Author’s 5 favorites
And to think, Adam Sawyer, author of a new guide to Oregon waterfall hikes, had never even seen a waterfall until seven years ago.
“I’d seen them on TV. I didn’t know they existed here in the Northwest. I thought that was something in Hawaii or somewhere tropical,” said the Los Angeles native, who now lives in Portland.
Five years ago, Sawyer ditched his information-technology gig because he got tired of a job that required he sleep next to his BlackBerry. He’s now a freelance photographer and writer and this summer published his guidebook, “Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon” (Falcon Guides, $21.95). He has also signed on to help write a waterfall-hike guide for Washington, to be released next summer.
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Sawyer visited about 500 waterfalls around Oregon. “Most don’t have maintained trails. It’s kind of difficult to track down because locals don’t want you to know about them. It’s their secret.”
His guidebook features 82 hikes, from the Columbia Gorge to Southern Oregon. Here are his comments about his five favorites:
SWEET CREEK FALLS
Siuslaw National Forest. 2.4 miles round trip, 350 feet of elevation gain.
There are no thundering cascades or dramatic, vista-laden viewpoints to be found along this trail. There really isn’t even all that much exercise to speak of. Instead what you get is a peaceful walk through old-growth forest alongside a beautiful creek. The trail itself is remarkable. You will walk through a narrow gorge along catwalks bolted to canyon walls, ease through a lush forest, and ascend to a delightful viewpoint of Sweet Creek Falls.
ICE LAKE (ICE FALLS)
Eagle Cap Wilderness. 15.5 miles round trip, 3,200 feet of elevation gain.
The Wallowa Mountains launch skyward from the Columbia Plateau in an imposing, awe-inspiring display. The same peaks once gazed upon by Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce do a stalwart job of concealing the valleys, meadows, alpine lakes, and waterfalls that make the range legendary.
The hike to Ice Lake reveals many of the Wallowas’ secrets, including the tallest peaks in Eastern Oregon and what is perhaps the region’s highest waterfall. But it’s the scenery that makes this classic out-and-back day hike or overnight backpacking trip get better with every mile.
On grounds owned by Mount Angel Abbey. 1-mile round trip, 350 feet of elevation gain.
This is part hike, part scramble. The 92-foot falls tumbles into a massive arena of columnar basalt, colored red and green by lichens and moss. There is no maintained trail and the entire hike is a mere mile. Don’t be fooled by the lack of distance, however. Most folks will work up a sweat on the way down, never mind coming back up. The Mount Angel Abbey has been gracious enough to allow hikers, but that can change, so show respect to the land while visiting.
OPAL CREEK (SLIDE FALLS)
Opal Creek Wilderness. 7.4-mile semi-loop, 800 feet of elevation gain.
The Opal Creek Wilderness is a low-elevation ancient forest that is home to the largest intact stand of old-growth forest in the western Cascades. Trees are up to 1,000 years old. Because the forest has remained intact for so long, the flora and fauna interact the way nature intended. Opal Creek also happens to be home to Slide Falls. The almost-too-good-to-be-true natural waterslide takes one quick turn and a dip before delivering the brave into a splash pool.
TRAIL OF TEN FALLS
Silver Falls State Park. 8.2 mile-loop, 1,000 feet of gain.
The park offers services from primitive campgrounds and cabins to horse corrals and a conference center. But this loop hike is the park’s crown jewel, arguably as spectacular as any in Oregon. During the epic outing you’ll pass by no fewer than 10 waterfalls ranging in height from the 27-foot Drake Falls to the headlining 177-foot South Falls.