Proxy Falls

Willamette National Forest / Three Sisters Wilderness / Lane County, Oregon, USA

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 2
Proxy Falls
Proxy Falls was an impressively tall dual-segmented waterfall falling from a height of perhaps about 200ft. It could very well be the prime natural attraction of the Three Sisters Wilderness, and its popularity didn't go unnoticed by us as we joined the many other tourists who were already out here on an unusually hot mid-90-degree day in late August.

We sensed that this waterfall had some notoriety since I had seen it on calendars, post cards, and even some Webshots images. Clearly, it had been a favorite subject of photographers and so we were keen on trying to see for ourselves what the allure was.

Our August visit was actually our second try at seeing this waterfall. On the first go-around, we were turned back by the onset of a snow storm as well as a gate not far from the trailhead that prevented our rental car from proceeding further on Hwy 242. I guess it was a good thing that gate was closed because it turned out that the snow came down really hard just a few minutes later. Based on our experience, we were living proof that this waterfall was not accessible year-round despite what we had read in the literature. Anyways, five months later, we finally got to see the falls.

Looking over the lava field we traversed towards some rounded mountain in the distance The walk to the falls (on Trail 3532) was actually a loop hike of about two miles. It seemed the Forest Service wanted us to hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction because only the trail entrance to our left (facing the trailhead) was not signposted, and we were only aware of it after finishing off the loop.

We started off by leaving the forest cover of tall pine trees giving way to what looked like an old lava field before returning to a lightly dense forest cover. After close to a mile from the trailhead, we reached a junction where some confusing sign pointed us in two different directions.

It turned out that the right fork led us to a lookout of the Proxy Falls itself. But the left fork continued the loop hike and actually led us to a smaller cascade called Upper Falls (apparently Proxy Falls would sometimes be called Lower Falls) then ultimately returning to the trailhead.

At the viewpoint of the main falls, an informal trail of use (more like a scramble) continued towards the base of the falls. It looked like that trail had been closed for a while as evidenced by fallen trees and lots of overgrowth near the base making access anything but a cakewalk. We decided to take on the scramble despite the forest service dropping subtle hints to discourage us from getting closer to the falls (e.g. like logs positioned perpedicularly to the faint trails).

The stagnant pool at the base of Upper Falls The reward for getting close to the falls was that we were able to notice some of the subtle qualities of the scene such as the mossy wall and fallen trees fronting its curtain of water. It also made sense to take long exposure photos from the depths of its shadowy base. In fact, the view you see at the top of this page was taken from the base of the falls.

As we continued the loop hike just a few minutes walk from that confusing signposted fork, we found ourselves at yet another signposted fork. The sign here suggested that a left turn would take us back to the trailhead while the other direction had us turn back behind us to continue the loop trail in the opposite direction we went.

However, that right fork was also where we saw a branch trail that ultimately led to that lesser-known cascade known as Upper Falls (though the signage didn't even hint at what was on this fork in the trail). This cascade was harder to photograph because it required getting our feet a little wet to get a clean view, especially considering it had lots of foliage keeping us from getting that clean view from any angle except the direct view.

One quirky thing about Upper Falls was that we couldn't figure out where the drainage for the stagnant pool at the waterfall's base was supposed to go. The water just seemed to stagnate in this pool as we didn't see a creek or any other output further down the slope in the immediate area. I speculated that the water probably seeped underground and re-emerged somewhere else out of immediate sight (kind of like Silverband Falls in Australia's Grampians National Park). I can't really say for sure, but we definitely couldn't see a stream on the surface that was supposed to drain this pool.

Anyways, once we had your fill of this waterfall, we continued back towards the trailhead. The walk was only for a few more minutes through more forest and another traverse through the lava field before re-emerging at the Hwy 242.

To give you an idea of the time commitment, we spent about 100 minutes away from the car, including all the photo stops, the detour to the base of Proxy Falls, and the detour to the Upper Falls.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
The hard-to-photograph Upper Falls (or Upper Proxy Falls)The hard-to-photograph Upper Falls (or Upper Proxy Falls)
Full context of Proxy Falls from its baseFull context of Proxy Falls from its base
Proxy Falls and the Three Sisters Wilderness was kind of situation in the midwest part of the state of Oregon, but going straight west of there would lead to this part of the beautiful Oregon CoastProxy Falls and the Three Sisters Wilderness was kind of situation in the midwest part of the state of Oregon, but going straight west of there would lead to this part of the beautiful Oregon Coast
Driving a similar distance to the south (as opposed to west to the Oregon Coast) led us to the beautiful and mysterious Crater Lake National ParkDriving a similar distance to the south (as opposed to west to the Oregon Coast) led us to the beautiful and mysterious Crater Lake National Park
Pullouts flanking Highway 242 at the Proxy Falls trailheadPullouts flanking Highway 242 at the trailhead for the falls

Julie hiking through the initial forest coverJulie hiking through the initial forest cover

Going past a wilderness sign as we were still in the initial forest sectionGoing past a wilderness sign as we were still in the initial forest section

Julie still way up ahead under the shade of the forestJulie still way up ahead under the shade of the forest

Finally we made it out of the initial forest cover and had to traverse an old lava fieldFinally we made it out of the initial forest cover and had to traverse an old lava field

We noticed some attractively colored plants growing out of the lava fieldWe noticed some attractively colored plants growing out of the lava field

We got a little confused at this sign about which trail went whereWe got a little confused at this sign about which trail went where

Closer look at the Upper FallsCloser look at the Upper Falls

Looking upstream at as much of Upper Falls as we could seeLooking upstream at as much of Upper Falls as we could see

Angled view of Upper Falls showing the degree of overgrowth and fallen trees about its long cascadeAngled view of Upper Falls showing the degree of overgrowth and fallen trees about its long cascade

The stagnant pool at the base of the Upper FallsThe stagnant pool at the base of the Upper Falls

View of Proxy Falls from the official lookoutView of Proxy Falls from the official lookout

Fallen trees hint at the unofficial nature of the trail to the base of Proxy FallsFallen trees hint at the unofficial nature of the trail to the base of the falls

Proxy Falls from the baseProxy Falls from the base

Going back across an open area with parts of the lava field as we were returning to the trailheadGoing back across an open area with parts of the lava field as we were returning to the trailhead


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Bottom up sweep from the lookout at the end of the official trail


Bottom up sweep of the so-called "Upper Falls" sharing the same loop trail for Proxy Falls


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DIRECTIONS
You can reach this waterfall by driving around 64 miles east of Eugene taking Hwy 126 and then turning right onto the narrow Highway 242 roughly 6 miles east of McKenzie Bridge.

Hwy 242 is the one that's prone to Winter (or Spring) closure depending on how much snow is on the road. The trailhead is just under 7 miles from the Hwy 242 and Hwy 126 junction.




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MAP OF THE FALLS


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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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Beautiful Falls!! (Proxy Falls) 
We have now lived in Oregon for about 18 monthes; and the waterfalls are my favorite. We tried to go through McKenzy Pass in July, and met with a …

Upper and Lower Proxy Falls 
We followed the same path you described, except for a scat trail excursion as high up the side of Proxy (Lower Falls) as possible... We did notice the …

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