I was reading old USFWS documents trying to find information on the Bonnie Falls fish ladder when I ran into this this paragraph:
“Prior to 1953 two fishways were completed on the Clatskanie River and Scappoose Creek at a cost of $26,000 and $32,000, respectively. A complete concrete fishway costing $23,000 was constructed on Goble Creek during 1954 and 1955.”
Fish ladders on the Clatskanie River and Goble Creek? That means there are waterfalls there! Matt and I scanned Google Earth and other resources (including Northwest Waterfalls). We located the correct section of the Clatskanie River, marked three potential locations on the map, and hiked out into the cold Oregon winter.
We had plotted out a route that stayed within Evenson’s hike-in access logging land, but the roads weren’t contiguous. In order to reach our destination we had to wind through several logging roads, cross over onto an elk trail until it hit a powerline right-of-way, follow the right-of-way until we got back onto a different logging road, and then follow those roads through several more twists and turns until we reached the ridge above the river.
Temperatures on the morning were right around freezing, and the ground was littered with sticks covered in “Hair Ice”.
“Hair Ice”, also known as “Ice Wool” or “Frost Beard”, is an interesting local phenomenon that occurs when the temperature quickly cools below freezing on a humid night. A type of fungus growing in dead wood causes the ice to emerge from the wood in this wool-like structure, where it lasts until the morning sun melts it away.
It took two miles of hiking to reach a spot directly above the Clatskanie River. On the maps it appeared there could be a long-dead road that would get us down, but the road had been buried beneath more recent clearcut and everything we could find petered out near the ridgeline. So we embarked on a steep bushwacking descent, dropping 450 feet in elevation over the course of 500 yards.
We reached the Clatskanie River without incident. It was gorgeous in the midday winter sun. I spotted a coyote trotting on the opposite bank, and Matt found a Columbia Torrent Salamander in a small inlet stream. Numerous dippers foraged in the rapids. There was a small falls just a foot or so high, but no fish ladder, so this was clearly not the waterfall we were looking for.
The region downstream looked pretty but nothing special, so we worked our way upstream to the 2nd potential locale we had marked on the map. Eventually the cliffs cut us off and we were forced to cross the river. Water temperature couldn’t have been much above freezing and my feet numbed quickly.
A few hundred feet further upstream and there it was! Since there hadn’t been much rain the flow wasn’t impressive, but you could still get a good feel for the falls. In spring it must really be roaring.
We were able to get good looks at the fish ladder. Considering the gentle nature of the falls we were surprised a fish ladder was even necessary, but further research found that the salmon had trouble making it up the falls in late summer and fall when there was relatively little water spread out across the drop.
Next to the falls was a pretty little stream aptly named “Falls Creek”. It provided that cold, clean, highly aerated water that torrent salamanders require, and soon we found an adult and several juveniles.
We crossed back over and got back on route quite easily, with an elk trail turning into the dead road (abandoned logging road no longer accessible to cars) that we had failed to find on the way down.
Recently we’ve been filming parts of our hikes for those who enjoy copious footage of us bushwacking through salal and reprod, along with whatever wildlife we encounter. If you’re interested, watch the little video below.
If you’d like to visit Clatskanie Falls yourself, feel free to contact us and we can give you a rough layout of the route with GPS locales for the falls themselves. But please be careful to stay on permitted land the entire time.
Thanks for taking a look!