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.
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 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.
We were able to reach this waterfall from Eugene by driving about 53 miles (an hour drive) east along Hwy 126 to McKenzie Bridge. When we got to the town of McKenzie Bridge, we then drove about another 6 miles further to the east before turning right onto Hwy 242. It was this latter highway that was prone to Winter (or Spring) closure depending on how much snow was on the road. Anyways, after another 7 miles from the Hwy 242/Hwy 126 junction, we reached the trailhead for Proxy Falls. This 66-mile drive took us about 90 minutes.
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