Sure, they're easy to visit in the summer – but intrepid road trippers who bundle up and visit waterfalls in the winter reap the rich rewards of fewer people, more parking and truly unique natural beauty. Skip the warm-weather crowds, pack your jacket and our adventure checklist and check out these four favorites, from the Cascade Mountains to the coast range.
Salt Creek Falls
Salt Creek Falls is the second highest waterfall in Oregon, plunging in a single drop for 286 feet (87m) just past Oakridge, off of Highway 58. The waterfall's dramatic drop and location close to the highway make this the easiest winter waterfall to visit. Snowshoes or cross-country skis are needed to cover the .4 mile path to the non-maintained observation deck from the parking lot at Salt Creek Sno-Park. The Sno-Park has plowed parking, restrooms and a family-friendly snow play area managed by the Willamette National Forest's Middle Fork Ranger District. Note: Sno-Park permits are required and must be purchased in advance. Weekends tend to have a higher-volume of traffic in the parking area.
Diamond Creek Falls
Looking for a longer trek? From Salt Creek Falls, snowshoe the 3.5 loop trail to view Diamond Creek Falls. Follow the blue diamond trail markers. Diamond Creek Falls splashes out across the rock face dropping approximately 90 feet (27 m). The perspective from the base is spectacular if conditions are right. To reach the bottom, hike carefully down the narrow log stair steps. (Use good judgment and go with a buddy!) At the height of winter, snowshoeing the trails here is a beautiful adventure.
Sahalie Falls roars down 140 feet with a mighty plunge and a series of smaller cascades. It's easy to reach, with a viewing platform just off McKenzie River's Highway 126. The site and its amenities are not maintained in the winter, so only stop here if conditions allow for access to the parking lot, and don't park on the highway. When walking to the falls, tread carefully – icy conditions can make the path slick and wandering off trail can lead you into deceptively deep snowdrifts.
When you're ready to warm up, go soak at Belknap Hot Springs Resort. Call ahead to see if the hot springs-fed swimming pool is open for day guests or stay over at the lodge or in one of the cabins for access to a second pool.
Sweet Creek Falls
Tucked into coastal range, Sweet Creek Falls isn't likely to see any snow. Still, you'll want to check weather conditions in Mapleton and prepare for the possibility of cold and wet weather — and it may be icy on the trails, hand rails and rocks. Here you'll discover eleven sweet waterfalls along a flat path covering just over one mile, one-way. Dress warm, as it is likely to be in shade and shadow. There is a vault toilet at the Homestead Trailhead and the trail is maintained all year, with parking available at each trailhead. This is a popular hike for families and doesn't require a permit. Afterward, journey on to Historic Old Town Florence and warm up with a bowl of clam chowder.
When driving in winter conditions, always check for updated weather and road conditions before departing. Pack extra water, food and warm clothing. Pick up maps and purchase required permits in advance. With a little preparation, you may just find that waterfalls are your new favorite winter adventure!