If you’re on the hunt for one more Oregon summer vacation destination, consider a place that feels a million miles away from city hubbub, noise and everyday routine. Escape into the watery world of Southern Oregon at Diamond Lake, where hungry rainbow trout are often on the bite.
The Umpqua River Scenic Byway provides glimpses into a water lover’s playground: across nearly 200 miles, the riverway draws those who cast flies to big fish or those who grab paddles to tackle big whitewater waves. Other folks are drawn to the quiet times down hiking trails to explore at places like Watson Creek Falls. From the parking area, it’s a little more than a half mile up a steady incline to reach the falls. A wooden bridge crosses Watson Creek and offers an excellent view of the stunning waterfall. Watson Falls is the highest waterfall in southwest Oregon, and the nearly 300-foot-tall plunge-pool roars over a basalt lava cliff and flows into a shallow bowl below. It is worth a pause or a good stop for a picnic lunch.
Leave the falls behind and continue a short 16 miles east to reach the gem of Oregon’s Cascades called Diamond Lake. It’s where anglers have caught on to a really good thing: plump and plentiful rainbow trout.
Laura Jackson, a fishery biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that back in 2006 it was a different story. Most aquatic life in Diamond Lake had nearly died from a takeover by a non-native fish species that had grown to number in the millions. Someone had let loose a fish called “Tui Chub” in the lake, and over the years the fish reproduced so fast that the prized rainbow trout didn’t stand a chance.
Diamond Lake was poisoned on purpose in 2006 with a common chemical pesticide called Rotenone. Eleven boats spread hundreds of pounds of the chemical across each nook and cranny of the lake. Officials closed all access to the water for a time and the wait was worth it, said Jackson: “The treatment in 2006 was followed by stocking in 2007, and a little fingerling that we release in June or July will be 8 inches and catchable by August or September. Now, it’s a tremendous lake with a great fishery.”
Rick Rockholt has helped to manage the Diamond Lake Lodge and Resort over the past three decades, and said that the trout turnaround has been remarkable. The resort owns a boat that was purchased from the leftover pontoon-style boats the state had employed during the chemical treatment project. Now it’s a guide boat, and the folks who operate it furnish everything you need including rod, reel, worms and a bobber. It doesn’t take long to catch large trout. The full service resort also offers cabins and smaller boats to rent.
If you are looking for shoreside camping, there are plenty of options to consider. “The US Forest Service has 450 campsites in three different campgrounds around the lake,” said Rockholt. “Half can be reserved and the rest are first come, first served, so you can usually find a place to camp here.”
Diamond Lake is an Oregon destination where unmatched Cascade Mountain scenery and warm hospitality are king; it’s a timeless place, perfect for building lasting family memories of camping together in the great outdoors.