Salt Creek Falls – Oakridge, Oregon

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Salt Creek Falls has been lingering on my list for a couple of years.  It’s close enough to do in a day, but far enough away that it takes an entire day.  I hiked it once many years ago, before kids, but I was keen to do it again and share it with my children.  It was just as it was in my memories, and lived up to all of my expectations.

Salt Creek Falls, Oregon

Salt Creek Falls is Oregon’s second-highest single drop waterfall at 286 feet.   It’s also one of Oregon’s most powerful falls with an annual average 0f 50,000 gallons a minute plunging toward the pool below.  The upper observation deck is 50 yards from the parking lot and is fully wheelchair accessible, with the entire falls visible.

Trailhead at Salt Creek Falls

Upon arrival at Salt Creek Falls, we hung our America the Beautiful Access Pass (otherwise there is a $5 per vehicle fee) and set out to find a picnic spot.

We didn’t find a picnic table, so we hunkered down on a curb and ate lunch while waving to everyone heading to and from the falls.  We discovered later there’s a formal picnic area complete with tables and fire pits.  But we didn’t mind our curb lunch, and soon we were ready to explore.  After checking out the bathrooms (flush toilets!), we headed toward the observation deck.

Trail from parking lot to observation deck at Salt Creek Falls

First we heard the roar of the falls, so loud it was hard to hear each other speak. Then the creek was in view, just before it tumbled over the edge.

Top of Salt Creek Falls

Salt Creek Falls

As we followed the path, a vista opened before us. The trees spread out for miles in an endless sea of green. And the falls were suddenly visible, falling an astonishing distance to the unseen below.  We stood and stared, mouths agape, like everyone else nearby.  Then, almost as one, we reached for cameras.

Salt Creek Falls - view from the top

 

The path soon turns to stairs, and up we went, unsure what was on the other side.  We held our littlest ones in baby carriers as the path beyond this point is not stroller-friendly.  Beyond the stairs is a dirt trail, bordered by a wood rail fence that had seen better days.  Carefully, we ventured with our children toward the bottom of the canyon in search of even better views.

Salt Creek Falls Hike

The entire trail is 0.6 miles down a twisting, switchback path.  But near the top, perhaps 0.1 mile down, is a view point that most ambulatory people will safely reach.  This viewpoint has the best views.  Caution for children and dogs…there’s only a sturdy wood fence and a long drop to the bottom.  A stunning view is the reward, and we watched in awe as the water fell to a misty demise.

Salt Creek Falls from the lower viewpoint

 

Journey to the Canyon Bottom

We didn’t just want the best views, we wanted all the views, so our family trouped on down the trail, anxious to reach the bottom.  We encountered several signs warning us that the bottom of the trail had been damaged by a rock slide, and so we continued, knowing we might have to turn back before seeing Salt Creek Falls again.

Trail damage at Salt Creek Falls

Near what must have been the end of the trail, we encountered the rock slide.  Large portions of the side walls had given way, taking out the wood railings and a set of stairs.  The trail for us was over, as slick scree on the trail made it treacherous, especially with so many little ones.  We held their hands and tiptoed as close as we dared, just enough for us to capture unimpeded views of the waterfall and the pool below.

Log across the trail at Salt Creek Falls

A large tree blocks the trail near the bottom This is a good turnaround spot if you’re not sure about safety. Below this, the trail gets sketchy and slippery pretty quickly.

end of the trail to Salt Creek Falls

Right where the sun hits the path is essentially the end of the trail to Salt Creek Falls. This portion of the trail is very slippery, even when dry, and the railing is broken is several places. Where the sun cuts the trail, a large rockslide has wiped out the trail entirely and proceeding beyond this point is very dangerous. There were a few adults ahead of us who did venture beyond, but this was the end for us. We very carefully went to the edge where we could see the entire waterfall, and take a few selfies, but our little ones sat on the ground near those tree roots and didn’t move.

Salt Creek Falls from the middle of the trail

Pool below Salt Creek Waterfall

Top of Salt Creek Falls, as seen from trail below

Our trail at an end, we carefully turned and headed back up the path.  We stopped again at the viewpoint for a few selfies and a family photo, then headed back to the parking lot, where we discovered there was more to explore.

Picnic Area & more trails

Before, when we’d picnicked, we’d missed the entire picnic area complete with fire pits and picnic tables.  This area is around the corner from the restrooms and main trailhead, but don’t miss it!  Take the time to visit this area, because it’s more than just picnic tables.  My husband took this photo as he said “How do you see this and not go?”

Towering trees line a trail at Salt Creek Falls

We’d stumbled onto the trailhead for Diamond Creek Falls.  We weren’t prepared for a longer hike, so we only went as far as the bridge, which itself was fun to visit as it looked like a hobbit bridge.

More trails at Salt Creek Falls

All together, our visit to Salt Creek Falls was about 2 hours long, maybe a little longer with our picnic.  Driving from Springfield added about 90 minutes in each direction.  It was a day well spent and a hike we won’t soon forget.

If you go…

Salt Creek Falls is officially open during the summer.  The parking lot is closed during the winter, but you can hike in or snowshoe in to see the falls, and they’re glorious during the winter.

As mentioned above, there is a picnic area, but it’s not obvious, nor where you’d expect it to be.  Continue around the parking loop, past the bathroom, and there’s a small sign that has a picnic table.  Park here, and take the trail through the brush.  Once under the trees, there are lots of picnic tables, including some that are creekside.

The top of the trail is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible.  The rest of the trail is not, but if you’re using a wheelchair or stroller, you can still see amazing views and the entire waterfall.

Bathrooms have flush toilets, but no other amenities.  I’m not even sure it had a sink.  My husband said the men’s room didn’t have doors on the stalls.

Parking is $5 per vehicle.  America the Beautiful passes and forest recreation passes are accepted.

Directions: Salt Creek Falls Observation Site is 23 miles (37.015 km) southeast of Oakridge and approximately 5 miles (8.0467 km) west of Willamette Pass. From Hwy 58 look for the signs, turn onto FS Road 5893 and follow the signs.

Pay Station at Salt Creek Falls, Oregon

History of Salt Creek Falls area

I can’t help it.  I love history, so when I know a little bit, I have to share it!  Plus, my daughter once told me she hates history.  Challenge accepted.

According to a sign at the falls, Salt Creek Falls was formed during the last ice age as glaciers receded.  Later lava flows and water helped to further carve and deepen the Salt Creek valley.  Molala and Kalapuya people lived in the area as much as 7000 years ago, but the first recorded human siting was by a Molala tribe member, Charles Tufti, and a Lane County settler, Frank S. Warner.  They visited Salt Creek Falls together in March 1887.

History of Salt Creek Falls in Oregon

Salt Creek Falls, date and photographer unknown, courtesy of Lane County Historical Museum. Notice the snow at the top and bottom of the falls.  Photo used with permission.

Historical winter photo of Salt Creek Falls in Oregon

A winter photo of Salt Creek Falls, taken by L. Parker on February 26, 1964. Photo courtesy of Lane County Historical Museum and used with permission.

Interpretive sign at Salt Creek Falls - history of Salt Creek Falls

Interpretive sign at present day Salt Creek Falls

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camped in the area and built the rock walls and pillars that you can still see today on the observation deck.  They were paid around $30 a month for their work, and they also improved or built many of the roads, trails, and bridges in the area.

The nearby Salt Creek Tunnel was built between 1938-1940.  It was a major project that connected the Willamette Valley to central Oregon, and was little more than a wagon road before the improvements were built.  Even after the tunnel opened, the road was gravel until the mid-1960s.

Salt Creek tunnel history - highway 58

Construction of the Salt Creek Tunnel on Highway 58 in 1939. The crane is lifting stones into place to build the east entrance. Photographer unknown, photo courtesy of Lane County Historical Museum.

History of Salt Creek Tunnel and Salt Creek Falls

To reach Salt Creek Falls from Eugene, you’ll pass through this tunnel, which exists today and was refurbished in 2015. Photo date 1940, courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation.

 

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I’m a middle-aged mom of 3-6 and sometimes more, depending on day. I’m out of shape and usually exhausted. Our favorite summertime activity (and often on dry winter days) is getting outdoors and finding adventure.

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