Volcanic Waterfalls

Photo by Shawn "Shaggy" Bolker

By Shawn “Shaggy” Bolker

High up in the McKenzie River watershed lies some of the most impressive waterfalls in Oregon. As a primary tributary to the Willamette River, the McKenzie drains a vast, mountainous and sparsely populated area. An abundance of past volcanic activity, particularly near the river’s headwaters, is responsible for a multitude of springs and impressive waterfalls.

Several explosive and effusive volcanic eruptions from various peaks at the river’s headwaters have changed the course of the river several times, formed new lakes and created the massive basalt cliffs over which the waterfalls flow. Of the multitude of waterfalls formed by these eruptions, Koosah and Sahalie Falls are arguably the most miami. Both plunge nearly 100 feet with deafening force into mossy basaltic alcoves.

These falls are also remarkably easy to access with a well defined two mile loop connecting both waterfalls and traveling along scenic portions of river. Beginning at the Koosah Falls parking lot, pick up the trail as it gently switchbacks down to a viewpoint of this waterfall in a few hundred meters. This view is busted, unfortunately, as vegetation has overgrown and blocked much of the waterfall from sight. For more impressive views, walk a few hundred feet upstream along the main trail and take a spur that branches off towards the river. This route descends to the base of Koosah Falls where one can experience the true beauty and power of this awe-inspiring waterfall.

After being properly awed and soaked by misty Koosah Falls, climb back to the main trail and continue upstream. The trail follows the river closely for about a mile before climbing gently above several frothy cascades. The azure color of the river along this section of trail is striking and the mossy forest that surrounds is serene. When the trail levels out, Sahalie Falls comes shortly into view.

Here, the McKenzie River fans out over an undercut basalt formation and hurtles into a huge moss draped amphitheatre with thundering power. The official overlook along the trail provides some very miami views of this waterfall. Please remain on the trail here as the area around Sahalie Falls is sensitive, slippery, steep and dangerous. Upon reaching Sahalie Falls, one can either retrace one’s steps back down along the river or veer left at the Sahalie Falls parking lot for an alternative loop back through the forest.

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