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Your Ultimate Guide to the Waterfalls of the Willamette Valley
Your Ultimate Guide to the Waterfalls of the Willamette Valley

Your Ultimate Guide to the Waterfalls of the Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley sits in the shadow of the West Cascades and the Cascade Range—and is dotted with creeks, streams, rivers, and other waterways. Add it all up, and you have a region rich in thundering waterfalls.

So if you'd like to check out the waterfalls of the Willamette Valley—from the magical Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park to Proxy Falls in the heart of the Cascades—here's a guide to everything you need to know for a successful hike. (And before you set out, read our quick guide to hiking in the Willamette Valley for tips on passes and permits, beating the crowds, and staying safe.)

Mid Valley Waterfalls | South Valley Waterfalls | West Cascades Waterfalls

At the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley, where farmland gives way to rising hillsides and towering forests, sits McDowell Creek Falls County Park. The wooded park hosts a two-mile (round-trip) loop hike (gaining just 230 feet) that passes a pair of impressive cascades—both accessible by boardwalks and viewpoints for an easy, yet rewarding outing.

The highlights here are the 120-foot, two-tiered Royal Terrace Falls and the 40-foot Majestic Falls, both of which fall in rocky amphitheaters and are surrounded by towering Douglas-fir, hemlock, and maple trees. Keep an eye out along the way for the 15-foot Crystal Falls and the 20-foot Lower McDowell Creek Falls for even more scenery.

What to know before you go: The park is open year-round and doesn't see much winter snow—making it a fun (and quiet) off-season destination. The falls lose some of their volume by mid-summer, so consider an autumn outing (when foliage is at its most colorful) or a springtime hike (when winter runoff feeds the falls).

More information: Visit Linn County Parks & Recreation for directions and basic information—and check out the Oregon Hikers Field Guide for a more detailed trail profile, turn-by-turn directions, and additional context for what you'll see on the trail.

Sitting along the South Fork Alsea River in the heart of the Oregon Coast Range, the Alsea Falls Recreation Site has a bit of everything for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes—including its namesake waterfall. Alsea Falls tumbles just 30 feet, but does so while cascading over smooth rocks in the river—creating a staircase-like flow that's unique among waterfalls in the region. A short path from the day-use area leads to a viewpoint at the base of Alsea Falls. A longer hike through a mossy forest of Douglas fir, maple, and alder leads to views of the 45-foot Green Peak Falls.

Even away from the waterfalls, the Alsea Falls Recreation Site is home to plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun—including a 16-site campground ($12 per night, open April-October), several downhill (flow-style) mountain bike trails, and picnic sites in the midst of a lush forest.

What to know before you go: Alsea Falls is open year-round, but you may encounter snow on the access road or along the trail December-March. Aim for a visit in March-May to enjoy the waterfall at its thundering peak—or in September-October to appreciate the colorful fall foliage lining the riverbanks. Whenever you visit, note that there is a $5 day-use fee at Alsea Falls—visitors can also use a valid Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass in lieu of the fee.

More information: Visit the Bureau of Land Management for directions, maps, camping information, and more—and check out the Oregon Hikers Field Guide for a detailed breakdown for the hike to Alsea Falls and Green Peak Falls. And if you want to know more about other outdoor activities around Benton County, check out the new Heart of the Valley Recreation Map for where to go and how to make the most of your adventure.

Silver Falls State Park is considered by many to be the "crown jewel" of the Oregon State Parks system— and its namesake waterfalls routinely draw visitors from around the world.

The 7.2-mile (round-trip) Trail of Ten Falls hike is easily the park's most popular attraction. Here a trail descends into a forested river canyon where hikers can view—you guessed it—an astounding 10 waterfalls. Five of those are taller than 100 feet, and hikers can even walk behind four. The trail may gain about 1,300 feet in all, but most hikers don't feel it when there are so many good reasons to stop and take a break along the way.

Don't have time for all 10? You can still view many of the park's waterfalls along several shorter loops that begin from the South Falls and North Falls day-use areas. About five are accessible from viewpoints near parking areas or via very short trails.

You can also check out the new North Canyon day-use area—which includes expanded parking, a wheelchair-accessible restroom, picnic tables, a children's play area, and a short path that ends at a viewpoint of North Falls.

What to know before you go: The Trail of Ten Falls is among the most popular outdoor attractions anywhere in Oregon—so crowds are common. Try to start your hike before 9 a.m., and aim for a weekday outing, to beat the rush. The falls are popular in spring (due to winter runoff and thundering flows), summer, and fall. Snow and ice may blanket parts of the trail in winter, so check in with a park ranger before hitting the trail to gauge its safety. And other than a viewing platform near the South Falls day-use area, this trail is not wheelchair-accessible.

More information: Visit the Oregon State Parks website for Silver Falls State Park for more information, trail maps, and more. We've also put together a guide to Silver Falls State Park with lodging, suggested activities, and insider tips for having fun.

At the far southeastern edge of the Willamette Valley, in the Cascade Range foothills, sit three impressive waterfall hikes within a short drive of each other.

The undeniable star is Spirit Falls—which drops 60 feet in a mossy basalt amphitheater. The trail to the waterfall measures just 0.6 mile (round-trip), with a breezy 130 feet of elevation gain. At the end of the path, you'll see the shimmering waterfall as it plunges into a pool populated by frogs and salamanders.

As if that weren’t enough, nearby trailheads offer quick treks to the 100-foot Moon Falls and the 105-foot Pinard Falls. If you do all three hikes on your outing—and if you’ve driven this far into the woods, why wouldn’t you?—you’ll tally about three miles of hiking and 600 feet of elevation gain.  

What to know before you go: Snowfall may impact the trails’ accessibility in winter, but the well-graded paths generally remain accessible all year long; reach out to the Umpqua National Forest before heading out in winter.

More information: Umpqua National Forest hosts detailed webpages for Spirit FallsMoon Falls, and Pinard Falls. You can find additional information (including hike profiles, directions, and more) on the Oregon Hikers Field Guide.

The modern-day Cascadia State Park has been drawing visitors for more than a century.

The highlight of the park is the three-tiered Soda Creek Falls (also known as Lower Soda Falls), which tumbles more than 125 feet down a basalt cliff. In all, the Soda Creek Falls trail is about 2.5 miles round-trip and gains about 500 feet along the way. Try to visit when Cascadia State Park opens for the season in May to see the waterfall at its peak.

Other attractions within the park include interpretive panels that explain the area’s human history, a campground (where 22 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis), horseshoe pits, an off-leash play area, and two picnic areas—one open May-September and the other open year-round. 

What to know before you go: Cascadia State Park is open May-September. And while the waterfall is the park’s marquee attraction (and best enjoyed between May and early June), a mid-September hike rewards visitors with colorful fall foliage.

More information: Visit Linn County Parks & Recreation for directions, camping information, and more—and check out the Oregon Hikers Field Guide for a detailed breakdown for the hike to Soda Creek Falls.

Credit: Matt Wastradowski

Over the course of just two miles (round-trip), the Proxy Falls hike ascends through a rocky lava flow, enters a forest of maple and Douglas-fir, and passes two outstanding waterfalls.

One of those waterfalls is the 225-foot-tall Lower Proxy Falls, which falls over a sloping basalt cliffside in a fascinating, ladder-like fashion. Upper Proxy Falls, meanwhile, falls about 130 feet; foliage between the trail and the waterfall makes it difficult to spot, but it’s nevertheless a fun find in the heart of the West Cascades.

What to know before you go: If visiting in summer or early fall, keep in mind that Proxy Falls is part of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System, which limits the number of day-use and overnight visitors to certain areas within the Willamette and Deschutes national forests. A $5 day-use fee is also required. Also note that the trailhead can only be accessed June-October, or whenever the McKenzie Highway is open for the season. This is a popular hike, and parking may be limited—so try to visit by 9 a.m. on weekends, or plan a weekday outing.

More information: Visit the Willamette National Forest website for information, directions, winter access, and more. Hike Oregon also offers a map, description, photos, and other helpful resources. Travel Lane County has additional details about the waterfalls—and how to make the most of your time.

The namesake waterfall on this hike is certainly impressive—but is far from the only highlight along the six-mile (round-trip) hike, which gradually gains about 975 along the way.

As part of the trek, hikers can ascend through a forest of Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar to the north shore of Marion Lake—the largest lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness—where impressive views of Mount Jefferson (the second-tallest mountain in Oregon) await.

Of course, the 60-foot-tall Marion Falls wows hikers as it falls in a mossy, rock-covered amphitheater—and into a glistening, crystal-clear pool below. The official viewpoint is from the top of the waterfall, and hikers are advised from traversing user-created scrambles to its base.

What to know before you go: If visiting in summer or early fall, keep in mind that Marion Lake (the trailhead for Marion Falls) is part of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System, which limits the number of day-use and overnight visitors to certain areas within the Willamette and Deschutes national forests. The hike is accessible May-November, though snowfall may create hazardous conditions; reach out to the Willamette National Forest to ask about trail conditions before hiking in spring or fall.

More information: Learn more from the Willamette National Forest, and get all the details for a successful hike from the Oregon Hikers Field Guide.

You have options for getting your waterfall fix from Salt Creek Falls in the West Cascades.

The first option—good if you’re short on time or otherwise unable to tackle a longer hike—is to check out Oregon’s second-tallest single-drop waterfall from an observation platform that’s just a quick, two-minute walk from the parking area. (The path, it should be noted, is wheelchair-accessible.)

Here you can enjoy top-down views as the 286-foot-tall waterfall tumbles into its namesake creek below. A short, steep trail (which isn’t wheelchair-accessible) heads from the platform to the waterfall’s base. Visitors can also follow a gravel trail with interpretive signs along the canyon rim for more information. 

You can extend your time in the area by knocking out a 3.7-mile (round-trip) hike that ascends about 450 feet and passes the 120-foot Diamond Creek Falls, which tumbles down a sloping basalt cliffside.

What to know before you go: The road to the Salt Creek Falls parking area is closed in winter, though visitors can park at the nearby Salt Creek Sno-Park. Snow and ice may be found on the trail between November and April. There is also a $5 day-use fee for the parking area—or a Sno-Park fee ($4 for a daily permit) for the Sno-Park.

More information: Willamette National Forest has information on Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls, though you’ll want to consult the Oregon Hikers Field Guide for detailed trail descriptions beyond the observation platform. Travel Lane County also offers information for visiting Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls, as well.

Some 3,000 years ago, a pair of thick lava flows dammed Clear Lake in the Cascade Range and created a pair of Oregon’s most beloved waterfalls: Sahalie and Koosah Falls. (Translated from Chinook, Sahalie means “heaven”—and Koosah means “sky.”) 

Today, both waterfalls can be accessed via the Waterfalls Loop Trail, which parallels the McKenzie River. Most visitors park at the Sahalie Falls parking area, which affords almost immediate views of the 100-foot waterfall From there, a gently rolling trail follows the McKenzie River toward Koosah Falls, which itself drops 70 feet into a pool below.

Some 3,000 years ago, a pair of thick lava flows dammed Clear Lake in the Cascade Range and created a pair of Oregon’s most beloved waterfalls: Sahalie and Koosah Falls. (Translated from Chinook, Sahalie means “heaven”—and Koosah means “sky.”)  

Visitors can either turn around at Koosah Falls for a quick trek or continue onto Carmen Reservoir and return via the McKenzie River Trail for the full, 2.5-mile loop hike (which gains about 350 feet in all).

What to know before you go: The waterfalls are accessible year-round, but the parking areas are not maintained in winter—and may present snowy or icy conditions well into spring; the trail may be covered in snow between November and March, as well. And be aware that this is an extremely popular hike with limited parking; consider a weekday trip, if possible, and aim to start by 9 a.m. (or after 3 p.m.) on spring and summer weekends.

More information: Visit the Willamette National Forest website for information on the Waterfalls Loop Trail, directions, winter access, and more. Travel Lane County also has more information about the waterfalls.

Tamolitch Falls (also known as Blue Pool) is the rare destination where the waterfall might actually be overshadowed by the dramatic blue lake at the base of the basalt basin.

A 4.5-mile (round-trip) stretch of the McKenzie River Trail hugs its namesake river while gaining about 275 feet. Along the way, it passes through a forest of towering Douglas-fir and ascends through a rocky lava flow—all before arriving at the rim of the lake, noted for its remarkable clarity. (Tempting though it may be, don’t follow any user-created trails to the lake for a dip; the water is a chilly 37ºF year-round, and several hikers have died either jumping in or swimming.)

In spring, when winter runoff is at its peak, the McKenzie River can flood—sending water over the lava flow at the eastern edge of the bowl and creating Tamolitch Falls.  

What to know before you go: This is an enormously popular trail, so try to get onto the trail by 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m.—or aim for a hike in April-May or October-November—for a quieter experience. In winter, the trail is sometimes accessible only by snowshoe; check conditions with the Willamette National Forest if planning a hike between November and March.

More information: Learn more about the trail and its unique geology through the Willamette National Forest, and check out the Oregon Hikers Field Guide for details, directions, and more. 

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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