varden Campground
Fall Creek National Recreation Trail (NRT) is an incredible gem not far from Eugene. During the summer the area is fairly busy because of the beautiful and cool creek. On any warm day one would likely run into a number of people swimming, fishing and hiking. But while it's still relatively cold there are few people that venture away from the road. Obviously swimming is currently out of the picture, unless you're crazy, the water temperature is between 42 and 45 degrees. Though in the summer it warms to around 65 degrees, which is perfect on a hot summer day. Our hike of the Fall Creek NRT had us starting at Dolly Varden Campground and turning around at Puma Campground.

Massive Old-Growth Douglas-fir nearly blocking the Fall Creek NRT

Entering the burn area from the Clark Fire along the Fall Creek NRT
The Fall Creek area has been home to quite a bit of controversy related to forest 'management' techniques. Plans to clear-cut a substantial area of old-growth forest sparked a 6 year tree sit that saved an incredible area. Shortly after this tree-sit ended and the timber sale was withdrawn a fire burned nearly 5,000 acres, including many started by those fighting the fire. Thankfully the burn area has been left to recover naturally. After the burn area you enter some of the most impressive old-growth along the entire trail.

Fall Creek near Bedrock Campground

Lush green moss blankets the area around Fall Creek above the burn area
Massive Douglas-fir along Fall Creek NRT
We were planning on camping somewhere along the trail, but because of recent heavy rainfall the majority of possible campsites were inundated. Eddie had spotted a campground across Fall Creek shortly before crossing Forest Road 1828, so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be Puma Campground, which was still closed to vehicular traffic, so we had our choice of campsites. Though not often done, campgrounds that are gated can still be used during the off season if you're hiking or biking in. Obviously no services such as trash, water or restrooms will be provided. We found the most sunny campsite and started to collect some firewood. If you're camping in western Cascadia during the wet months starting a fire can be very difficult, the key is finding dry wood. Broken old-growth trees are often a good source of dry wood, the underside if cracked can provide substantial amounts of wood. 

Cracked old-growth Douglas-fir

After several weeks of rain the wood was nearly dry

One pile of wood we pulled from the above Douglas-fir
 Despite the on and off snow and rain, we had a fairly large fire that allowed us to dry out all of our gear. In the morning the sun was peaking through the low fog that shrouded Fall Creek Valley. Hiking when the sun comes out after days of rain is always incredible in western Cascadia. The near constant falling of water from the trees as they dry out and the glowing green of nearly everything in the forest is breathtaking.

Low fog hangs in the shadow of native forest along Fall Creek

Incredible bigleaf maple along the Fall Creek NRT
 As we made our way back to Dolly Varden we came across quite a few day hikers, mostly within a mile and a half of Big Fall Creek Rd. Nearly back to the trailhead we noticed some large Douglas-firs that had very faint blue paint on them. These are some of the old-growth that the Forest Service had planned to cut, but thankfully the Cascadia Forest Defenders prevented that from occurring.

Nearly faded blue paint from a timber sale that was halted along the Fall Creek NRT

There was one more massive Douglas-fir behind the one on the left

Whether you're looking to hit a low elevation trail while the snow melts on higher elevation trails or you want to spend a few lazy days on an incredible waterway, the Fall Creek National Recreation Trail is perfect.

Directions from Fall Creek: East on Jasper-Lowell Road for .5 mile, keep right onto Jasper-Lowell Road for 1.9 mile, turn left onto Ruben Leigh Road follow for 1.2 mile, turn right onto Big Fall Creek Road follow for 9 miles. Trailhead is on right, just before crossing the bridge across Fall Creek.

Trailhead Elevation:
Approximately 850 feet

Hike Distance: 20 miles according to Garmin Oregon 550. Full trail length is 13.7 miles one way.

Hike Type: Out and Back 

Elevation Gain: Less than 800 feet

Light in winter, summer is busy. 

Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Fees: None

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