Proxy Falls

Willamette National Forest / Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, USA

About Proxy Falls

Hiking Distance: 2 miles loop
Suggested Time: 60-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2009-08-19
Date last visited: 2009-08-19

Waterfall Latitude: 44.16178
Waterfall Longitude: -121.92755

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Proxy Falls was an impressively tall dual-segmented waterfall falling from a height of about 225ft.

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.

Proxy_Falls_065_08192009 - Proxy Falls
Proxy Falls

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.

Two Attempts to see Proxy Falls

Our August visit was actually our second try at seeing the Proxy Falls.

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.

Mackenzie_River_006_jx_04012009 - On the road near Mackenzie River in a futile attempt to access Proxy Falls given a threatening snow storm
On the road near Mackenzie River in a futile attempt to access Proxy Falls given a threatening snow storm

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 under more benign conditions.

Hiking to Proxy 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.

We only became aware of it after having finished the loop and ended up at that unsigned trailhead.

Proxy_Falls_008_08192009 - Looking over the lava field we traversed towards some rounded mountain in the distance
Looking over the lava field we traversed towards some rounded mountain in the distance

We started off by taking the signed trailhead and hiking in the recommended counterclockwise direction.

Soon thereafter, we left the forest cover of tall pine trees as it gave 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.

However, 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).

Proxy_Falls_006_jx_08192009 - Signs facing in opposite directions by a trail junction between both the Upper Proxy Falls and the Lower Proxy Falls
Signs facing in opposite directions by a trail junction between both the Upper Proxy Falls and the Lower Proxy Falls

The trail would then continue past this waterfall and ultimately return to the other trailhead to end the loop hike.

Hiking to Proxy Falls – the Main Waterfall or “Lower Falls”

At the viewpoint of the main Proxy 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).

Proxy_Falls_061_08192009 - The full view of the Proxy Falls from the lookout at a spur on the official trail
The full view of the Proxy Falls from the lookout at a spur on the official trail

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 Proxy Falls’ 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 this position at the base of the main falls.

Hiking to Proxy Falls – the “Upper Falls” and the completion of the loop

As we continued the loop hike just a few minutes walk from that confusing signposted fork, we found ourselves at yet another signposted fork.

Proxy_Falls_021_08192009 - Looking up at the Upper Proxy Falls
Looking up at the Upper Proxy Falls

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.

Proxy_Falls_041_08192009 - The stagnant pool at the base of Upper Falls
The stagnant pool at the base of Upper Falls

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 “Upper Falls”, we continued back towards the other (unsigned) 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.

Proxy_Falls_073_08192009 - Going back through another opening with some solidified lava after nearly completing the Proxy Falls Loop Hike
Going back through another opening with some solidified lava after nearly completing the Proxy Falls Loop Hike

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.


Proxy Falls resides in the Willamette National Forest near McKenzie Bridge in Lane County, Oregon. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Proxy_Falls_002_08192009 - Julie hiking through the initial forest cover on the Proxy Falls Loop Hike (going in a counterclockwise direction)
Proxy_Falls_003_08192009 - Going past a sign indicating that we were entering the Three Sisters Wilderness just as we were still in the initial forest section
Proxy_Falls_004_08192009 - Julie still way up ahead under the shade of the forest on the Proxy Falls Trail
Proxy_Falls_005_08192009 - Julie crossing through one part of what seemed to be a lava field on the Proxy Falls hike
Proxy_Falls_006_08192009 - Finally we made it out of the initial forest cover and had to traverse another old lava field on the Proxy Falls hike
Proxy_Falls_007_08192009 - We noticed some attractively colored plants growing out of the lava field on the Proxy Falls hike
Proxy_Falls_011_08192009 - Looking up at the Upper Proxy Falls, which we scouted out first before backtracking to the main Proxy Falls
Proxy_Falls_020_08192009 - Closer look at the Upper Falls
Proxy_Falls_028_08192009 - Angled view of Upper Falls showing the degree of overgrowth and fallen trees about its long cascade
Proxy_Falls_035_08192009 - Another focused look at the attractive Upper Proxy Falls in long exposure
Proxy_Falls_036_08192009 - Examining the pool collecting at the base of the Upper Proxy Falls, which made me wonder where the water would drain to as I didn't see a stream leaving the immediate area
Proxy_Falls_037_08192009 - Another look at the context of the stagnant pool at the base of the Upper Falls
Proxy_Falls_043_08192009 - Full view of the main Proxy Falls as seen from an official lookout area on the sanctioned trail
Proxy_Falls_050_08192009 - More contextual look at the Proxy Falls from the official lookout
Proxy_Falls_051_08192009 - Fallen trees hint at the unofficial nature of the 'trail' to the base of Proxy Falls
Proxy_Falls_056_08192009 - Approaching the base of the Proxy 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.

Proxy_Falls_001_08192009 - Pullouts flanking the Highway 242 at the Proxy Falls Trailhead
Pullouts flanking the Highway 242 at the Proxy Falls Trailhead

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.

For context, the city of Eugene was 111 miles (under 2 hours drive) south of Portland or 168 miles (2.5 hours drive) north of Medford.

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

Tagged with: lane, willamette, national forest, three sisters, wilderness, oregon, waterfall, mckenzie bridge

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Proxy Falls November 18, 2013 6:48 am by Melani Johnson - Proxy Falls is located in Central Oregon on the old McKenzie highway near the town of McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. This photography was taken in October 2013 before the seasonal rains began. ...Read More
Beautiful Falls!! (Proxy Falls) August 25, 2011 4:06 pm by _Anonymous84 - 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 road block on the Sisters side of the road. We were told that it was usually open for about 3 weeks in August. So be sure… ...Read More
Upper and Lower Proxy Falls August 15, 2011 2:33 am by M-finity - 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 same phenomenon of the pool at the base of the smaller cascades (Upper Falls), though to add that the water in that pool was crystal clear denoting… ...Read More

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