After a very loud and very late 4th of July celebration, thanks to the Eugene Emeralds’ 20-inning baseball game a mile from our home that pushed their annual fireworks show start time to 1:00 am, it was determined in our household that a one-night getaway upthe McKenzie River was in order. Wanting to try a new camping spot with some solitude led us to Ice Cap Campground, about 75 miles east of Eugene.
With no reservations and no guarantees that we would find a spot, we left home the morning after the unwelcome late night noise, hoping to reach our destination by noon. We were pleased to see a steady stream of RV’s, campers, and vehicles with tent trailers and boats driving back to the valley in the opposite direction, heading home after the long 4th of July weekend.
Pulling into the Ice Cap campground, we found it nearly vacated. We had our pick from all but one of the 22 total sites and chose one that was ideal for the solitude we were seeking. A real perk of retirement is to hike and camp on weekdays, rather than increasingly-crowded weekends. It helps to solve the people problem that is created when too many folks are out at the same time.
It was fun to relax at such a large, private campsite. The roar of the McKenzie River whited out any other sounds, and while we had no real view of the river from 50 yards above, the audio portion of the program was outstanding. Just sitting and listening to the river felt so good after the morning drive. After lunch, the allure of nearby waterfalls was too much to allow for hanging out at our campsite any longer, and we headed out to look at Koosah Falls, a short walk from our campsite.
After admiring the falls from two different viewpoints, my goal of photographing it would have to be postponed because too much light was directly on the water. An impromptu decision led us to hike the three-mile Waterfall/McKenzie River Trail loop and return to Koosah when better light conditions prevailed.
From the falls, we hiked west along the river for a mile before we crossed the McKenzie at the Carmen Reservoir bridge, and then continued the loop east on the McKenzie River Trail. Oregon’s mountains had a very wet and snowy winter, resulting in a lot of run-off which has kept the McKenzie running full and hard. Hiking beside churning whitewater was a delightful experience, and the cool spray from the river kept us comfortable despite the warmth of the afternoon.
The McKenzie River Trail portion of the loop led us through old growth forest of six-foot-thick Douglas fir and bent-limbed red cedar as the trail climbed and dropped through old lava fields to another view of Koosah, and then in another half mile, to the magnificent and powerful Sahalie Falls, with its 100 foot drop.
In Chinook jargon, Sahalie means “top,” “upper,” “sky,” and “heaven. “Sahalie is a favorite tourist stop with its location right off the highway, and the parking lot is always full during the summer. With its two dropping flows, Sahalie Falls is one of the more recognizable Oregon waterfalls. Hiking past this elegant waterfall, with its giant field of spray forming a rainbow, was a wonderful way to view the falls.
From Sahalie, the trail provided impressive river views for a final half mile to finish our loop at Koosah and the light was favorable for some photos. A short walk, and we were back to our campsite.
After dinner, we enjoyed a campfire and the solitude we were longing for. The night was quiet, save for the river noise, and the stars and moon very bright. Reflecting on the day, the three-mile hike was a bonus, as it hadn’t been part of the day’s original plan. But it turned out to be a highlight. The entire camping and hiking experience in such a beautiful natural environment, is somehow very rejuvenating. It works for me every time.
As John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”