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Amazing. Incredible. Stunning. Unbelievable. None of these adjectives quite live up to the Sweet Creek Trail, near Mapleton and one hour from Eugene. I even used a thesaurus. This trail stands on its own, without superfluous descriptions.
Eleven waterfalls line a one-mile trail in the forest near Mapleton, Oregon. ELEVEN. E. L. E. V. E. N. Try taking photos of all of them, I dare you. One waterfall flows into the next, and it’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail. I think I photographed nine on our recent trip, and we were enthralled with the experience.
There are two trailheads, the Homestead Trailhead and the Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead. Homestead is the more popular, offering the full 1.1 mile hike (2.2 out-and-back) with 11 waterfalls. A picnic table and a vault toilet are located on a small loop parking lot. On our visit, the parking was full and people were parking up and down the road as well. We managed to find a vacant spot right next to the bathroom (hooray!). If you’re short on time, or just want to see the star of the show, park further up the road at the Sweet Creek Trailhead, which offers a 0.4 mile trek (0.8 out-and-back) to the Sweet Creek Falls.
Tips before you go: The trail is not strollerable, so pack a baby carrier! And there are metal grate catwalks on some of the trail that some dogs are uncomfortable with.
Hiking the Sweet Creek Trail
We’d heard over and over that Sweet Creek Trail is a hike you cannot miss. Oddly enough, in my 20 years of living here (and my husband’s entire life) we’ve never hiked it until now. We had pretty high expectations, and truly, to be honest…
It lives up to the hype. Every word is true. Sweet Creek Trail is spectacular. Right off the bat we had things to see. The first bridge was just steps from the parking lot, and of course we had great fun clomping across the wooden bridge.
Next up was a massive tree that had fallen, and damaged a section of trail. It’s still passable, and not particularly dangerous, but hold hands with little ones.
The waterfalls along Sweet Creek Trail
And then the waterfalls. I attempted to count them, and to photograph each one, but there were so many! And sometimes one flowed right into the next. I’ll admit we almost all tripped a few times, because we were so wrapped up in watching the creek and the falls that we didn’t watch the trail. Even the creek is lovely, as the colors move from white water, to pale seafoam effervescent, to deep aqua. On our day, the sun was bright but low in the sky, not the best for photography, but you’ll get an idea of just how majestic these falls are.
The waterfalls are spaced pretty regularly along the trail, and with 11 waterfalls in only one mile, that means you’re seeing at least one every 1/10th mile, or about every 500 feet. This makes it a great trail for kids of all ages, because there’s always something to see. Just as you pass one waterfall, the next is in view.
Speaking of the next one, this is the next waterfall we saw on the Sweet Creek Trail. It’s a pretty impressive waterfall, and we spent a lot of time taking photos and videos from the trail. *Note: I hear that during the summer, when water flow is lower, some of the waterfalls slow to a trickle. Still beautiful, but different. Our trip was in March when water flows were high. Also due to this, we didn’t venture into the creek or take chances balancing on rocks to get better photos. We stayed safely on the trail.
Next up is a trio of small waterfalls that each empty into deep aquamarine pools. A passing hiker told us these are great summer swimming holes. I love the way the pools seem to glow from within.
Still More Waterfalls
I tried really hard to count waterfalls. They say there are 11 along the trail. Certainly there are a lot. I didn’t get photos of 11 separate falls, so I assume that I either missed one or two, or that some of these multiple-cascade falls counted as more than one. At any rate, each one was uniquely beautiful and many were themselves worthy of the trip.
Next up, another series of small falls that slide from one pool to the next, rippling and turning the water effervescent.
Several of the waterfalls have some height to them. They become thunderous, and I imagine if we were close enough, we could feel the spray of the water.
Somewhere near the 6 mark (ie our rough count of waterfalls) is Annice Falls. Besides Sweet Creek Falls itself, Annice Falls is the only one with a formal name.
Annice Falls deserves a special introduction; it’s different from any of the other falls on the trail. In fact, it introduces itself with a metal and wood catwalk, suspended above the creek and hugging the rocky cliff along the creek. (Note: dogs and persons who are creeped out by heights may not love this portion of the trail…but if you can, keep going, because Annice is worth it.)
At the pinnacle of the catwalk is Annice Falls. The more you see of it, the more impressed you’ll be. Annice Falls is a 35-foot waterfall, named for Annice Marie Ellingson Johnson who was the secretary at Mapleton Elementary for more than 30 years. She was born and raised on a ranch on Sweet Creek.
And Even More Waterfalls
Keep hiking, because the fun isn’t over yet. There are a few more waterfalls before you get to the end of Sweet Creek Trail.
Sweet Creek Falls
Finally, without further ado, Sweet Creek Falls. The end of this portion of the trail is a great place to sit awhile and take in the falls.
Sweet Creek Falls is comprised of 4 tiers, cascading for a total of 70 feet. We could see maybe half from the shore. During the summer, at lower water levels, it would be easy to see the entire waterfall from the middle of the creek, but during winter the water rushes too swiftly to attempt it.
The Hike Back
Naturally on the way back, we hiked faster. But still had time to enjoy our favorite parts again. The catwalks, Annice Falls, the blooming Skunk Cabbages, and interesting stumps.
Back to the Trailhead
We came around the last bend and saw our van. With 6 kids (2 with special needs, and 2 who are toddlers) our hike lasted about 3 hours. It required 2 packs of jerky, 6 applesauce pouches, and 6 granola bars. We used over a gallon of water. And changed 3 diapers at the trailhead. And yes, we packed out all of our trash, along with some from other people.
The Homestead Trailhead has a vault toilet available. No lock, so be prepared to guard the door, or knock before you enter.
No fee to park at this trailhead, or hike the trail.
A picnic table is available at this trailhead.
Ages of our children on this trip: 2, 2, 5, 6, 8, and 13 years
The trail is not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers, due to narrow spots, steps, and concessional roots.
Need a shorter hike? Drive up past Homestead Trailhead to the Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead. No amenities here, but it’s only a short hike to the Sweet Creek Falls.
How to get to Sweet Creek Trail
Directions by the Forest Service
Travel Highway 126 to Siuslaw River Bridge in Mapleton, Oregon (15 miles east of Florence or 46 miles west of Eugene). Sweet Creek Road #5036 is located on the East-side of the Mapleton bridge. Travel South on Sweet Creek Road for 10.2miles, Homestead Trailhead is on the right.
Guidebooks for hiking with kids
Sweet Creek Trail is listed in the following guidebooks about hiking with kids. We own both of these books and recommend them for any family that would like some extra guidance in where and how to hike with kids near Eugene.
Best Hikes with Kids Oregon – by Bonnie Henderson and Zach Urness
Oregon & Washington 50 Hikes with Kids – by Wendy Gorton