Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

McDowell Creek Falls

It seems like it has been forever since our last post. We’ve been busy training for our marathon and also dealing with some overdue Winter weather. We had originally planned on hiking along the Salmon River near Zig Zag, OR but wound up changing our minds and decided on a much shorter, closer hike. The state had gotten a lot of snow during the prior weekend and then snow level rose to around 7000′ causing much of that snow to melt. We’ve also had a good amount of rain in addition to the snow melt so many of the rivers and creeks swelled with all the additional water. We felt too fatigued from our training for a 12+ mile hike but we still wanted to get out and do something so we chose McDowell Creek Falls in hopes that the extra water would mean extra good falls.

McDowell Creek County Park is located about 15 miles from Lebanon, OR along McDowell Creek. An approximately 2 mile loop passes several falls crossing the creek a number of times on footbridges. We parked at the west end of the park and set off across the creek on a bridge just up stream from Lower McDowell Creek Falls.

Just .2 miles from the trailhead we came to the start of the loop and also the first view of Royal Terrace Falls which is actually not on McDowell Creek but a side stream that feeds into the creek. The falls were roaring with all the extra water and were really spectacular.
Royal Terrace Falls
Turning left on the loop we crossed the stream below the falls where a bench offers a great front row view of the falls.
Royal Terrace Falls

The storms that had brought the rain and snow had downed a lot of trees and limbs but this portion of trail had been cleared already. A fairly level .4 miles brought us to Crystal Falls above Crystal Pool. The water flow was so strong that Crystal Pool was not identifiable, but Crystal Falls was putting on a good show.
Crystal Falls

Beyond Crystal Falls .2 we came to a pretty impressive footbridge across the creek.
As we approached the bridge Majestic Falls came into view around a bend in the creek.
Majestic Falls
Majestic Falls

Stairs led up to the top of the falls where an observation deck is located. A downed tree had smashed the railing and was blocking the deck entrance but it appeared the deck itself was okay. The trail then came to the eastern parking lot and continued on the far side. Unlike the earlier section of trail this portion had not been cleared yet of the storm debris. We picked our way over, under, and around several messy sections before reaching the stream above Royal Terrace Falls. Another footbridge brought us across the stream and directly above the falls.

A series of stone steps led to the trail junction and the end of the loop, but first I decided to check out a narrow trail that looked to lead to the “terrace” of Royal Terrace Falls. Wary of the wet conditions I carefully made my way along the trail and to the base of the upper section of the falls.
Royal Terrace Falls (Upper portion)

After completing the loop we had one more fall to check out. We returned to the parking area and picked our way down stream through some more blow down and found a good view of Lower McDowell Creek Falls.
Lower McDowell Creek Falls
The tree hanging out in front of the falls looked to have fallen during the storm, but the green moss made for a nice contrast to the white water of the falls in the background.
We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit these falls. Not only were they flowing full force but we had mostly dry conditions and even saw the Sun once or twice.

This coming weekend we’ll be taking a route finding and navigation class put on by the local outdoors group The Chemeketans. We’re looking forward to getting more comfortable with our map & compass skills as we are hoping to do a little more off trail exploration this year. The best way to enjoy the trails is to stay safe on them and this should help keep us that way. Until next time – Happy Trails!

photos: Flickr

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