An Oregon Wild Hike: Kentucky Falls
Earlier this month, I was in Eugene/Springfield for business and made the most of a Friday afternoon meeting by planning an overnight stay with my friend, Billie, who lives in Springfield. The plan was to venture west from Eugene and find our way to Kentucky Falls. Billie said she had heard a lot about this amazing hike from friends, and had printed out the directions for our journey in eager anticipation of discovering what the buzz was all about.
The next morning, fully fueled and ready to go, we set out heading west on Hwy 126. At Whittaker Creek, we turned left (about 32 miles outside of Eugene), following a lush, jungle-like creek. The sun was shining brightly overhead, but the canopy made the whole road like a tunnel dappled with sunlight!
Driving note: Be aware that parts of this route are a little bit rutted and you should be on the lookout for the many axle-eating potholes on the gravel roadway!
We continued on, following the driving directions and ending up looping along different ridge tops that offered spectacular views to the left and right from the hogs back we were following. Finally, we descended into the North Fork Smith River drainage area, and found our trail head parking area.
Getting out of the car, we noticed that it was oddly quiet, with only the occasional Swainson’s and varied thrush calls breaking the silence. It was completely still and tranquil. Perfect for hiking!
We set off on the trail, which was only four miles round trip. The first section was very easy, merely a descending ramble along a well-maintained path. The serenity of the surroundings, lush foliage, and warm sweet citrus smell of pine needles made this place feel incredibly special- sort of what you might envision heaven being like. A feeling of peace enveloped us as the ethereal forest extended past us, and each of us were quiet, absorbing the grandeur of this place.
Eventually, we started to head down a cliff face after following a creek for awhile. At that point, the creek plummeted over the cliffs, and we followed albeit on a much more safe route on the trail. At the bottom, we had some amazing views of the Upper Kentucky Falls. We stopped and marveled at this amazing display, snapping photos like mad.
Continuing on, the trail kept up its groomed appearance, but the thimble berries in the sunlit patches hovered closer in, capturing the humidity and pretty soon, it was muggy and steamy along the trail. I reached for my water since I was perspiring so much from the heat. But it felt really good to be stretching my legs in such beautiful surroundings.
The trail continued downward, (which I found rather unusual since I am used to uphill from the start), and followed a series of switchbacks down to the base of yet another canyon. There, the reward of the hike was waiting for us. As we came around a little bit of a rock scramble then made our way up a nicely-built wooden viewing platform… and there they were: twin waterfalls. One was Kentucky Creek (Lower Falls) on the right, and the other the Smith River to the left, plunging downward in a second series of cataracts. Each of the falls had a completely different look and feel, even despite being in such close proximity to each other. Lower Kentucky Falls was much more mossier and lush, and had more of a dramatic rain-forest appearance. The Smith River Falls was larger by volume, and was more exposed, crashing down over slick, dark rocks… dramatic in its own right.
In short, this was one of the more spectacular hikes I’ve been on in awhile. Definitely worth the effort getting there and the hike, although uphill all the way back, was pretty easy, especially when there was so much scenery and wildflowers to be found along the way!