The Wild and Scenic Illinois River, leaves civilization and heads into the wilds of Southwestern Oregon’s Kalmiopsis backcountry. This is one of the most underappreciated, beautiful stretches of river on the West Coast and fall is one of the best times to visit the river’s Scenic section.
With the shorter days, cooler temperatures and rains, a relative peace descends on the road-accessible parts of the Illinois River Canyon. Gone are the traffic jams and rowdy parties of the hot dry summer. It’s a time of quiet, fall color and wild salmon.
A wild salmon stronghold
With the rains will come the Illinois’ wild chinook salmon. If you’re both lucky and vigilant, you might get to witness a spectacle seldom seen outside of the rivers of British Columbia and Alaska—wild salmon jumping natural barriers on their way back to the streams of their birth.
The salmon of Oregon’s Illinois River have been making this epic journey for thousands of years, in an unbroken continuum of birth, life and death. Their lineage is one of the purest on the West Coast. The Illinois is one the few rivers in California, Oregon and Washington where there’s been no hatchery supplementation. It’s a salmon stronghold of the best kind—one with truly wild salmon and steelhead, a high percentage of federal public lands (81%) and no dams.
Watch the Illinois River’s fall chinook salmon at Little Falls
The video is best watched at 1080p setting (if possible). Be sure to watch the two salmon at the end after the credits. With the slow motion amplifying the sound, you can hear them hitting the rocks. The last salmon was successful.
Little Falls is one of the best viewing areas when conditions are right. But the window is extremely narrow to see large numbers of fish at the falls. It all depends on the timing of fall rains, bringing the salmon up river, and then the right amount of water for them to get over the falls, but not so much to wash them out..
Report salmon poaching
Some low water years the salmon jam up below Little Falls where they are easy targets for poachers. Those that spawn in Illinois Valley streams are also vulnerable. Please report any poaching of the Illinois River’s salmon to the Oregon State Police hotline at 1-800-452-7888.
How to get there
To get to the Little Falls parking area, take the Eight Dollar Mountain Road, which leaves the Redwood Hwy. between Selma and Cave Junction. Just after the Eight Dollar Mountain Darlingtonia Boardwalk parking area, the two lane road turns into the single lane Forest Service Road – 4201, also known as the T.J. Howell Memorial Drive or Babyfoot Lake Road. The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s Little Falls parking area is on the left side. There’s a trail down to the river.
In addition to the Little Falls trail, there’s the one mile Jeffrey Pine loop trail at the Darlingtonia boardwalk parking area. And of course the boardwalk is lovely anytime of year, with especially well done interpretive signing, telling of the botanically-rich serpentine terrain on the west side of the Illinois Valley.
More about the area
- View Karen Phillips’ beautiful photographs of the flora and special places along the T.J. Howell Memorial Drive.
- Check out Glenn and Carol’s really nice blog post about Little Falls, the trail along the river and the Darlingtonia board walk. Lots of photos.
- Click here for BLM’s recreation guide to the Eight Dollar Mountain Area.
- Download the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest’s T. J. Memorial Drive Guide (PDF)
- Learn about the Illinois River Basin
- Learn about the National Wild and Scenic Illinois River
- Learn about the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest