Kentucky Falls - May 15, 2011
Coordinators Gary and Nancy Waugaman and Diane Rannow, narration by Diane Rannow and pictures by Diane Rannow and Rick Sohn.

Sixteen hikers were willing to take the three hour drive that took us deep into a remote canyon of the Coast Range where three spectacular waterfalls tumble through the jungly rainforest. Even though it's long the drive was beautiful as we followed first the Umpqua River along Hwy 138 and Hwy 38 and then along the Smith River just north of Reedsport. Since we had enough drivers all the cars went to the upper trailhead to be shuttled to the lower trailhead for those hikers who did not wish to do the shuttle hike.

It was already 11am when we got to the trailhead and everyone was anxious to don their packs and hit the trail. The faster hikers who planned to do the 8.7 mile shuttle hike were soon out of sight. The first part of the trial wound genly downward with a forest lush with ferns and woodland flowers... trilliums, bleeding heart, yellow violets and oxalis along with currents and salmonberry were all in bloom. Calling this a rainforest was appropriate as we had drizzle with an attitude off and on most of the day. Occasional shafts of sunlight highlighted moss shrouded branches with a beautiful glow.

After half a mile the trail skirted a rocky cliff and we had our first views of the beautiful 100 foot Upper Kentucky falls. Then we switchbacked down the canyon for .3 of a mile to the base of Upper Kentucky Falls. Since the leaves were just starting to come out on the trees and bushes, we had wonderful glimpses of babbling brooks rushing akibg beside us as we continued the 1.4 miles where the trail ended at an observation deck in a misty grotto by Lower Kentucky Falls. Lower Kentucky Falls (on Kentucky Creek) plunges off a cliff side by side with North Fork Falls (on the North Fork of the Smith River) about 50 yards apart. Both Falls are about 80 feet high. There was so much water coming over the falls that the viewing platform was shrouded in mist. When we got there, the faster hikers were already leaving, but a few were still huddled in the mist finishing their lunch. In past years we've eaten our lunch sitting by the creek with a wonderful view of the falls. This year there is so much water that the creek is actually running down the short trail that continued to another viewpoint of North Fork Falls.  

After enjoying lunch and the Falls, we backtracked to the North Fork Trail and followed the river on a muddy track for another .8 mile to a beautiful pool with a small (10 foot) waterfall...the turnaround point for those doing the 6 mile hike. This part of the trail isn't used as much and had several areas were we had to push our way through the overhinging VERY wet bushes.

After the pool, the shuttle hikers continued as the trail made a long and steep traverse up and around several side canyons while the North Fork splashed unseen somewhere down in the canyon. A look at the map showed the reason for the detour...the trail had to skirt around private riverside property. It was a lot of uphill for a trail that basically headed downhill. This middle third of the trail apparently does not see a lot of foot traffic as it was badly overgrown and the trail tread was faint. As we tromped through the brush, the water on the vegetation was transferred to hikers so we got wet even though the drizzle had let up some.  Six miles into the hike, we crossed the North Fork on a magnificently constructed bridge, contrasting dramatically with a number of lesser bridges we crossed.  Some of those bridges were pretty slick with all the moisture and a wade across the river was almost preferable to risking life and limb fighting for traction on the slimy planks


 

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