A small rectangle of BLM-administered land, almost all but surrounded by the west side of the Mount Hood National Forest, is the gateway to some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Clackamas River basin.

Two of the taller waterfalls are on the South Fork Clackamas Wild and Scenic River. Less than an hour’s drive from Portland and just outside Estacada, the South Fork Clackamas River merges with Memaloose Creek and then joins the main stream of the Clackamas River. 

In 2009, 4.2 miles of the South Fork Clackamas were designated as wild and scenic by Congress. Only six-tenths of that river span is officially managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The surrounding land is rugged and steep, with elevations ranging from 2,200 feet down to 600 feet. 

Most of the watershed, filled with Pacific silver fir, Douglas fir and western hemlock, is under the care of the U.S. Forest Service. 

But wow, those waterfalls. 

The South Fork Clackamas Falls, above the Memaloose Creek confluence, stretches tall and thin for 190 feet. At its top, there are several pools that drop upon each other before the big fall.

Then below the subdued and forested confluence, where the river feels more like a creek, there is the Lower South Fork Clackamas Falls, which is wide and 60 feet tall. The large pool at the bottom opens up into a shallow riverbed dotted with rocks where spring chinook and coho salmon fry can be seen. Winter and summer steelhead also call the south fork home beneath the falls.

Deer and elk are in the area, seasonally; and spotted owls and bald eagles also call the watershed home, according to a joint BLM and U.S. Forest Service analysis. 

BE AWARE:  The South Fork Clackamas River is an area of concern for bats.  More specifically transferring white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome was found to be present in western Washington this spring.  This wiped out bats across eastern United States in past years.  Several watersheds in the BLM's Salem District where identified as priority watersheds for the White Nose Syndrome Response because of these cave/tunnel resources.  Individuals visiting the area can transfer material on there shoes from one location to another.

Be sure to clean your equipment and boots before and after entering the tunnels to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome.

For more information:
U.S. Forest Service, Clackamas River Ranger District: 503-630-6861
Bureau of Land Management, Salem District: 503-375-5646

BLM photos and video clips captured July 21, 2016
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