Eight Days in Oregon: Waterfalls & Redwoods
The state with the second most waterfalls in the country, topped only by it's neighbor to the north, Oregon is a truly magical place. Its geographical makeup is one of the most diverse in the country, marked with towering volcanoes, dense evergreen forests, pristine lakes and rivers, arid deserts and moss covered everything. To the west, a primeval landscape on the edge of the world. To the east, miles of high altitude desert too desolate for life to thrive. On this adventure you'll be exploring the western portion of the state, its many incredible waterfalls, along beautifully sculpted coastline and sandy beaches, up mountains, and down into California's redwood country. The best time to enjoy this adventure is May through June when the temperatures are warmer and the mountain peaks still have snow on them. A high clearance vehicle is recommended.
The map below illustrates nearly all of the stops on this adventure and clicking on each waypoint previews the photos found throughout the article.
Day 1: Mount Hood & Badger Creek Wilderness
Spirit Falls (1 mile/500')
Tamanawas Falls (3.5 miles/500')
Lookout Mountain (2.6 miles/550')
Assuming that you begin your adventure from Portland, head east to reach Spirit Falls, a surprisingly less-traveled waterfall along Washington's side of the Columbia River Gorge. The trailhead is poorly marked, but Google Maps will lead you to a bend in the road along Rt 14 where you can park on the east side of the road and proceed down the noticeable gravel path. The steep trail eventually leads to a beautiful waterfall emptying into a turquoise plunge pool along the Little White Salmon River. Be sure to hike all the way to the trail's end just beside the falls for a fantastic view and if you're lucky you'll see kayakers hurl themselves over the falls. Don't mistake this for the Spirit Falls in Dorena, Oregon some three hours away.
After enjoying Spirit Falls make your way across the Hood River Bridge into Oregon along Rt 35. While crossing over the Columbia River, take a look in your rearview mirror for a view of Washington's second highest mountain, Mount Adams. Mount Hood will soon come into view as you're traveling along Rt 35 and before long you'll arrive at the large parking lot for Tamanawas Falls on your right. The trail runs through a beautiful old growth Douglas fir and cedar forest, along Cold Spring Creek, ending at the 100' Tamanawas Falls. For a less frequented view, continue down the slippery rocks to the right and behind the falls. You'll come back soaking wet, but the view is awesome.
Not far from Tamanawas Falls is the Lookout Mountain Trail aka High Prairie Trail #493, an out-and-back leading to one of the most spectacular views of Mount Hood in the area. There are several spots along the trail that give view to Mount Hood, but keep your eyes peeled for the tree below and you'll have a one all to yourself. Continue on to the rocky outcropping about a half mile farther for a 180-degree view and another view of Oregon's highest peak.
Trillium Campground, just outside the cozy town of Government Camp, offers incredible views of Mount Hood from the south along pristine Trillium Lake. There are no showers at this campground, so if that's important, Timberline Lodge and Best Western Mt Hood Inn are close by and great options. For a unique experience check out Action Sports Glamping Experience in Sandy where they have canvas tents, showers and wifi. This option shaves off roughly an hour from tomorrow's drive to Abiqua Falls. If spending the night near Government Camp is in the cards make sure to check out Glacier Public House for dinner. The burgers are excellent.
Day 2: Silver Falls State Park
Abiqua Falls (1.5 miles/250')
Trail of Ten Falls (7.5 miles/1,100')
Triangulation Peak & Boca Cave (2.5 miles/950')
Today you'll make your way south to Abiqua Falls, one of if not the most photogenic waterfalls in the entire state. Getting here is an adventure and you'll want a high clearance vehicle for the final two miles. If you're using Google Maps to get to the trailhead you can use either of the two they list. They'll both get you where you want to go. For those without a high clearance vehicle you'll be parking at the first trailhead and walking down the dirt road for two miles to get to the actual trailhead. For those with a high clearance vehicle, continue past the first trailhead, down the rough dirt road until you reach a metal gate and a dead end. Park and walk back along the road you just drove down, skipping the first trail on your right and take the second trail, maybe 200' from where you parked. Take this trail until it splits and go left, following it as descends fairly rapidly. There are ropes to assist your descent in two spots along the trail. One is near the beginning of the descent, not far from the trailhead, and the second runs along a large fallen tree just before Abiqua Creek. They're helpful after rain and for those with mobility issues, but for most unnecessary. When you reach the creek turn left and follow the trail until you reach the falls.
Less than an hour from Abiqua Falls is Silver Falls State Park, home to the Trail of Ten Falls, by far Oregon's most popular hiking trail. You'll have to endure crowds at this one, but we think it's worth it. The nationally recognized trail rises and falls through Silver Creek Canyon, passing ten gorgeous waterfalls along the way, four of which you'll walk behind. South Falls is the tallest of them all, plunging nearly 180' from the basalt cliffs above, just a quarter mile from the trailhead going clockwise. Lower South Falls, Double Falls, Middle North Falls, North Falls and Winter Falls are also very impressive and each more than 100' tall. Bring a rain jacket and waterproof shoes for this one.
The last part of your day can go one of two ways and which way you go will largely depend on the weather. Heading east on Rt 22 you'll pass Detroit Lake, a popular state recreation area with a ton of campgrounds. Pass through the tiny town of Detroit and roughly five miles past Santiam Flats Campground you'll find National Forest Development Road 2233 (NF-2233) on the left. Take this up to the Triangulation Trailhead and if the area is fog free begin your backpack up to Boca Cave, a well-kept secret on the outskirts of Mount Jefferson National Forest. About 1.5 miles in you'll hit a few switchbacks and the trail steepens before reaching Triangulation Peak and its magnificent views. Head back the way you just came and go right at the unmarked split in the trail about a tenth of a mile from Triangulation Peak - the split will be obvious. You'll encounter several unofficial backcountry campsites along this part of the trail. Continuing on, the trail becomes less defined, but take the steep, rocky path down the side of the mountain before reaching the cave. There used to be an arrow carved into one of the trees letting you know you were on the right track, but it may be unrecognizable now. The mouth of the cave is roughly 0.3 miles from Triangulation Peak, so keep that in mind. Either camp in the cave or return to the campsites near Triangulation Peak. Sunrises and sunsets from inside the cave are drop dead gorgeous and should not be missed. The peak you're looking at from within the cave is the second highest peak in Oregon, Mount Jefferson. If the trailhead is foggy you'll likely not have the great view from inside the cave and if that's the case check out one of the nearby campgrounds along Detroit Lake or head an hour south to beautiful Paradise Campground near Belknap Springs.
Day 3: Three Sisters Wilderness & McKenzie River
Triangulation Peak & Boca Cave return (2.5 miles/200')
Tamolitch Blue Pool (3.5 miles/300')
Sahalie & Koosah Falls (1 mile/150')
Proxy Falls (1.5 miles/200')
After the return hike to your car and a good Wet Ones shower, head an hour south to one of Oregon's must-see bodies of water, Tamolitch Blue Pool. The trail to this beauty runs parallel to the McKenzie River, through old growth forest and over an ancient lava field. At roughly two miles you've reached the topaz colored Blue Pool. The cliffs above the Blue Pool provide a great places to relax, have lunch and enjoy the view below. The water temperature is 37F on average, so beware before jumping in.
1,600 years ago, a lava flow from the Belknap Crater buried a three mile stretch of the McKenzie River between the Carmen Reservoir and Tamolitch Falls. Today, that stretch of river flows underground, seeps up to the through porous lava below and resurfaces at the Blue Pool.
Another beautiful stretch of the McKenzie River can be found with just a five minute drive from the Blue Pool parking area. Here you'll discover Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls, two large waterfalls at the terminus of thick basaltic andesite lava flows. To the right of the observation deck at Sahalie Falls, you'll notice an unofficial path leading towards the falls. Taking this will lead you to a patch of slick moss covered rocks above the plunge pool as seen below.
Continue down the official trail to Koosah Falls. Shortly after the falls you'll notice a faint path leading down to the McKenzie where a fallen tree rests securely above the water. This is a great place to snap a few photos, but it's very slippery so do so at your own risk.
A short twenty minute drive south leads you to Proxy Falls, a 226' tall behemoth with one photo opportunity after another. Regardless of what the trailhead signs say, take the trail on the opposite side of the road from the bathrooms. This is an easy hike over a picturesque ancient lava field, through beautiful old growth Douglas fir and cedar forest down to the base of the falls. The trail ends at Proxy Creek, but continue along the left side of the falls where you'll find several fallen trees that can be used to cross over to get to the right side of the falls. Wear waterproof everything if you can. Upper Proxy Falls can be reached along the same loop trail, but is far less impressive.
Eugene is only an hour away and a great option for a warm bed and hot shower. If you want to get a bit closer to the start of tomorrow, the Illahee Inn, a zero frills budget motel in Glide is very clean with a few really good restaurants and coffee shops nearby. This option is 2.5 hours from Proxy Falls and 45 minutes from tomorrow's Toketee Falls.
Day 4: Umpqua National Forest & Crater Lake National Park
Toketee Falls (1.2 miles/300')
Watson Falls (1 mile/500')
Garfield Peak (3.5 miles/1,000')
Start your day by heading to Toketee Falls, a 120' two tier waterfall along the North Umpqua River. The main attraction is the lower falls portion that flows over a sheer wall of columnar basalt, plunging into an emerald colored pool. There's a way to get down to the river and a more secluded view, but it's highly discouraged by the NFS. If you do choose to climb down to the river you'll be doing so at your own risk. It's an incredibly steep endeavour that requires lowering yourself with a rope and ascending the same way during your return. Lives have been lost here and we've seen many people turn away after only a few steps, but if you're willing to climb down it's one hell of a view.
Less than three miles away take the first right and you'll find the trailhead for the 293' Watson Falls, one of the most underrated falls in all of Oregon. We've never spotted more than a handful of people on this one, so there's a good chance you'll have some solitude.
Roughly thirty minutes away from Watson Falls is Crater Lake, Oregon's lone national park. The 1,943' deep lake lies inside a caldera created 7,700 years ago when the 12,000' Mount Mazama collapsed after a large eruption. It's the deepest lake in the country, seventh deepest in the world, and because it's filled almost entirely with rain and snowfall it's one of the clearest lakes in the world. Entering from the north near Diamond Lake, head south along Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway/Rim Drive to Merriam Point where you'll get your first view of the world famous cobalt blue lake. Watchman Peak and Garfield Peak, two prominent peaks around the lake will be to your right above Wizard Island. Staying overnight at the park lodge requires a reservation and they come with some risk. Reservations are non-refundable within seven days of your arrival which is reasonable, however given how often the lake is cloud covered it's a gamble. If you're willing to drive a little, two hours southwest of the park is Grants Pass, a city with plenty of restaurants, hotels, Airbnbs, etc. This makes the start to tomorrow a bit easier.
Day 5: Redwoods
Boy Scout Tree Trail (5 miles/600')
Lady Bird Johnson Grove (1.5 miles/100')
Fern Canyon (1 mile/100')
One of the best hikes in the country to see redwoods is an hour and a half south of Grants Pass in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The Boy Scout Tree Trail is simply sublime. Huge ancient redwoods, some up to 200' tall and an average age of 600 years old, tower over the forest floor. These are California's northernmost redwoods and some of the most spectacular in the world.
The drive to the Boy Scout Tree Trailhead along Howland Hill Rd is equally impressive and often regarded as one of the best drives in the world to see redwoods. Jedediah Smith is said to have 7% of the world's remaining old growth redwoods, more than any other park in the world. Boy Scout Tree, a highlight along the trail, is actually two coastal redwoods fused together with a combined width of over 23-feet towering 238-feet from the forest floor. We recommend stopping your hike here since the remainder of the hike isn't much in terms of views. Return to your vehicle and head over to Crescent City's Chart Room on Anchor Way for lunch and a great view. The waterfront seafood restaurant is located next to a grouping of rocks that sea lions sunbathe on throughout the year. Pretty cool view.
An hour south of Jedediah Smith, just outside the very tiny town of Orick, is Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Possibly the finest collection of coastal redwoods in the world, the grove rests near the top of a ridge inside Redwoods National Park, more than 1,000' from sea level. Due to its elevation, the trail regularly sees morning fog making it an excellent place for photography.
Next, head back north and into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. Reservations are required for a campsite at the highly sought after campground, so make it well in advance. Sites 7 & 19 face the ocean and are well separated from the others, while sites 9, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17 all face the ocean but have slightly less privacy. Despite not having any showers, Gold Bluffs Beach Campground is one of the top campgrounds in America and for good reason. Situated between massive coastal bluffs and the Pacific Ocean, the campground has some of the best views of any campground we've ever stayed at. Beware of the seagulls and don't leave food out or you'll lose it.
The Fern Canyon Trail is located a very short drive from camp and a must see. The flat trail follows Home Creek roughly one mile through a small canyon whose walls are covered in ferns of all types. A scene from Steven Spielberg's 1997 blockbuster Jurassic Park: Lost World was actually filmed in the canyon. Head back to camp and enjoy the campfire that you hopefully staged and the sound of the ocean as the day winds down.
Day 6: Samuel H Boardman Corridor
Natural Bridges Cove (1 mile/200')
China Beach (1.3 miles/500')
Secret Beach (1.5 miles/350')
Today you'll head back north into Oregon and add to your time along the coast. Take Rt 101 up into Brookings, home to Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor, a beautiful twelve mile stretch of Oregon coast with craggy bluffs, secluded beaches and offshore rock formations.
If you're in the mood for coffee and a bagel stop at Bell & Whistle Coffee House. The jalapeno cheddar bagel is possibly the best bagel on the planet and the coffee isn't far behind. After breakfast head up to Natural Bridges Cove parking lot and take the unmarked trail to the right of the parking lot. Follow this until the first trail on your left and follow that all the way down until you can't go any farther. Walk along the top of the thin ridge to your left as far as you want to get an incredible, albeit fairly dangerous view. On your way back up, take a right and follow the path to where it descends to an open area below for a less traveled view. Sunsets here are excellent.
China Beach might be the least visited beach along Samuel H Boardman Corridor, but not for lack of views. Begin at the North Island Viewpoint Trail, gradually descend a fairly bare forest before entering a more lush, fern covered area. Continue your descent until reaching the beach - it's pretty straightforward. The views along the beach are incredible. In front of you, a coast littered with sea stacks jutting out of the ocean and behind you, craggy cliffs topped with towering trees. Enjoy your time here and then head back to downtown Brookings for dinner is Black Trumpet Bistro or Zola's. The pulled pork sandwich at Black Trumpet Bistro is excellent.
The last hike on what should be a fairly low-key day is a sunset hike to Secret Beach, a lesser traveled trail on the northern side of the corridor. The trail accesses the beach in three spots and to get to the spot in the photo below you'll want to go to the last of the three. Just stay right at each trail split and you'll make it.
In terms of lodging, the Barney's Barn Airbnb in Brookings is gorgeous and highly recommended. Super private. Harris Beach State Park is minutes away, has showers, tons of tent sites and a handful of yurts.. Great campground.
Devil's Cauldron (0.5 miles/75')
And now comes the long drive back north along the coast. It's a gorgeous drive for the most part and you'll have several places to stop and break up all the windshield time. Your first stop is Bandon Beach for a beach walk and visit to Wizard's Hat, an incredibly photogenic sea stack that resembles...a wizard's hat. You'll need low tide in order to get close to it, but it's worth a stop to view from farther up the beach if not.
Thor's well, a seemingly bottomless sinkhole resting along the rocky coast near Cape Perpetua is two hours away. It's most impressive during high tide, but be careful not to get swept in as some dopes have had happen in the past. The best time to visit is about an hour before high tide which gives you time to view the well before and as water is rushing in. This has become increasingly popular over the years so expect crowds. Even so, it's worth a stop.
If you're looking for a great spot for lunch after this check out Pelican Brewing, about an hour and a half north of Thor's Well on Pacific City Beach. Good food, good brews and a beachside view from your table. Just outside of the brewery on Cape Kiwanda you'll notice a 250-foot dune and people climbing it. If you're in the mood to burn off some of lunch give it a go - the view from up top is incredible. Make sure to check out the view on the other side of the dune as well when you're up there.
Another hour north and you'll reach Cape Falcon and the trail out to Devil's Cauldron. The hike is quick and easy, but the adventurous may choose on ratcheting things up a bit and climbing out on the thin fin at the very end of the trail. Doing so requires little fear of heights and some surefootedness. The view is bonkers.
Cannon Beach is a short fifteen minute drive from Devil's Cauldron and a great finishing place for the long day. There are a few campgrounds in the area and Wright's For Camping is the one we recommend. They have showers, great tent sites, and the perfect distance from downtown. If you want to dine out, Cannon Beach Smokehouse will always get our vote. Check out the beach and an incredible sunset if you're not too tired - they're pretty spectacular here.
Day 8: Cannon Beach & Columbia River Gorge
Crescent Beach (2.5 miles/500')
Wreck of Peter Iredale
Latourell Falls (0.3 miles/20')
Multnomah Falls (2.5 miles/800')
Cannon Beach is without question the most popular beach in Oregon and comes with a lot of history. Before the era of GPS and radar, fishermen along this stretch of coast could find their way through the fog by listening for the birds on Haystack Rock, the beach's most famous landmark. This 235-foot block of lava is is the third tallest intertidal rock formation in the world and a year round nesting spot for seabirds. Mornings here are typically foggy, giving an eerie feeling to the beach.
Just a few miles away is beautiful Crescent Beach where at low tide you can walk the shore between two rock formations and snag a really cool view of Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock in the distance. The hike down to the beach is easy going with a few excellent views of the coast along the way. When you reach the beach hang a left and head towards the rock formations shown below. You can view the Cannon Beach tide charts here.
A short drive north towards Astoria takes you to the final resting place of the Peter Iredale, a once four masted vessel from England turned victim to the perilous seas of Oregon's coast. The remains of its steel hull can be found wedged along the shore of Fort Stevens Park. In 1906, wrenched by wind and current she ran aground, hitting so hard three of her masts snapped on impact. All aboard were rescued and in thanks the captain bid his ship farewell saying, "May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands." And they have.
Fort Stevens' northern park boundary rests on the 17 mile wide entrance to the Columbia River, an area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Further down the Columbia is your next stop, Latourell Falls. The cliffs of the third highest waterfall in the world famous Columbia River Gorge are covered in large patches of brilliant yellow lichen, making it one of the more distinguishable waterfalls in the gorge. A short walk down to the falls brings you to a viewing area along the trail, but continue on to the right side of the falls, over the piles of algae covered rocks until you reach the base of the falls and its powerful spray.
Seventeen million years ago a series of lava flows pushed through this area, cooling to form layers of basalt. Much later, the Columbia River started to carve its way through those layers creating walls hundreds of feet high. From these rock walls, at least seventy-seven waterfalls cascade into the gorge on the Oregon side alone and the granddaddy of them all is Multnomah Falls. It drops a total of 620' and a great place to witness Oregon's geological history. Five different lava flows are exposed in the face of the falls. Take the paved hiking trail up to the Benson Bridge, the footbridge traversing Multnomah Creek between the falls' two cascades. Head back down the way you came or continue on to Dutchman, Wiesendanger and Ecola Falls.
Assuming that you'll be spending the evening in Portland on your last day, make sure to check out the Portland Japanese Garden, a traditional Japanese style garden over twelve acres in West Hills' Washington Park. You'll have an incredible view of Mount Hood from the park.
That's it folks. We hope you enjoy the adventure and make a lot of memories along the way!