Ask Charlotte Kisling what drew her from the Bay Area to the far northern reaches of California, near Klamath Falls, Ore., and my guide gets right to the point. "I need my daily fix of raptors," she says. Wearing a floral print blouse and a camouflage cap pulled down on her head, Kisling rattles along a two-lane road in her pickup. She pulls over every few minutes to give us a good look at Swainson's hawks, American kestrels, northern harriers, and other raptors resting on fence posts, spiraling overhead, or gliding above golden fields. Later, we come across flotillas of white pelicans and green-winged teals paddling across a wide, shallow, marsh-fringed lake and watch in mute awe as flocking shorebirds in truly vast numbers rise into the sky.
Some visitors pass through Klamath Falls on their way to Crater Lake. Others come to the surrounding Klamath Basin to bike, golf, or fish for huge rainbow trout. Or they may come to admire an impressive collection of American Indian artifacts and Western memorabilia or to enjoy a three-hour paddle-wheel excursion on Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon's largest lake. Still others simply wrap themselves in the landscape, a patchwork quilt of forest and wetlands, farms and ranches, marshes and ancient lava beds, all girdled by volcanic peaks. But the region's biggest attraction, wings down, is its birds.
The 6.4-mile Upper Klamath Canoe Trail offers a water-level view of local plants and wildlife. Canoes can be rented at the adjacent Rocky Point Resort. 28121 Rocky Point Rd., (541) 356-2287, www.rockypointoregon.com.
With six national wildlife refuges that shelter more than 250 avian species, many of them migratory, the Klamath Basin ranks as one of the best birding spots in the West. More than a million ducks, white-fronted geese, and other waterfowl—fully 75 percent of the estimated Pacific Flyway total—stop by during the fall migration that starts in early September and peaks in November. Raptors begin arriving in December and by mid-February, when Klamath Falls holds its annual Winter Wings Festival, you can see hundreds of wintering bald eagles, one of the largest concentrations in the lower 48 states.
You don't have to bushwhack through the backcountry to have a hoot birding in and around Klamath Falls. On auto tour routes around the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuges, your car acts as a blind, allowing up-close views of wildlife. On Upper Klamath Lake, you'll often see pelicans and bald eagles while you enjoy brunch aboard the paddle wheeler Klamath Belle. In Klamath Falls itself, a kid-friendly nature trail along the Link River and Lake Ewauna passes trees that fill with cormorants and egrets at dusk and an 80-foot pine snag that herons, ospreys, and hawks use as a perch.
Check out www.klamathbirdingtrails.com for local birding festivals, sites, events, and tours to help you spot migrating avian visitors such as the bald eagle.
The downtown area is centered along a 12-block stretch of Main Street that boasts some nice vintage architecture, including a 1935 art deco armory that now houses the Klamath County Museum and a 1927 commercial building at Main and Esplanade that's a fine example of Egyptian Revival. On the terra-cotta facade of the Williams Building at 724 Main, Italian Renaissance features are gussied up with Old West touches such as cattle skulls to produce a hybrid style the locals call "Klamath Classical."
More of the Old West is on display at downtown's Favell Museum of Western Art & Indian Artifacts. Inside the contemporary lava-rock building you'll find thousands of objects: delicate Tlingit baskets and Anasazi pottery, more than 60,000 arrowheads arranged in decorative patterns (including one grouping that spells out gene favell, the name of the collector), and an array of working miniature firearms, some no bigger than a matchbox. The museum's sizable holdings of often romantic works depicting cowboys and wildlife include one painting of a particularly majestic bald eagle, wings spread wide in flight and talons open for a catch. It's an impressive feat of artistry, and evidence that in Klamath Falls raptor sightings aren't limited to the great outdoors.
Photography courtesy of Dave Menke, USFWS
This article was first published in September 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington map and TourBook and Northwestern Camp-Book. Area code is 541 unless noted. For more information, contact the Great Basin Visitor Association, 507 Main St., 882-1501, (800) 445-6728, Great Basin Visitor Center.
For the Birds This shop carries A Birder's Guide to the Klamath Basin, published by the Klamath Basin Audubon Society, plus trail maps, books, garden accents, and backyard birding supplies. 2424 Shasta Way, 884-1281. Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Displays, brochures, and rangers provide birding information at the visitor center. Group tours available by appointment only. 4009 Hill Rd., Tulelake, Calif., (530) 667-2231, Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges.
Ella Redkey Pool Year-round open-air pool kept at a balmy 84 degrees by geothermal heat. 1805 Main St., 273-1477. Roe Outfitters Canoe trips and full-moon canoe tours, white-water rafting, fishing trips, and rentals of canoes, kayaks, and mountain bikes. 884-3825, www.roeoutfitters.com.
A PEEK AT THE PAST
Favell Museum 125 W. Main St., 882-9996, www.favellmuseum.org. Klamath County Museum 1451 Main St., 883-4208.
Antonio's Cucina Italiana Pasta and other Italian specialties. 1012 Main St., 850-4500, www.antonioscucinaitaliana.com. Daily Bagel Fresh-baked bagels, deli sandwiches, espresso drinks. 636 Main St., 850-0744. El Palacio Family-friendly Mexican spot. 601 Main St., 882-5118. Klamath Belle Cruise and dine on the lake. 883-4622, www.klamathbelle.com. MC's on Main Salads, sandwiches, daily quiches. 825 Main St., 882-3060. Mr. B's Steakhouse Quality beef and seafood. 3927 S. Sixth St., 883-8719.
Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites $60–$169. Fifty-seven units. Offers high-speed Internet access in rooms and a 24-hour indoor heated pool. Continental breakfast included. 2500 S Sixth St., 884-9999, www.holiday-inn.com. Running Y Ranch Resort $119–$269. An 83-room lodge with spa, restaurant, and a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer, 15 minutes west of Klamath Falls. 5500 Running Y Rd., (888) 850-0275, www.runningy.com. Thompson's Bed & Breakfast $84–$95. A four-room B&B with a view of the lake. 1420 Wild Plum Ct., 882-7938.
Tulelake–Butte Valley Fair Sept. 7–11. Tulelake, Calif. Carnival midway, 4-H animals, nightly shows. (530) 667-5312, www.tbvfair.com. Potato Festival Oct. 14–15. Merrill, Ore. Parade, barbecue, games. 884-5193, (877) 552-6284, www.klamath.org.