We just returned from a camping trip on the north fork of the Willamette River, about 10 miles away from Westfir, Oregon up the NF-19 road.
We went up the Willamette to camp for a few days, and I honestly wasn’t planning on doing any rockhounding.
However, once we were there, I discovered that there were actually a ton of cool rocks to check out.
Along this section of the Willamette River, there are tons of rock beaches, as well as river rock gravel under cover of water.
Unlike our trip to Molalla River, the rock in the streambed was not covered by a thick layer of mud or silt.
This was probably due to the fact that the water was swifter here, as well as colder.
Regardless, the it was less slippery to walk in the water, and much easier to examine the stones.
What Kinds Of Rocks Did We Find In The North Fork?
Like many gravel beds on the Willamette River, we found many quarter sized agates of various color, from orange, to yellow, to white, and then even to clear.
There was some green jasper pieces, but not as many small red jasper pieces as we were used to find.
We did, however, find a large piece of rock with a bright strip of red jasper going through the middle, much larger than any single piece of red jasper we’d ever found before.
There was also some bright bluish-green pieces that we weren’t able to identify, but were quite soft, like gypsum or chalk.
In this section of the river, there were also several volcanic mixtures or rocks of all kinds.
Another exciting discovery was that there was a ton of large pieces of petrified wood on the beaches, as well as in the water.
We usually play on the river and collect rocks from Irish Bend, where most of the petrified wood on the large expanse of rock beach had already been discovered and taken home.
But here, we found several large pieces of petrified wood that were too large to pick up and take home (sadly).
It was clear that the large pieces were petrified wood, as the circular rings were obvious and visible, and we longed to be able to shine up the stones at home.
All in all, we ended up taking home a lot of rocks in our buckets.
Tips For Finding Rocks In The North Fork?
There are lots of turn outs along NF-19.
Try walking up and down the river away from the popular swimming holes to find unique specimens.
Look at the rocks in the water, as the water will enhance the colors of the stones as well as clean off any dust or dirt.
We have had good luck moving large rocks in the river bed to expose treasures underneath.
What Do Visitors Need To Know About Visiting The North Fork Of The Willamette?
This is a pretty easy place to visit.
Getting up the North Fork is pretty easy, as it is only a few turns off of highway 58 a few miles northwest of Oakridge.
However, the river is cold, swift, and can be treacherous.
While there are a lot of gravel bars to explore, and the locals tend to swim here all summer, it is dangerous for people who don’t swim well or young children.
If you are planning on rockhounding the north fork, we recommend that you visit when the water level is low (mid-to-late summer), warmer, and not quite as swift.
Explorers should bring sturdy water shoes, as it is easy to slip on the rocks.
On sunny days, the rocks can also get hot enough to burn the bottoms of vulnerable feet.
While mosquitos in the summer are not terrible, biting flies (horse flies, yellow flies, deer flies) are pretty obnoxious and tend to raise a nasty welt.
(My children did not like them at all).
Bug spray can deter them to some degree, but mostly we keep the kids in the water and put knee length swim shorts and swim shirts on them to protect them from bites.
There’s no cell service up NF-19 at all.
As soon as you leave Westfir, cell phones don’t work, so make meet up plans with friends in advance.
There’s tons of dispersed camping along the North Fork, and you can camp there without paying any camping fees.
However, there’s also no services (bathrooms or garbage removal), so plan to pack out all your garbage.
And please try to bury any toilet paper you use while squatting in the bushes, as it is gross and sad to visit a dispersed camping site to find it looking like a disgusting bathroom.
There’s fish in this area of the river, though to our knowledge, it is restricted to fly fishing, and native fish must be released if caught.
During mid-to-late summer, as the danger of fire rises, pay attention to the danger level of fire at the Ranger Station.
If the fire danger is too high, then you could face fees or fines for having a fire from the local authorities.
It can get pretty hot up the river during the summer (especially on the exposed gravel bars), so make sure to bring lots of clean water and an easy-up if you have one.
You might even see trillium up here, though you shouldn’t pick it.
We’ve had several enjoyable trips up the North Fork.
We like it because there’s lots of space, lots of rocks to find, and the scenery is amazing.
We have a trip to go rockhounding near Roseburg planned soon, we’ll let you know how it goes!