Oregon, how we love you. Every spring, we seem to experience all four seasons at once — a wee bit of rain, a good dose of sunshine, a crisp chill (sometimes a dusting of snow) and eventually, the warmth of the sun. It all makes for one spectacular season to hit the trails and take in the sights and sounds of a spring waterfall hike.
So lace up those hiking boots, load up for a road trip and always remember to practice Leave No Trace principles, including staying on trails, respecting wildlife, packing out all trash and being prepared for emergencies.
Here are several top waterfall hikes around the state to explore:
While Multnomah Falls gets a lot of attention — and visitors — nearby Latourell Falls and Bridal Veil Falls offer easy hikes apart from the main waterfall corridor of the Gorge. Nonetheless they will likely be busy all spring and summer. Avoid congestion and limited parking by visiting during the week and early in the day. Latourell’s impressive 224-foot cascade will still be there, as will its family-friendly 2.4-mile round-trip loop, but with a lot fewer crowds. See what trails are open with this handy map by Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
Umbrella Falls, in the Mt. Hood Natural Forest, is an awe-inspiring trek with striking technicolor views on the way to the 59-foot falls. The moderate hike will take 2-3 hours, depending on how long you meander along the fluffy white beargrass, deep purple lupine and bright red Indian paintbrush. The scene is picture-perfect on a clear spring day when Mt. Hood appears on the skyline. Bring a picnic and make a day of the 4.2-mile loop, stopping at sister Sahalie Falls along the way.
You may feel like Indiana Jones as you cruise across the 240-foot suspension bridge at Drift Creek Falls, just outside of Lincoln City, surrounded by lush ferns, alders and vine maple. This 3-mile out-and-back hike through the Siuslaw National Forest is highly accessible and prettiest in the spring, just after spring rains. Go for an easy walk in and a more uphill hike out. Just make sure to linger at the gorgeous 75-foot cascade; there are several picture-taking spots and picnic spots along the way.
Follow the signs from Highway 6 along Saddle Mountain Road for a few miles to University Falls in the lush Tillamook State Forest. This enchanting 55-foot waterfall makes a perfect detour on any springtime Coast road trip; you can enjoy it via a short trail walk or the full 8-mile loop. Admire the pink and white trilliums in full bloom and look for a peekaboo bit of blue sky through the towering red alder.
Deep in the Willamette National Forest, Spirit Falls and Moon Falls are off the beaten path and as magical as they sound. Spirit Falls tumbles 60 feet over mossy rocks into a secluded pool, at the end of a half-mile trail through mature forest with some steep switchbacks at the end. Moon Falls is a 120-ft high cascade with high flow in the springtime, reached by a half-mile walk with gentle grades through old-growth forest. They’re close enough that you can do them both in a day.
About an hour southeast of Corvallis, Alsea Falls is a portal to centuries past. The 4.2-mile loop trail, through majestic old-growth Douglas firs, is often lush not just with bright green moss and lichen but also a bounty of rhododendrons and uncommon perennials like pinesap and Scouler’s harebell. The 30-foot falls spills in from the South Fork Alsea River. Kids and dogs will enjoy the trip, or go solo and enjoy dewy spring air and tranquility.
Think you’ve seen all of the Deschutes River? Not till you’ve hiked to Steelhead Falls in Terrebonne, just west of Crooked River Ranch. This 1-mile round trip is accessible all year long and used as a popular swimming hole in the summer, for good reason — the 20-foot plunge into a churning pool at this scenic rimrock canyon is like a scene from a fairy tale, with wildlife friends all around. It’s a shared trail, with horses and cyclists, and dogs on-leash, so be mindful of others and keep it pristine.
White River Falls in Tygh Valley, north of Maupin is a force of nature in the spring. A rugged trail takes visitors deep into the canyon, where the 90-foot falls plunges into the base of a hydroelectric power plant that supplied the area with electricity from 1910 to 1960. Bring a picnic, toss out a fishing line or set up camp this season when the desert flowers are in full bloom.
There’s so much to soak up at Lemolo Falls — from the mini cascades and pools along the North Umpqua River, to the enormous 165-foot falls, set against a backdrop of electric green moss and basalt rock. The 3.4-mile out-and-back hike will take you a few hours, so pack a lunch and dress in layers. It’s an ideal day trip from Roseburg, 80 miles west.
Clearwater Falls is an out-of-the-way beauty smack dab in the middle of the Umpqua National Forest, just north of Diamond Lake and Crater Lake National Park. The lovely spring-fed 30-foot cascade spills into a pool of mossy logs, surrounded by old-growth Douglas fir. The walk is family friendly, just a short walk from the parking lot, with picnic facilities and a nearby campground that opens for the season in late May.