Watson Falls is the tallest waterfall in the waterfall laden North Umpqua watershed, and one of the highest in Oregon (There is considerable debate as to waterfall rankings following Multnomah Falls, I have found. Watson Falls is typically considered the third highest, but some have it ranked as low as 14th. It does have one of the highest free-falling drops however, so take solace in that). While Watson Creek itself is a relatively small creek and the flow over the falls can vary significantly between seasons, the falls never entirely dry up and the 293 foot drop into a huge, mossy amphitheater is impressive any time of the year.
Begin your hike from a large day-use area located right off Highway 138. The trail begins by climbing a wide staircase out of the south end of the parking area. Cross over Fish Creek Road following the stairs and find the trail continuing up more rocky stairs. This trail is fairly steep for how short it is, but it is worth it, so keep plodding upward.
After about a quart of a mile, you will come to a bridge leading over Watson Creek. Following the bridge, you will come to a trail junction. Head to the left to continue to the viewpoints of Watson Falls. Following the junction, it is just a couple hundred feet up to the Bench Viewpoint. You will know your there because there is a bench. The trail also makes a very sharp right as it heads up to the Upper Viewpoint. Before heading up that way, be sure to work your way past a couple boulders above the bench and towards the falls. You will quickly emerge from the trees and into the bowl of the waterfall itself, with the entirety of Watson Falls dropping in front of you.
Watson Falls was named for Robert James Watson, a Forest Ranger who worked in the area and constructed trails and bridges in the early 1900s. The falls were formed when lava poured out of fissures in the upper Clearwater watershed and flowed down the valleys of the Clearwater and North Umpqua Rivers. It ended up burying the valleys in several hundred feet of lava. Afterward, the creeks and rivers of the area began their slow but steady work of cutting through the layers of lava. As the Clearwater River deepened its valley, Watson Creek began cutting back as well, forming the drop we see today.
After the Bench Viewpoint, continue along the trail as it works its way up a switchback towards the Upper Viewpoint. From here, you can view Watson Falls from another bench, this one perched about 100 feet up the cliff. It’s harder to see the entire waterfall from here, but it’s cool and different perspective.
Once you have had your fill of waterfall viewing, head back down to that junction just below the Bench Viewpoint. Continue straight this time, instead of across the bridge, and make your way through a beautiful old growth and dark forest on your way back down to Fish Creek Road. Once you reach the road, head right along its shoulder until you reach the crosswalk and head back down the staircase at the beginning of the hike towards the parking area.
To reach Watson Falls, head east on Highway 138 61 miles from Roseburg or 22 miles west of the Highway 230 junction near Diamond Lake. Head south on Fish Lake Road at the signs directing you to Watson Falls Day Use Area. The trailhead will be on your right 0.2 miles down Fish Lake Road.
Passes: No passes required.
Dogs: Allowed but must be leashed or under voice control at all times.
Open Season: The trailhead is accessible year round, but expect snow on the trail during winter months.