‘This is awesome’: 5 Oregon waterfalls from a kid’s view
Five kid-friendly waterfalls to visit during the Northwest’s rainy season.
(Salem) Statesman Journal
If you go
BUTTE CREEK FALLS
Location: Santiam State Forest near Scotts Mills, Ore.
Length: 1.5-mile loop
Trailhead elevation: 1,800 feet
Information: Santiam State Forest, 503-859-2151
Bathroom: Outhouse-style restroom facilities located at the trailhead
Directions: From Salem, Ore., take Highway 213N/Silverton Road and follow through Silverton. Turn right at Mt. Angel-Scotts Mills Road, which turns into Third Street in Scotts Mills. Follow Third Street through Scotts Mills, take a right on Crooked Finger Road and follow it (about 9.5 miles) until the pavement ends. Continue two miles to a Butte Creek Falls trail sign and turn left and follow the gravel road to the trailhead.
Latitude /longitude: 44.931598, -122.523856
Location: Little North Fork Recreation Area / Opal Creek Wilderness Area
Length: 2 miles
Climb: 200 feet
Trailhead elevation: 1,600 feet
Time of drive: About an hour
Dogs: Yes, but must be on a leash
Fees: Northwest Forest Pass required at trailhead for parking, $5 daily or $30 annually at Salem Summit Company, 246 State St. or at any Forest Service ranger station.
Information: Detroit Ranger Station, (503) 854-3366
Directions: From Salem, Ore., head east on Highway 22 for 23 miles. Turn left on North Fork Road SE at the second yellow flashing light in Mehama. Drive for 16.8 miles and continue straight through an intersection. The Henline Falls Trailhead is just 0.1 beyond this intersection on the left.
Latitude / longitude: 44.845821,-122.32667
Location: Santiam State Forest, near Mehama
Length: 3 miles (or 6 mile loop)
Climb: 400 feet
Trailhead elevation: 820 feet
Difficulty: Easy / moderate
Time of drive: About 40 minutes
Information: Santiam State Forest, (503) 859-2151
Directions: From Salem, Ore., head east on North Santiam Highway 22. After 22.4 miles, turn left immediately before Mehama’s flashing yellow light on Fern Ridge Road. Follow it for 1.2 miles to a small gravel parking lot on the right.
Latitude / longitude: 44.8053, -122.627335
MCDOWELL CREEK FALLS PARK
Location: North of Sweet Home
Length: 1.8-mile loop
Climb: 213 feet
Trailhead elevation: 774 feet
Time of drive: About an hour and 10 minutes
Dogs: Must be leashed
Information: Sweet Home Ranger District, (541) 367-5168
Directions: From Salem, Ore., follow Interstate 5 south to Exit 233 for Lebanon/Sweet Home. Follow Highway 20 east for 19 miles, through the town of Lebanon. Turn left onto McDowell Creek Road and follow signs about 9 miles to the park. If you reach Sweet Home on Highway 20, you’ve gone too far.
GPS coordinates: N44 27.853 W122 40.937
Latitude / longitude: 44.464232,-122.682278
SILVER FALLS STATE PARK
Location: East of Salem
Length (kid friendly hikes): South Falls Loop, 1 mile; South/Lower South Falls Loop 3 miles; North / Upper North Falls, less than 1 mile.
Climb: South Falls Loop, 200 feet; South/Lower South Falls Loop, 300 feet; North / Upper North Falls, 200 feet.
Trailhead elevation: 1,300 feet
Time of drive: About 45 minutes
Dogs: Not allowed
Fees: $5 entry fee
Information: Silver Falls State Park, (503) 873-8681
Directions: From Salem, Ore., follow Highway 22 east for 7.6 miles and take Exit 7 for Silver Falls State Park. Follow Highway 214 for 16 miles, following signs until you reach the park.
Latitude / longitude: 44.876667, -122.64805
SILVERTON, Ore. — As Rylan Peters stood in the spray-filled cavern behind 177-foot South Falls on a recent weekend, wearing a rain poncho and holding a hiking stick, he echoed the sentiment of so many children who visit Silver Falls State Park.
“This place is awesome!” the 8-year-old said, taking a moment to explore into a small, satisfyingly dirty cave with his 6-year-old brother, Noah.
As the rain and snow season descends on the Northwest, the options for parents seeking to get their children into the fresh air diminish. But around Western Oregon it’s not hard to find excellent trails open year-round that lead to waterfalls eliciting the same “this is awesome!” response.
Yes, it might be raining and cool. And yes, mud is always a given.
But rain and mud and waterfalls are the stuff childhood is made of in this region and — if the hike is short — it won’t be long until you’re back in the car drinking hot chocolate.
Here are five kid-centric waterfall hikes, open year-round except during the worst snowstorms:
• Butte Creek Falls
These two waterfalls just outside the tiny hamlet of Scotts Mills are both stunners — though in different ways — and require only a quick and easy hike.
A 1.5-mile loop heads into temperate rain forest and, starting the loop going left, reaches 78-foot Butte Creek Falls dropping into a small pool viewed overhead from the trail.
Just beyond, staying left on another side trail, Upper Butte Creek Falls drops small (26 feet), wide (40 feet) and pretty into a small splash pool. Paths lead behind the falls into the deep grotto.
• Henline Falls
Expert father-with-kids hiker Eric Gjonnes called Henline Falls Trail No. 3348 the perfect rainy-day hike.
It’s not hard to see why.
The hike is two miles round-trip, climbing just 200 feet through evergreen forest carpeted with ferns and moss, to the 126-foot vertical curtain of Henline Falls.
Stay left at a junction on the trail at mile 0.5 until you reach the falls plunging into a shallow emerald pool.
The abandoned Silver King Mine is just to the right of the falls.
• Shellburg Falls
The overlooked little brother of more famous Silver Falls State Park is home to three waterfalls (including one 100-footer), small crowds and dog-friendly trails.
The trek begins on an old gated road, passing farmland that usually has a few cows grazing, before winding up into the dense, temperate rain forest, where wildflowers can be found in spring.
At mile 1.3 the old road passes over a concrete bridge and just above lower Shellburg Fall’s 40-foot plunge.
Turn left and you’ll shortly arrive at the main attraction, Shellburg Falls, a 100-foot waterfall where you can hike behind the falls in a narrow, dark cave. A side trail brings you down to the grotto at the waterfall’s base.
It’s a roughly 3-mile hike out-and-back.
• McDowell Creek Falls Park
Whether it’s the lack of notoriety or remote location, the feeling you get arriving at McDowell Creek Falls Park is that of stumbling upon a hidden gem.
Located 10 miles north of Sweet Home, the unassuming park is home to four spectacular waterfalls found on an easy, fun, trail home to unique bridges and viewing platforms. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
The 1.8-mile loop passes Royal Terrace Falls, Majestic Falls and Crystal Pool.
There’s a map at the trailhead and the trails are well maintained.
• Silver Falls State Park
Oregon’s largest state park deserves accolades. The Trail of Ten Falls negotiates a canyon where 100-foot waterfalls seem to grow from the basalt walls.
The full 10-mile trail is probably too much for most kids, so consider a few different options.
The loop from the main parking area, down behind South Falls, across the wooden footbridge and back up is about 1 mile. Another option is continuing to Lower South Falls and coming back up for a 3-mile loop.
A final easy, kid-friendly hike is starting at the North Falls Trailhead and heading down to enjoy a waterfall that launches itself off the cliff like a thick white rope, then heading upstream to check out Upper North Falls.
Make sure to warm up from your winter adventures at South Falls Lodge.
Not that bribing children is necessary to get them on the trail, but the promise of hot chocolate and a cookie following the hike is a nice incentive.
Especially if it’s raining.