Our time in the Central Oregon area had eventually come to an end. We headed south out of La Pine before turning off Highway 97 to eventually head west on Highway 58. Not long after transitioning to the Willamette Highway we saw a sign directing us to yet another waterfall and so made the quick decision to check it out.
Salt Creek Falls was once thought to be the second highest single-drop falls in Oregon. Upon a re-measurement in 2009 of Watson Falls (3rd highest at the time) it was found to be 293 feet (21 feet higher than its earlier measurement) and so switched places with Salt Creek Falls. Still, a Bronze Medal is better than 4th Place 😉 The pool at the bottom of the waterfall, carved out over thousands of years is 66 ft (20 meters) deep. The observation area is a mere 50 yards (~46 m) from the parking area and is wheelchair accessible with with a nice detail being that the fence railings are placed at a height to accommodate wheelchair sight lines. Once we got to the viewing area we could immediately tell that this feature makes them unsuitable for pictures of a dog with Willow’s dimensions and so I made the decision and Willow agreed to put her (kinda sorta) in harm’s way for this photo.
Relax…if I thought she was a fidgety spaz we would never take such a picture but she has proven herself a world-class calm model since she came into my life. After she got back down from her precarious perch I took a quick video of the falls from that spot.
We then decided to take the short trail towards the base of the falls. The dirt trail has several sets of stairs and is not suitable for wheelchairs. Half way down we saw a sign telling us the trail had been washed out a bit further on and continuing past that point was not recommended.
Once we arrived at the washed out portion Willow switched into mountain goat mode and easily scrambled across the small rocky and muddy chasm and waited on the other side for her slow human to catch up. Once I made it to the other side of the trail damage and back on relatively well maintained path we took the last few switchbacks to as close as we wanted to get for this picture.
Our timing was off and so the sun was in the wrong spot for artistic photography so you’ll just have to settle for my hack documentary attempts.
The geology of how the falls were created started about 4 million years ago during the Cascade Mountain Range’s uplift period. Winds off the Pacific Ocean brought immeasurable amounts of moisture into the area as rain and snow. The running water and seasonal melts sculpted the landscape into many V-shaped valleys. Then, about 1.5 million years ago an ice age began. Glaciers up to 1500 feet thick extended down the valley to about where the town of Oakridge sits today. The ice scraped and scoured the V-shape canyon here into a U-shape. Volcanic activity about 900,000 years later then filled the upper Salt Creek Canyon about 300 feet thick with basalt. Over the next couple of million years further glaciation and floodwaters undercut the basalt and eroded the soft rock underneath eventually causing a section of the basalt columns here to collapse and leave behind the vertical cliff you see today.
The forest surrounding this area is a healthy mix of several main species of trees including Western Hemlock, Silver Fir and Vine Maple. The forest and the waterfall make this spot a prime nesting area (and only one of a few in all of Oregon) for the unique Black Swift (Cypseloides niger). Think of them like a Swallow, but larger and quite happy and in fact driven to nest in the dark, moist crevices hidden behind waterfalls such as this one. There their nest and its single egg is hidden and protected from predators. This peculiar desire for such a nesting spot limits their range and makes this spot a special place for bird watching for this and many other species.
Between all the falls we have seen lately in Central Oregon Salt Creek Falls ranks among our favorites. Unlike the more intimate setting of, say, Fall Creek Falls where it takes some effort to get to – here you can just drive up and take a quick, easy walk to a spectacular viewing point. We highly recommend you stop by and have a look if you are ever in the area.
Like many of the other natural attractions in the Deschutes National Forest this requires a $5 Recreation Day Pass (not available at this site) or any one of several other State or Federal Passes including:
- Northwest Forest Pass
- Interagency Annual Pass
- Interagency Senior Pass (America the Beautiful, Golden Age)
- Interagency Access Pass
- Interagency Military Pass
- Every Kid in a Park Pass
- Northwest Forest ePass
Here is some more information about accepted Recreation Passes and Permits.
Remember, that $5 pass is good for the whole day and works at dozens of sites in the area, far more than you could possibly do in one day so it is a very good value. Plus, about 80-95 percent of those recreation fees goes right back into maintaining and improving the trails, land and facilities in the area.
If you have visited these falls please let us know what you thought in the comments below.
Thanks for visiting. See you out there.