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6 Oregon Waterfalls for a Hike, a Picnic, or Even a Nap

By Raina Harwood for Portland Monthly

Nothing can calm the mind or make you feel one with the earth like the sheer power of a waterfall, that avalanche of water rushing over rock and plunging into a pool below. Oregon’s many cascades can punctuate a hike, provide a backdrop for a picnic, or soundtrack a picturesque hammock nap with their endless white noise. While some favorites are still inaccessible due to road and trail damage from last year’s wildfires (the entire Santiam State Forest is closed to the public, for example, so hold off on Shellburg, Abiqua, and Butte Creek Falls) or the winter’s landslides (Oneonta Falls is still a no-go), here are a few you can visit this spring. Some are accessible now, and some will open in the coming weeks as snow disappears and more forest roads open.

Toketee Falls

Very popular with photographers, Toketee is one of Oregon’s most beautiful volcanic basalt waterfalls, forming not one but two drops stacked above each other, hovering nearly 130 feet over a clear nook of water. From a park area just off the North Umpqua Highway (OR-138), a quick 0.4-mile trail with 200 stone steps passes pockets of western red cedar, tall Douglas firs, and hills of moss. People sometimes hop a fence and follow a slippery unofficial trail to the bottom and take a swim, but the Forest Service warns that this has resulted in serious injury and even death, and strongly warns against it. Instead, cool off in the mist above on the viewpoint platform at the top of the trail. 4 hours from Portland via I-5 and OR-138

Dry Creek Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

Dry Creek Falls

Near Cascade Locks, the Bridge of the Gods trailhead is a short drive from the city, so it’s no wonder parking fills up fast. An easy, 4.4-mile round-trip hike takes you to Dry Creek Falls, a 75-foot waterfall surrounded by columnar basalt walls. Check it out early morning or close to the sunset to catch a glimpse of spring’s colorful skies against the picturesque cascading falls. 50 minutes from Portland via I-84 east, Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day-use fee required

Tamanawas Falls, on the east slope of Mount Hood

Tamanawas Falls

On the east slope of Mount Hood, the 5-mile Tamanawas Falls loop takes hikers to a magical place to cool off, climb around, or relax. The cascade is hard to miss from its towering 100-foot-tall, 40-foot-wide drop. The sound of Cold Spring Creek bubbling over rock formations, log bridges, and spring wildflowers add to the family- and dog-friendly hike. Walk right up and feel the Tamanawas sprinkle, or walk behind the falls to snap the amazing backdrop. 1 hour 40 min from Portland via US-26 east, trail usually opens in May, Northwest Forest Pass required at East Fork-Tamanawas Fall trailhead

Sahalie Falls, just upriver from Koosah

Koosah & Sahalie Falls

Along the McKenzie River in the Cascade Mountains you’ll find the Oregon waterfall featured in Disney’s Homeward Bound—Sahalie, from a Chinook jargon word for “heaven.” There’s a viewpoint right by the parking lot, and an easy 2.6-mile loop leads you to another view of a natural lava dam home to the 100-foot waterfall drop and along to the smaller Koosah Falls. (Koosah translates to “sky.”) It’s no wonder these falls radiate beautiful energy, and the interpretive panels at the trailheads share a brief history on why. Normally 2 and a half hours from Portland, but expect delays due to hazard removal in the ongoing wildfire cleanup, along both the OR-126 and OR-22 routes

Salt Creek Falls, east of Oakridge

Salt Creek Falls

Oregon’s second most powerful waterfall, and its second highest single-drop falls, Salt Creek Falls measures 286 feet down over its edge. About an hour east of Eugene and five miles west of Willamette Pass, the falls can be taken in from a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform 50 yards from the parking lots. A steep staircase trail leads to the base of the waterfall. If you’re feeling adventurous, pass the bridge by Salt Creek’s picnic area and follow Diamond Creek Falls’s 3.2-mile loop trail, which circles the outer rim of the Salt Creek and Diamond Creek canyons. 3 hours from Portland via I-5 and OR-58, Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day-use fee required


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