: Katie Falkenberg

Hiking Along the Central Oregon Waterfall Trail

Seek out misty sprays of waterfall kisses on your next road trip.
February 22, 2022

Spring showers don’t just bring May flowers in Oregon — they also bring surging waterways, including tumbling waterfalls. Spring cascades in full force are a sight to behold, especially in the usually dry Oregon high desert. Read on for some of the best waterfalls within a few hours’ driving distance of Bend. But first, before you go, be sure to call ranger districts for your destination to learn about permits you might need, wildfire closures and other hazards. Many waterfall trails can get very crowded, so go early or midweek when possible, stay on designated trails, and be sensitive and pack out all trash, especially dog waste.

A series of small waterfalls spread out on a low rock
(Photo by Sally McAleer / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Tamolitch Falls

Easily accessible from Highway 126 along the McKenzie River corridor, Tamolitch Falls is what’s known as a “dry” waterfall that only flows seasonally, typically in the spring. Hikers come in all seasons to where it drops, a pool of water so clear it’s known as Blue Pool (except in winter, when the water turns dark). The cliff rim from which the falls overflow resembles a spilling bucket, possibly the reason it’s named for the word for “bucket” in Chinook jargon. This falls is surrounded by topography that’s rich with relics of its volcanic past, including lava tubes, feeder springs and rock formations that line the winding forested trail to the overlook.

If you go: No permits are needed, but dogs must be kept on-leash.

A tall waterfall flows down a cliff
(Photo by Sally McAleer / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Sahalie & Koosah Falls

A little farther east on Highway 126, Sahalie and Koosah falls are accessible just off the highway and are linked by an easy 1-mile trail. Be warned, however, that the trails aren’t marked so may be difficult to navigate in winter. Geology buffs know these falls formed when basaltic andesite erupted 3,000 years ago and dammed the wild McKenzie River in several locations. Sahalie Falls plunges 75 feet over a lava bench while Koosah has at least two channels that fall in a curtain from a similar height. In Chinook language, Sahalie means “heaven” and Koosah means “sky.” On a warm day, seek out the misty spray of waterfall kisses that land on your cheeks as you hike near the water. The roads and parking lot are not maintained for snow and ice in the winter, so use caution and do not park on the side of the road in winter. 

If you go: No permits are needed, but dogs must be kept on-leash.

(Photo by Sally McAleer / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Proxy Falls

When McKenzie Pass on Highway 242 opens in spring, you’ll find a 1.6-mile hike to Proxy Falls near Belknap Hot Springs. The cascade’s famous main drop descends 226 feet, making it one of the highest in Oregon. Known as a hanging-valley waterfall, it was formed when glaciers cut through the rock about 6,000 years ago, leaving the tributary springs higher than the rest of the valley. The pool below Proxy Falls completely drains and appears to disappear into porous soil and, it’s speculated, lava tunnels under the surface. On the approach trail through the Three Sisters Wilderness, take your time and enjoy the tall evergreen trees and volcanic terrain.

If you go: Permits are $5 a day without a valid recreation pass; dogs are allowed on-leash.

(Photo by Robert Bush / Alamy Stock Photo)

Chush Falls

Whychus Creek, off Highway 20 south of Sisters, originates at Broken Top and South Sister, and fuels several waterfalls in the area. Midwinter, glacial sediment from the hills above turns the water milky with light gray “glacial flour,” and at other times, eroded cinder from volcanic soils tints the waters red. After trekking almost 6 miles from the Chush Falls trailhead through manzanita and mixed conifer forest paralleling Whychus Creek, an overlook at trail’s end shows off the fan formation of powerful Chush Falls, splayed out in a triangular profile as it tumbles nearly 70 feet down multiple terraces. Adventurers should consult the Sisters Ranger District (by phone or at their walk-up window) to discuss conditions and options for a cross-country hike beyond the overlook to see Upper Chush Falls or others without an established trail.

If you go: No permits are needed, but dogs must be kept on-leash.

(Photo by Steve Heinrichs / Visit Central Oregon)

Steelhead Falls

Keep an eye out for kayakers or rafters making their way downstream to take on Steelhead Falls. Local boaters often head first to this 20-foot block waterfall, which descends a series of rocky steps, when they want to start running waterfalls. As it’s a pleasant drive on Highway 97 northwest of Terrebonne and desirable for its year-round accessibility, summer months bring cliff jumpers, swimmers and anglers.

If you go: No permits are needed, but dogs must be kept on-leash.

(Photo by Christian Heeb)

Tumalo Falls

Perhaps the most popular falls closest to Bend is Tumalo Falls. A quick bike ride or drive up Skyliner Road during all seasons of the year leads to the dramatic 97-foot drop. In winter Tumalo Creek is covered in a blanket of snow with icicles forming on the rocky banks. In the fall, golden aspens line the creek. Springtime brings huge flows and lush greens. In the warmer months of summer, this location is a great spot to picnic and enjoy extensive hiking and mountain biking trails, with easy walks from the parking lot to several overlooks. 

If you go: Permits are $5 for a day pass, available on site, if you don’t have an annual Northwest Forest Pass. Dogs are prohibited.


(Photo by Travel Oregon)

Benham and Dillon Falls

Accessible from the Cascade Lakes Highway between Bend and Sunriver, these sister falls can be viewed from the Deschutes River Trail running along the west bank of the river. Both beloved by kayakers, Benham Falls winds its way down the Deschutes in a series of terraces formed by an ancient lava flow. This chute rushes through a narrow channel cut into basalt columns along the trail, a rollicking ride for paddlers. A few river miles downstream, the less-visited 15-foot Dillon Falls tumbles into a placid pool, creating a challenging run for kayakers who know how to navigate the drops when water levels cooperate.

If you go: Permits are $5 for a day pass, not available on site, if you don’t have an annual Northwest Forest Pass. Dogs are allowed on-leash.

(Photo by Steve Heinrichs / Visit Central Oregon)

Paulina Falls

On the flank of Newberry caldera across from LaPine State Park, Paulina Falls sports two side-by-side companion drops that are creek-fed from a narrow gorge draining Paulina Lake inside the caldera. The footpath on Peter Skene Ogden National Scenic Trail loosely parallels Highway 2, gently ascending Newberry volcano to the top, where the cascade plunges 80 feet over the cliff line. Hikers, snowshoers or cross-country skiers may also take a low trail to the bottom, but watch for mountain bikers enjoying the trail system. In winter months, the highway closes at 10-Mile Park, and visitors must brave the snow by snowmobile or Nordic skis to access the falls. In winter months and early spring, highway 21 is closed at 10-Mile Park and visitors must brave the snow by snowmobile or Nordic skis to access the falls. The road reopens in spring for car access, sometime between March and June, depending on conditions.

If you go: Permits are $5 for a day pass, not available on site, if you don’t have an annual Northwest Forest Pass. Dogs are allowed on-leash.



Central Oregon Waterfalls

About The

K.M. Collins
A native Oregonian, K.M. Collins is a geologist-gone writer. Covering everything outdoors and a spectrum of journalism, she operates her content and marketing company, Guerrilla Media Bend, from Central Oregon. Between whitewater paddle boarding, kayaking and rafting, she's a jack of all water trades. Roller skating, snowboarding and cycling rank among her favorite land-based activities. Sunstones, petroglyphs, obsidians, wildflower identification and cooking on a Dutch oven make her smile. Follow her adventures at @guerrillamediabend.

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