SALEM, Ore. — One of Oregon’s best concentrations of hidden gems — destinations every bit as spectacular as the main tourist draws, but visited a fraction of the time — is the Central Coast Range, between the Willamette Valley and Oregon Coast.
Monstrous old-growth trees, 100-foot waterfalls and mountaintop viewpoints all can be had on trails here, mostly in Siuslaw National Forest.
Now that it’s spring — the best time to enjoy these moss-draped trails — it’s a good time to spotlight my top five favorite hikes in the area:
5. Niagara Falls Trail
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Despite the famous name, few people have even heard of this spectacular hideaway, home to a pair of 120-foot waterfalls. An easy trail of 2 miles round-trip takes hikers into a remote box canyon where Pheasant Creek and Niagara Falls roar like neighbors attempting to outdo each other.
Located northwest of Willamina, Ore., and about 10 miles east of Hebo Mountain, the drive from Salem requires navigating a series of county, BLM and Forest Service roads, but it can be reached in an hour-and-20-minute drive. Trailhead coordinates:
44.434344, -123.929792. Information: Hebo Ranger District, 503-392-5100
4. Drift Creek Wilderness
The largest old-growth rain forest in Oregon is home to a carpet of moss and lichen that swallows everything without legs, showcases brightly colored wildflowers in spring and can be accessed by two semi-difficult trails east of Waldport.
The Harris Ranch Trail and Horse Creek Trail both drop 3 miles into the remote canyon of Drift Creek, a tributary of the Alsea, in a landscape that receives 120 inches of rain per year.
Coordinates (Harris Ranch): 44.434344, -123.929792. Info: Waldport Ranger District, 541-563-3211
3. Sweet Creek Falls
Among the most accessible trails in the Coast Range — and certainly in the top five of kid-friendly hikes statewide — this charmed trail passes 11 small waterfalls in 1.1 miles on a hike south of Mapleton.
The trail’s magic is the lack of boring moments. With catwalk-style bridges that wind atop the creek, plant life, wildlife and waterfalls, each step of the trail offers something new and interesting.
The hike fits well with a trip to Honeyman State Park on the Oregon Coast. Coordinates: 44.434344, -123.929792. Info: Central Coast Ranger District, 541-563-8400
2. Marys Peak
Climbing this highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range is a rite of passage for many Oregon outdoor-lovers. The wildflower-dotted summit offers spectacular vistas from the ocean to the Cascades.
Multiple trails lead to the 4,097-foot summit, from moderately difficult to quite strenuous, so head up the mountain and pick your own adventure. Remember to check conditions before making the trip and plan accordingly.
Coordinates: 44.49561, -123.54298.
1. Kentucky Falls / North Fork Trail
The chance to see three waterfalls dropping more than 100 feet into emerald forest would put Kentucky Falls Trail near the top of this list by itself, but adding the connecting North Fork Smith River Trail is what makes this spot No. 1.
In a remote area between Eugene and Florence, the Kentucky Falls trail drops 2.2 miles one-way past Upper Kentucky Falls — a nice appetizer — before reaching the canyon where North Fork Falls (120 feet) and Lower Kentucky Falls (100 feet) thunder side-by-side.
North Fork Smith River Trail begins at the junction near the dueling waterfalls and travels another 6.5 miles through a rain forest jungle (sadly, a bridge is washed out 2 miles from the North Fork trailhead, so you’ll have to turn back unless you want to get adventurous). Coordinates: 44.434344, -123.929792. Info: Central Coast Ranger District, 541-563-8400.