An Insider’s Guide to the Waterfalls at Link River

The Link River flows from Upper Klamath Lake on the north side of the town of Klamath Falls to Lake Ewauna on the south side—“linking” the two lakes. From the native Klamath tribes that fished it to the first settlers, to hydroelectricity and the present day, the 2-mile long river might not be all that lengthy, but it can lay claim to some very intriguing chapters of both geological and human history.

But what about waterfalls? Does the Link River or the city of Klamath Falls actually have waterfalls or not? If so, how and where can we see them? Well, the short answer is yes, but the full story of the Link River waterfalls—and how best to visit them—is a bit more detailed. So, let’s start at the beginning.

History and Culture

The Link River & Klamath Falls in 1922. – USDA Forest Service

For time immemorial, the Klamath, Paiute Yahooskin, and Modoc native tribes have called the area now known as Klamath Falls, and the entire expanse of the Klamath Basin area home. The resource-rich region supported a large multitude of fish and wild game between the mountains, grasslands, and waters of the basin.

The modern-day Link River was known as Eulalona to the native Klamath—a lyrically beautiful word meaning “to move back and forth,” named after the effect that strong winds regularly had on the water. Eulalona was also the name of a native winter village that was located at the northern end of the river.

Expert hunter-gatherers, the village’s inhabitants would gather rocks into circles in an effort to divert salmon into smaller tide pools where they could be more easily harvested. The natives passed this helpful technique onto settlers and even now when water levels are very low during dry seasons, it is possible to see remnants of these rock circles at the Link River. Just upstream, a series of low falls and rapids where the river tumbled over a natural reef were referred to as Tiwishkeni, or “where the falling waters rush,” by the Klamath.

In 1867, a small settlement on the banks of the river was officially named Linkville. However, in 1893 community leaders changed the city’s name to Klamath Falls with the idea of ‘‘letting the world know of our water power.’’  An ambitious hydroelectric project that kicked off in 1921 significantly altered the reef, virtually eliminating the rapids except during periods of high water. The falls might not have ever been particularly mighty, but thankfully they are still there. And while their stature isn’t comparable to some others in the region, they possess a cultural significance worth recognizing and celebrating—and worth visiting!

Experience in Person

An aerial view of the Link River Dam. – Bureau of Reclamation

Today, a 2.6-mile out and back hike along Link River maintained by PacifiCorp provides a nice little leg-stretch and chance to check out the falls in person. The Link River South Trailhead is located next to the Favell Museum on Main Street in Klamath Falls (more on that in a bit).

The trail isn’t so much a traditional hiking path as it is a gravel maintenance road that parallels the river. You’ll walk past the substation and through a gate onto PacifiCorp property, where the hiking begins. You’ll pass by a few water access paths where cottonwoods, willows, and Klamath plum trees guard the banks of the river before arriving at an obvious spur, helpfully labeled “Falls” on your right. Follow this down to a rock outcropping, which affords views of rapids and a set of approximately 5-foot tall falls. If the falls are your only goal, head back the way you came. If you’re up for a longer, 3.2-mile hike, head back up on the main path, cross a footbridge over the canal, and pass above the dam.

Historic photo of the Link River Falls. – Klamath County Museum

If you’re a birder, this area is home to a fluttering array of resident and migratory birds depending on the season. Continue onto the North Trailhead. If you’re so inclined, from the North Trailhead you can cross Lakeshore Drive and visit the park at Putnam’s Point. Picnic tables are available, as well as views of Upper Klamath Lake and a plaque memorializing the Eulalona village. When you’re done taking it all in, head back the way you came.

Diving Deeper

White waters along Klamath Falls’ Link River. – Bobjgalindo

As luck would have it, the Favell Museum of Native American Artifacts and Contemporary Western Art is conveniently located adjacent to the Link River South Trailhead parking area. The thoroughly engrossing museum is home to over 100,000 artifacts representing indigenous tribes from North and South America. The primary focus, however, is on North American and Northwest tribes in particular, with some collections dating back over 12,000 years.

And of course, the Favell Museum is THE place in the Klamath Basin for those looking to dive deeper into the history and culture of the Klamath Tribes and the river whose banks it is located upon. Four cases worth of artifacts in the middle of the museum detail and illuminate the rich culture, history, and art of the tribes that thrived in the region for eons. A must-visit for those intrigued by the land, the people, and yes, the waterfalls of the Link River.

In sum, if you’re looking to get a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Klamath Basin, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than exploring the waterfalls along the Link River.

Written by Adam Sawyer for Matcha in partnership with Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau.