Our guide to finding Oregon’s best winter waterfall getaways
written by | Sam Smargiassi
It’s that time of year, when a thick layer of cloud fills our sky and the Seasonal Affective Disorder kicks in. Getaways—especially easy ones—can remind us why we live in the Pacific Northwest. It’s cold outside, the ground is icy, we don’t feel like walking around for hours and we definitely don’t feel like camping. So here’s a list of some easy-access waterfalls to wash away the winter blues.
Oregon Winter Waterfall Getaway #1: Sweet Creek Falls
Mapelton, Oregon (56 miles west of Eugene)
Sweet Creek is a quick and easy stop on your next trip to Florence. It’s an 11-mile detour off U.S. Highway 99. You can drive an extra mile and go straight to the main waterfall, but the better option is to use the Sweet Creek Homestead trail, which ends on the main falls. The special part about the 1.2-mile trail is that you walk against the current and come up on multiple waterfalls that get bigger and bigger as you follow the trail. It gets intimidating.
Much of the trail has metal reinforcements for hand railings and to walk on. Some of the areas would likely never be accessed by humans if not for the catwalk bolted into the rock wall next to the falls.
If you choose to drive up, there is a small parking area about a tenth of a mile from the falls. Once there, you can walk to an upper lookout.
Oregon Winter Waterfall Getaway #2: Alsea Falls
Alsea, Oregon (20 miles southwest of Corvallis)
At Alsea Falls, the water rushes over a wide bed of boulders. Watching it, you might find yourself in active meditation, imagining the water flushing through your thoughts. The drive is pretty, too, even though it might be the trickiest of the bunch on winding, forested roads. The key to this one is to trust the signs. You may think you’re lost, but as long as you follow the signs and not the GPS, you’ll find it. If you’re lucky, the sun will poke through the trees and create a spiral of beams to penetrate your body with a little extra vitamin D. No promises.
When you arrive at Alsea Falls, you have the choice to turn left and walk about two minutes to the falls, or cross a bridge and follow an approximately 5-mile trail which chases the current of the river.
Overall, this is a pretty easy option, with well-paved trails and stairs that will place you right in front of the falls.
Oregon Winter Waterfall Getaway #2: Sahalie Falls
Highway OR 126 (56 miles northwest of Bend)
Sahalie Falls is the biggest of a chain of waterfalls along the McKenzie River and U.S. Highway 126. The two that follow are Koosah and Tamolitch. If you decide to do the entire chain, it’s a 4-mile hike along the river that stays pretty flat. However, snow does fall there and the area can become icy and dangerous.
Ice is something you should worry about even if you just pull into the parking lot and look at Sahalie Falls. Highway 126 is notorious for closing in the winter because of ice. The parking lot can be full of snow and walking down the steps to the falls can be risky. There is a sturdy railing, though, so if you fall, you won’t fall far.
Despite the conditions, Sahalie Falls is an immense 100-foot waterfall. The water spouts out in a huge mass between walls of lush, green foliage. When I was there, a rainbow arched over it—a truly magnificent sight.
Looking for other winter excursions? Check out some more winter getaways in our other articles:
Oregon Winter Getaways
10 Winter Destinations in Oregon
Oregon Winter Snow Camping
Weekend Winter Trip to Southern Oregon