Photo of Boundary Springs

Boundary Springs - Source of the Rogue River

Central Oregon has its share of spring-fed rivers — the Metolius, the Cultus, the Quinn and Fall River — but none of these enters the world quite so dramatically as the Rogue River at Boundary Springs. Gushing down the hillside over colorful, moss-covered rocks and logs, these headwater springs are unique. A good 2.5-mile hiking trail starts on Forest Service land just north of Crater Lake National Park and follows the river canyon (mostly spared from an encircling 2015 wildfire) upstream to the springs across the Park boundary.

Hydrology of Boundary Springs
In the early history of the National Park, it was believed that seepage from Crater Lake itself provided the water source for Boundary Springs, since the surface elevation of the lake is nearly 1,000’ higher than the springs and just 8 miles distant.
Chart of Snowfall and Snow Depth
However, more recent investigations have concluded that the springs are fed from an extensive aquifer of underground water stored in the deep pumice deposits above the springs — which are in turn fed by the prodigious snowfalls in this part of the Cascades.

Because there are no intervening high mountains to block the winter storms coming from the west off the Pacific Ocean, Crater Lake National Park is known for its heavy snow accumulations, especially on the slopes west of the Cascade crest. About 80% of the annual precipitation here falls from November to March, and nearly all of it falls as snow. Winter snow depths of 8’-9’ are common in the watershed above Boundary Springs, and average total snowfall here is over 450 inches per year (chart above).

Diagram of Groundwater Flow
Not only are the snow accumulations high, but the volcanic pumice above Boundary Springs is extremely permeable, so all the precipitation and snowmelt infiltrates where it falls. In fact, there are no surface streams or stream channels at all in the watershed above the springs. As a result, every year large quantities of snowmelt infiltrate rapidly downward through the permeable beds of pumice, until encountering a dense layer of less permeable rock. The water then flows laterally over this rock strata, finally emerging on the surface at Boundary Springs (see diagram). The consequence is a consistent, year-round flow of water issuing from these springs, at about 30 cubic feet per second, with almost no seasonal variation over the course of the year.

Day Hike to Boundary Springs
Just a half-hour drive west from Highway 97 at Diamond Lake Junction, the hike starts in the parking area of the Mt. Mazama Viewpoint on Highway 230 (see Road Map download below).
View of Upper Rogue River
Following the signed Upper Rogue River Trail, the route descends through a burned, ghost forest of lodgepole pine, killed in the huge National Creek Complex Fire of August 2015. At 0.5 miles, one comes a trail junction and then follows the Boundary Springs Trail south along the east bank of the Rogue River (see Trail Map download below).

From this junction all the way to the headwaters, the trail is within or just above the Rogue River canyon, whose depths were mostly passed over by the 2015 fire and still support green stands of mature hemlock and larch. At 0.9 miles, the trail switches from the east bank to the west bank at the Road 760 river crossing. Over the next mile, the route follows the high bluff of the river canyon, along the edge of the burned forest some 50’-150’ above the rushing stream, crossing the north Park boundary at 1.6 miles. At 2.0 miles, the trail descends into the headwaters area through a lush verdant meadow fed by the first seeps and springs.

Waterfall below Boundary Springs
Just upstream, the trail follows an interesting, low-gradient stretch of river that is jammed with old fallen logs, many covered with yellow monkeyflowers into late summer. Further on, the route passes a steep-gradient river section with cataracts and low waterfalls (look for water ouzels in the pools here) — before making a wide swing around a large willow-covered wetland fed by more springs and seeps. After contouring around a smaller spring, the trail finally ends at 2.5 miles next to Boundary Springs, gushing down the hillside over colorful, moss-covered rocks and logs.

Download (PDF, 752 KB): Photos of Boundary Springs Hike
Download (PDF, 325 KB): Road Map for Boundary Springs Hike
Download (PDF, 520 KB): Trail Map for Boundary Springs Hike

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to exercise all due caution while recreating.

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