5 Waterfall and Wildflower Hikes

Danielle Centoni, Guest Author
February 26, 2016 (Updated March 5, 2016)
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When winter’s chill takes a hike, leaving carpets of flowers and swollen streams in its wake, that’s your cue to take a hike, too, and soak in all that springtime beauty. Thankfully Oregon offers plenty of trails that meander through sunny wildflower meadows, or past shady forest waterfalls roaring back to life. Can’t choose between the two? No problem. We’ve rounded up five hikes, from easy to challenging, that offer the best of both worlds.

Willamette Valley: McKenzie River Waterfalls Loop Trail (easy)

On this family-friendly, 2.6-mile loop, walk through stands of old-growth Douglas fir and red cedar in the Willamette National Forest, while soaking up misty views of the roaring McKenzie River as it cascades down 100-foot-tall Sahalie Falls and 70-foot-tall Koosah Falls. As you go, keep your eyes open for forest flowers like trillium, yellow-leaf iris, bleeding hearts and wild ginger, all of which will be at their peak in May.

Coast Range: Munson Creek Falls (easy)

Beachcombers ready to shake the sand from their toes, and road-trippers looking for a chance to stretch their legs, should make tracks to the Munson Creek Falls State Natural Site. A mere mile off Highway 101, it’s a woodland gem that offers a big payoff for very little effort. The half-mile trail leads you along Munson Creek to a viewpoint of the multi-tiered, 300-foot falls. Along the way, through spring and into summer, you can spot an array of forest blooms, such as salmonberry, violets, trillium, and corydalis.

A creek, waterfall, and spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge await those hiking the out-and-back Mosier Plateau Trail. (Photo credit: Shara Alvarez)

Columbia River Gorge: Mosier Plateau Trail (easy to moderate)

Just past Hood River is the town of Mosier, where a creek, waterfall, and spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge await those hiking the out-and-back Mosier Plateau Trail. Start in town and follow the creek-side trail through a community park and past the pioneer cemetery to a viewpoint of Mosier Creek Falls. As you continue on your way to the plateau, with its stunning Gorge backdrop, enjoy over 30 species of wildflowers, including balsamroot and buttercups. The flowers are at their peak in mid- to late-April, but don’t forget to come back in summer for a dip in Mosier Creek swimming hole.

Southern Oregon: Lemolo Falls (moderate to difficult)

As you descend into the North Umpqua Canyon, the landscape changes dramatically from dry and rocky to lush with ferns and wildflowers, including purple lupines, delicate trillium, and low-growing ceanothus. Once at the bottom, you’ll be face-to-face with the powerful, 165-foot wall of water known as Lemolo Falls. The out-and-back route is only 3.5 miles, but its steep descent means you’re in for a thigh-burning climb back to the top. Need a few more hours on the Stairmaster first? The more moderate North Umpqua Trail provides topside views of the falls.

Ice Lake is a 15-mile round trip, with a steep elevation gain, which is why many of the trekkers on the trail are backpackers, opting to stay the night in one of the campsites around the alpine lake. (Photo credit: Leon Werdinger)

Eastern Oregon: Ice Lake (difficult)

Growing thousands of feet above sea level, the wildflowers in the meadows near Ice Lake are late bloomers, so plan your hike (and camping reservations) for early summer. It’s a 15-mile round trip, with a steep elevation gain, which is why many of the trekkers on the trail are backpackers, opting to stay the night in one of the campsites around the alpine lake. Start from Wallowa Lake Trailhead in Wallowa Lake State Park and enjoy a long hike along the Wallowa River, up and into open meadows brimming with coneflowers, paintbrush, mariposa lilies and penstemon. Eventually you’ll find yourself alongside the gorgeous waterfalls of Adam Creek, including Beauty Falls, which is accessible from the trail.

Trip Ideas

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Ask Oregon

When are the wildflowers in full bloom?

First blooms usually start appearing around mid to late April, and continuing until the hot (well, hot for Oregon) weather arrives sometime in early July. To catch a nice selection of wildflowers, I would probably suggest sometime in early to mid May. The exception to this is the higher elevations around Mt. Hood, where the…

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