Twenty-eight paddlers join me on June 5, 2015, for three days of paddling in south-central Oregon. Non of those accompanying me on the trip have ever paddled the area surrounding Chiloquin, Oregon, so it is a new experience for them. For me, however, it is my third time to the area—the beauty of the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail, the landscape of the Klamath Basin, and tranquil nature of the region keeps drawing me back year after year. It is this beauty and tranquility I want to share with those accompanying me on this paddle trip.
Those of us who arrive early convene at the Collier Memorial State Park campground, which will serve as our base for the next three days, to set up camp before joining the others in our party waiting at the day use area.
Day one involves paddling the Williamson River. The river begins its 100-mile journey to Upper Klamath Lake on the north side of Fuego Mountain in the Winema National Forest. Along its twisiting course, it passes the Williamson River campground, Collier Memorial State Park, and through the town of Chiloquin. Because of a lethargic flowrate in the summer, canoeists and kayakers can paddle the river in both directions.
We put in at the Collier Memorial State Park day use area on the east side of Hwy 97 and paddle two and a half miles up to the Williamson River Campground. The only current we encounter happens about 100 yards upriver where Spring Creek empties into the Williamson River. Once past the confluence with the creek, the river’s current subsides.
Paddling the Williamson River takes us past grassy banks, fields, and forests, exposing us to a variety of habitats that support a richness of wildlife. Along the way, I spot what appears to be a river otter’s den—sightings of river otters two days later in the area confirms my observation. I also spot a pair of bald eagles with two juveniles in the nest. Traveling at a leisurely pace allows us time to observe the natural beauty of the area and the lazy meandering of the river. The river almost completely circles the tree containing the eagle’s nest, so it provides us several different perspectives of the eagles.
Later in the summer the Williamson River can be difficult to paddle as the water level dips and you have to be mindful of rocks in the water as you get closer to the Williamson River Campground. The day prior to leaving for the trip, I placed a call to Tim at Winema National Forest Service headquarters in Chiloquin to inquire of the water level. He relayed to me that he was somewhat surprised to see the water level in the river as high at is was considering the region received very little snowfall this past winter. Tim assured me that we would not have any difficulty completing the paddle.
Paddling in late spring doesn’t prevent my canoe from scraping against one rock I didn’t see hidden in the water by the shadows of nearby trees. Thank goodness my canoe is made of Royalex and not fiberglass.
The two-and-a-half-hour paddle ends with us back at the day use area. With our boats loaded back on our vehicles, we drive the short distance back to the campground to finish setting up camp and eat before convening in the early evening to discuss the plans for tomorrow’s exploration of the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail. At the meeting, I discuss what to expect on the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail, outline the paddle route, cover safety matters and wildlife to look for, when and where lunch will take place, and the time the group will be leaving in the morning for Rocky Point. Several are not thrilled to hear that they will need to be ready to go by eight in the morning and advocate for a later start time. I remind them that it is a half-hour drive from the state park to Rocky Point and that the paddle is nine and a half miles long. I want everyone on the water by 9 a.m. so all the paddlers are back at the put-in no later than 5 p.m., so we agree to keep to the 8 a.m. departure time.