: Salt Creek Falls by David Jensen

Top Waterfall Trails in the Willamette Valley

Add these 7 misty hikes to your Oregon bucket list.
February 25, 2019

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of lacing up my boots, throwing my gear in a bag and hitting the road in search of my next hike. When I walk along one of Oregon’s forest trails, my senses are fully activated. I give myself away to the soft soil under my feet and the cool, clean air on my face as my legs and my lungs get nature’s version of an exercise boot camp. It’s even better if the workout comes with a view.  

Waterfalls are an obvious highlight of our state’s rain-abundant naturescape. And with its sprawling forests and lush waterways, the Willamette Valley is gifted with dozens of trails to tumbling falls. Where to start? From popular stunners like Silver Falls State Park to lesser-known Spirit Falls, here are some of my favorites in the valley, listed in order from north to south. Get out there — your waterfall-mist facial awaits.

Know before you go: While most of these waterfalls are not a far drive from some of Oregon’s biggest cities, keep in mind that the forests of the Willamette Valley are often remote and wild, so be prepared wherever you go. Some trails require parking passes, either an Oregon State Park Day-Use Permit or a Northwest Forest Service Pass; Forest Service Passes should typically be purchased in advance (online, by mail or at an official retailer). Before setting out, review your route on TripCheck.com, which will alert you to current conditions and potential closures. Keep in mind that the area’s varied weather and rare wildfires can cause some sites to close seasonally. Be prepared by packing layers (even hot days can turn to chilly evenings), carrying an emergency roadside kit and bringing a paper road map. When hitting the trails, tread lightly and aim to leave no trace.

By age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Shellburg Falls

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.8 miles round-trip, out and back
Season: Open year-round
Passes: None needed

Highlights: Hidden in the Santiam Foothills, this peaceful hike starts in an open, grassy meadow where cows are known to graze. The trail then winds through Douglas fir and hemlock trees. Moss-covered arches lead to an observation deck at the base of the falls, and there is also a cavern to explore that takes you behind the waterfall. Once you reach Shellburg Falls, beginners can stop there or, for more of a challenge, continue on an elevation-gaining loop to the Stassel Falls Trail.

By Richard Bacon / Alamy Stock Photo

Marion Falls

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 5 miles round-trip, out and back
Season: April through September
Passes: Northwest Forest Service Pass

Highlights: Located just past Detroit Lake, Marion Falls is tucked away within the Willamette National Forest. Getting to the falls starts at the Marion Lake trailhead, which, as you hike along, will give you an opportunity to see the serene Marion Lake. You can stop and have lunch overlooking the lake, then continue on the Marion outlet trail, which will take you to both Marion Falls and Gatch Falls. This is a well-kept secret, so enjoy responsibly.

By Caleb Wallace / Willamette Valley Visitors Association

Silver Falls State Park

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 7.2 miles for the full loop of all 10 waterfalls
Season: Open year-round
Passes: Oregon State Park Pass

Highlights: A charmer of a state park, Silver Falls is expansive with its offerings. It is the largest state park in Oregon with more than 9,000 acres, as well as miles of walking, horse-riding and biking trails. The park claims 10 waterfalls, many of which are more than 100 feet high, and the legendary Trail of Ten Falls links them all. Mossy, wet caverns give you a behind-the-falls photo op, a shot which will surely find its place in your social media feed. The trails can get crowded, as this family-friendly park provides options for those looking for a longer, full-day hike or a shorter, picnic type of afternoon. Leave your four-legged loved ones at home, as dogs are not allowed on the Canyon Trail.

By Sally Mcaleer

Sahalie and Koosah Falls

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.2-mile loop
Season: March through October
Passes: None needed

Highlights: Along the stunning McKenzie River just east of Eugene, the rip-roaring Sahalie and Koosah falls make a perfect destination for those looking for a quick wow factor, without hitting a lot of trail. Located in the Willamette National Forest, Sahalie Falls’ tumble of whitewater plunges down 100 feet over an ancient lava dam. The loop goes on to Koosah Falls, which is another one of the three main waterfalls along the McKenzie (the third being Proxy Falls). This trail also makes for a spectacular snowshoeing excursion in the snowy winter months but can get icy, so be sure to take hiking poles and the proper gear.

By Larry Andreasen

McDowell Creek Falls

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.8-mile loop
Season: Year-round
Passes: None needed

Highlights: This loop offers an opportunity to see two impressive cascades, Royal Terrace Falls and Majestic Falls. Immersed among big-leaf maple, red alder, western red cedar, grand fir trees and mossy rock walls, the two waterfalls are easily accessible. One feature that sets this hike apart is a network of wooden footbridges, where you can stop, get a close-up view and snap that perfect selfie.

By John Trax / Alamy Stock Photo

Spirit Falls

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.6 miles round-trip, out and back
Season: Year-round
Passes: None needed

Highlights: Located in the Umpqua National Forest, Spirit Falls’ apt name tells you everything you need to know. Its delicate curtain of water channels down a moss-covered rock wall, resembling a fairy tale-like cascade as it tumbles into a shimmering pool of water. It looks like a magical spot forest unicorns might come to take a drink. If you’re looking for a longer hike that day, add nearby Moon Falls and Pinard Falls to the list, and tackle them all in a single day.

By David Jensen

Salt Creek and Diamond Creek Falls

Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 5.4-mile loop
Season: June through October
Passes: Northwest Forest Service Pass

Highlights: The double duo of a hike gives you a waterfall-to-lake-to-waterfall combination, which could be a refreshing summer challenge, or an ambitious snowshoeing winter excursion. Old cedar-log footbridges accent this trail, as it starts at Salt Creek, curves along Too Much Bear Lake and finally ascends up into Diamond Creek Falls.

About The

Dez Ramirez
Dez Ramirez is a writer, traveler and aspiring rugged outdoorswoman. In 2017, she launched On She Goes, a travel website for women of color. She loves living out of suitcases, camping at music festivals and spending as much time in the wilderness as possible. See more of her work at dezramirez.com.

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