If Arizona is famous for majestic canyons, the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon and Canyon De Chelly come to mind, Oregon is known for waterfalls. The waterfalls of Oregon are found in absurd abundance throughout the Beaver state. Hiker extraordinaire Bill Bens, who has accompanied me on many epic hikes in Arizona, turned me on to central Oregon’s high desert near the town of Bend to partake in two amazing waterfall hikes, McKenzie River and Silver Falls State Park.
After a scenic 90- minute drive from Bend along the Old McKenzie Highway, we came to the spectacular upper McKenzie Wild and Scenic River. By hiking the four-mile waterfalls loop, we accessed the incredible Sahalie and Koosah Falls from both sides of the river. This hike occupied a few hours because of the stunning scenery and the urge to reach for our cameras quite often to capture the beauty of the forest and waterfalls.
We parked at highway 126 across from the Coldwater Cove Campground where the McKenzie trail crosses the highway and headed south on the trail. What is interesting is that the raging waters of the upper McKenzie are incredibly glacial blue and crystal clear, breathtakingly beautiful. After about a mile of easy walking we reached the 100′ high Sahalie Falls, a thundering cascade amidst a rainbowed mist.
We continued down the trail; the river roiled and agitated through continuous foam and spray and then plunged off a sheer rock face at Koosah Falls, 70 feet high. What’s so remarkable about these waterfalls is not so much the height but the absolute quantity of water.
To complete our loop, we crossed the McKenzie River at Carmen Reservoir and hiked up the east side of the river, now on the Waterfall Trail. We passed by Koosah and Sahalie Falls again and was awarded with a different perspective of the falls from the other side of the river. After our hike we stopped in nearby Crockett Lodge at Clear Lake for marionberry pie and gorgeous views of the lake. Clear Lake lives up to its name, it is one of the clearest lakes I’ve ever seen and in fact, the headwaters of the McKenzie River.
After taking in the splendor of the McKenzie, we drove another 75 minutes to view the cascades of Silver Falls State Park, the largest state park in Oregon and a nationally recognized hiking trail. The best hike in the park is the Trail of Ten Falls, a loop hike consisting of the Canyon Trail and Rim Trail. The trails transported us above, behind and around ten gorgeous waterfalls.
Hiking behind a thundering water is a unique experience. Where else can you do this? At the impressive South Falls, a 177-foot wall of water cascaded off a volcanic precipice. The main trail worked its way through a dense forested landscape. It passed a series of other breathtaking waterfalls along a beautiful chasm and descended to a winding creek at the forest floor. This was an easy to moderate hike, with an overall elevation change of 800 feet. Moreover, we had the option of connecting with several connecting trails with separate access points for shorter routes.
As my hiking buddy Bill Bens would say, just another crummy day in the Great Northwest!