Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River
The Klamath River begins in Oregon's Klamath Basin, then cuts through the Cascades and the Klamath Mountains before entering the Pacific Ocean in northern California. The Upper Klamath River has a lengthy season of use thanks to the steady water releases from the J.C. Boyle Dam and Powerhouse operated by PacifiCorp. The Upper Klamath River is recognized as an outstanding whitewater boating river with warm water and many class III to IV+ rapids. These classes are considered advanced to expert on the rafting scale of one to six. If you are not a seasoned river rat, there are a number of guides and outfitters who offer safe, professionally guided trips ranging from one to three days. Other popular activities along the river include camping, fishing, hunting, and scenic touring. The BLM operates the following recreation sites on the Upper Klamath River: Spring Island Day Use Site, Klamath River Campground, Turtle Primitive Camp, and Stateline Campground.
The following directions describe how to navigate to the Spring Island Day Use Site. From Ashland, Oregon, travel east on State Highway 66 for approximately 43 miles. Turn right onto J.C. Boyle Powerhouse Road (40-6E-1.2). Follow J.C. Boyle Powerhouse Road (40-6E-1.2) for approximately 4 miles to Spring Island Day Use Site. From Klamath Falls, Oregon travel west on State Highway 66 for approximately 30 miles. Turn left onto J.C. Boyle Powerhouse Road (40-6E-1.2). Follow J.C. Boyle Powerhouse Road (40-6E-1.2) for approximately 4 miles to Spring Island Day Use Site.
There is also access to the opposite side of the river off of the Topsy Road. Note that this road can be in very rough shape at times.
In 1994, the Klamath River from J.C. Boyle Dam Powerhouse to the California/Oregon border (including a 0.25-mile corridor on either side) was designated a wild and scenic river under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968).
1988: The state of Oregon designated an 11-mile segment of the Klamath River as a State Scenic Waterway in 1988.
1994: The same 11-mile section of the Klamath River within Oregon was designated as a Wild and Scenic River with the classification of “Scenic,” under Section 2 (a)(ii) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
1995: The 1995 “Klamath Falls Resource Area Record of Decision and Resource Management Plan and Rangeland Program Summary” (RMP) designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) for the full river canyon (rim-to-rim) for the full length of the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River.
2016: The 2016 “Southwestern Oregon Record of Decision and Resource Management Plan” re-designated the river canyon as an ACEC with some adjustments to its boundary from the original designation in 1995.
The Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River is known for outstandingly remarkable values that include recreation, wildlife, fish, prehistoric resources, historic resources, scenic, and Native American traditional use.
One of the best known values associated with the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River is recreation. The Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River offers a variety of whitewater boating opportunities for rafters, canoeists, and kayakers. This segment offers rapids ranging in classification from class I-V. Additionally the river offers an outstanding trout fishery with a catch rate among the highest in the state and nearly unlimited shoreline access.
The pre-historic and historic values associated with the river and its canyon cannot be understated. Archaeological evidence and ethnographic accounts indicate that the canyon was utilized by a variety of cultural groups on a year-round basis; the canyon is considered, by at least two cultural groups, to have immeasurable spiritual significance; many of the other outstandingly remarkable resources play a significant role in traditional use; the earliest dated materials are from 7,646 ± 400 BP and the canyon continues to be an integral location for traditional activities and resource procurement.
Historic-period archaeological sites and above ground features are located in the canyon and represent early ranching, farming, settlement, transportation, and logging activities; the well-known, historic Topsy Road (1875) parallels the east side of the river.
Wildlife is abundant near the river including a multitude of nesting raptors, colonies of bats, and numerous game species.
Additionally, the scenic value of Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River is noted due to its unique landform, diverse vegetation, water, and lack of cultural modification. The steep-walled, layered basalt canyon is the predominant visual element in the region as it rises 1,000 feet above the river.
Rafting and Kayaking are the primary boating uses on the river. River conditions can be variable based on flows coming from J.C. Boyle Dam/Powerhouse system. Fluctuations in flow occur daily and often range between approximately 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to approximately 2,000 cfs. Information on water releases is available one to four days in advance by calling PacifiCorp’s flow phone at 1-800-547-1501 or by visiting J.C. Boyle water release. Additional flow information can be found at the USGS site.
Rapids range from class I to class V with five rapids above class IV. The short distance of this section, combined with the quantity and classification of rapids, provides a challenging whitewater experience.
Non-commercial boating activities on the river do not require a permit and there are no fees for river use.
Developed raft/kayak launch access is available at the Spring Island Day Use Site. Developed take out access is available at Stateline Campground.
There are approximately ten commercial permits issued for whitewater and fishing rafting on the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River. Guides on the Upper Klamath offer a range of services including fly fishing, group white water rafting trips, and overnight trips. For a current list of permitted outfitters contact the BLM in Klamath Falls, Or.
Fishing in the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River can be characterized as fast paced and is known for anglers catching multiple fish per day. Dry fly fishing offers the most success with lure fishing opportunities as well. Fish in this stretch of river generally range from 10-16 inches with the occasional fish being over 20 inches. Boat fishing and bank fishing can both be successful but wading opportunities are limited. Drive-in fishing access is available at Klamath River Campground, Stateline Campground, and Turtle Primitive Camp. Hike-in fishing access is available along the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River with rugged terrain dominating the landscape.
Day-Use and Camping
The remote Klamath River canyon offers campers a semi-primitive experience. This experience is more primitive as you move downstream. The opportunity for isolation from the sights and sounds of people is a characteristic feature of the canyon that campers enjoy.
Along the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River, one BLM operated day-use area is available at the Spring Island Day Use Site. This site offers picnic tables, toilet, a whitewater put in/take out, message board, registration drop box, and fishing access. There is no charge for day use access at this site.
Camping is available at the Klamath River Campground and Stateline Campground. These two sites offer campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, and access to a vault toilet. Additionally Turtle Primitive Camp offers campsites with no additional development. There is no charge to camp at these sites. All camp sites are first come first serve. All sites typically have light use.
Dispersed camping is limited to areas where the roadside terrain allows.
There are several roads that provide access to scenic viewing/driving from both sides of the Upper Klamath River canyon. Road surface conditions are either rocked or natural surface. Caution should be used when driving on all roads. Vehicles with four wheel drive, high clearance, and adequate tire tread are necessary to navigate the Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River roads. Wildlife are abundant in the river canyon and provide numerous viewing opportunities. The topography and vegetation of the river canyon allows for long distance viewing as well as short distance viewing.
The Upper Klamath Wild and Scenic River has no designated trails; however, some roads are best traveled by foot or bike and are accessible to those with cross-country navigation skills.
Hunting opportunities exist on the Upper Klamath River from fall to spring. Game species include turkeys, deer, elk, grey squirrel, mountain quail, California valley quail, and mountain lion.