See Some of the Best Scenery Oregon has to Offer on this Waterfall Hike

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Nestled deep in the forest of the Oregon Cascades lies a single mile of trail that is arguably one of the most beautiful hikes in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon is known for its incredible waterfalls, with Multnomah Falls leading the way by drawing in millions of visitors per year. But if you’re willing to travel a little off the beaten path, you can find yourself surrounded by lush, mossy forest, a river of impossibly clear water, and two massive waterfalls that will leave you breathless.

Sahalie Falls in Willamette National Forest street sign located on the McKenzie Hwy in Oregon.
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Sahalie Falls, Koosah Falls, and the Mckenzie River

The McKenzie River is a central Oregon gem that originates from the very accurately named Clear Lake. From there, it rushes through a narrow valley where the river is squeezed against the rock and flows over massive rock ledges into pools below.

The area is an outdoor playground for residents of Eugene and Bend for its incredible hiking, mountain biking, and foraging opportunities.

One of the biggest draws is the gorgeous Sahalie Falls to Koosah Falls section of the Mckenzie River Trail. This mile-long stretch of trail starts at the small parking lot for Sahalie Falls (although there are two other parking lots to start from if this one is full, as it often is on busy summer weekends) and offers up an instant view of the incredible Sahalie Falls.

Sahalie Falls

Sahalie Falls, McKenzie River, Oregon
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These falls are nowhere near the biggest or tallest falls in the state, but the overall scene is quintessentially Oregon. All around this 100-foot tall waterfall are moss and fern-covered rocks, massive conifers, and the clear blue waters of the Mckenzie. The scene from the viewing platform feels like it was dreamed up for a movie!

During spring runoff season, the falls are on full blast, sending a spray of mist all the way to the viewing area.

The Trail to Koosah Falls

The McKenzie River flows through
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After taking in the scenery of Sahalie Falls, it’s time to head downstream. This stretch of trail is arguably just as beautiful as the falls themselves.

Running right next to the river (and I mean right next to it!), the trail takes you through this ancient forest where the river meets the trees. In places, you’ll be mere feet from the edge of this incredibly fast-flowing river, so keep a close eye on your kids or four-legged friends.

Along the way, you’ll pass by rapids, swirling pools of blue water, mossy logs leaning out over the river, and during the warmer months, a forest carpeted with flowers and even some of Oregon’s famous edible mushrooms like the Pacific Golden Chanterelle.

Don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of mountain bikers passing by on the other side of the river. The trail forms a loop, and the other side is popular with bikers making the downhill run from Clear Lake to the town of McKenzie Bridge.

After less than a mile, you’ll come upon the next major attraction along this trail.

Koosah Falls

Koosah Falls-Waterfall-Willamette National Forest-Eugene-Oregon
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If you’re hiking from Sahalie to Koosah Falls, you’ll find yourself walking right up to the edge of the falls as it tumbles over the basalt shelf to a pool below. While this initial site is incredible to witness the viewpoints to come blow it out of the water.

The trail loops around to a series of craft-fully built viewpoints that take you down a bit in elevation for a head-on view of this 74-foot waterfall. Here, you can watch as the water cascades over the shelf and along the mossy cliffs to the river below.

If you look closely at the cliff walls, you can see a series of small streams trickling directly out of the sides of the rock.

While you may see some people on the rocks below or trails leading off the main trail, please stay out of this area. Unofficial trails like these can cause erosion and lead to broader trail closures in the future.

Hiking the Loop Trail

Waterfall in Oregon Forest in the Cascades with River and Bridge
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While Koosah Falls is the turnaround point for most hikers, the McKenzie River Trail continues for miles downriver, where you can find landmarks like the Blue Pool, Belknap Hot Springs, and Bigelow Hot Springs.

If you keep hiking downstream for a short while past the falls, you’ll come to the Carmen Reservoir. Here, you can cross over the river and hike back along the other side to create a 2.4-mile-long loop.

A footbridge upriver of Sahalie Falls will get you back on the correct side of the river to finish off the loop.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest