River of the Month | December, 2020

Siuslaw River

The Siuslaw River flows from moss-covered mountains to wind-swept coastal sand dunes, cutting a path through one of the most productive forests in the world, the Siuslaw National Forest. Roughly 110-miles long, the river originates in the Coast Range and empties into the Pacific near the town of Florence, Oregon. It supports crucial habitat for salmon and steelhead and a lush temperate rain forest along the way. More than just a haven for plants and animals, the Siuslaw is also prized for its fishing, hiking, cycling and paddling.

Photography | Nate Roe

Why It Matters

One of the richest ecosystems in the Coast Range, the Siuslaw River basin supports a staggering array of fish and wildlife species. Treasured by anglers, the Siuslaw is home to Chinook, steelhead and some of the largest runs of coho salmon on the Oregon Coast. The river is named after the Siuslaw Indians, which historically inhabited the area and called it ‘iktat’uu, meaning “The Big One.”

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The Siuslaw River system maintains viable populations of chinook and coho salmon (pictured), making it crucial to the longevity of these species on the Oregon Coast. The river supports sea-run and resident cutthroat trout and Pacific lamprey, and is also home to relatively strong winter steelhead runs.


The Siuslaw River’s diverse geography supports a variety of wildlife species, including black bear, Roosevelt elk, cougar, northern river otter, clouded salamander, northern red-legged frog, beaver and mink. It also provides habitat for birds such as the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl and purple martin (pictured).

How to See It

Reach the Siuslaw River estuary—a popular fishing, clamming and paddling area—via Highway 126, east of Florence. While there, make a trip to the historic Siuslaw River Bridge for picture-perfect views of the serene river. For an extended trip, camp amid the stately old-growth trees of the upper Siuslaw at the Camp Lane campground off Highway 126. Or, closer to the mouth of the river, pitch a tent in the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, at the South Jetty Sand Camping area.

  • Hike


    For a scenic stroll, try the Sweet Creek Falls Trail, which starts at Homestead Trailhead, 10 miles southwest of Mapleton, and takes you on a 2.2-mile trek past 11 cascading waterfalls bordering the verdant banks of the lower Siuslaw. Or visit the hidden treasure Pawn Old Growth Trail, which starts just east of Florence and follows the North Fork Siuslaw in a short, 0.8-mile loop through moss-laden, 250-foot-tall old-growth trees.

  • Fish


    The Siuslaw is a cherished fishing destination. Salmon arrive in August, with peak runs in September and early October. Anglers fishing the lower Siuslaw are usually chasing salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout. Between late December and March, both wild and hatchery steelhead arrive, with the most abundant runs occurring from Mapleton upstream. Check the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for current regulations.

  • Paddle


    The Siuslaw Water Trail provides 30 miles of peaceful paddling opportunities, past sloughs, swamps, sand dunes and historic waterfronts. The trail includes both the North Fork and mainstem Siuslaw, and spans between Florence at the Siuslaw Estuary and Mapleton, Oregon. Paddlers can reach the river from various access points along Highway 126. Experienced boaters can float the entire stretch between Florence and Mapleton in a day trip, depending on tides and wind.

The WRC Story

Streams in and around the Siuslaw River basin on Oregon’s mid-coast contain some of the best opportunities to maintain populations of coho salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout in the Coast Range. WRC completed two projects to protect and improve salmon and steelhead habitat in this region. One was on Cleveland Creek, a Siuslaw tributary, where WRC conserved a 365-acre parcel to protect a mile of cold-water habitat that salmon and steelhead need, especially in summer months. The other was on Fivemile and Bell creeks, two streams that drain into Tahkenitch Lake, a massive estuary just south of the Siuslaw River. Fivemile and Bell creeks contain some of the highest densities of spawning coho of any stream in the mid-coast region. In order to protect and recover fish habitat in the two streams, WRC bought a 600-acre property with frontage along three miles of both streams. In 2003, we transferred the lands to the Siuslaw National Forest, which enabled the agency to launch intensive restoration projects that have dramatically improved habitat for coho. Together, WRC’s efforts at Cleveland, Fivemile and Bell creeks provide more hope for the recovery of threatened Oregon Coast Coho and the long-term health of mid-coast salmon and steelhead.

Best Time of Year

Steelhead fishing
Salmon fishing
Year-round, dependent on tides and wind

Go Deeper

  • Siuslaw Water Trail Brochure

    (Siuslaw Water Trail Partners)
    Learn More
  • Story of the Siuslaw

    (Siuslaw Watershed Council)
    Learn More
  • Bell and Fivemile Creeks Restoration Video on WRC project

    (Siuslaw Watershed Council)
    Learn More

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