Salt Creek Falls

Willamette National Forest / Oakridge, Oregon, USA

About Salt Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: almost roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2009-08-20
Date last visited: 2016-07-14

Waterfall Latitude: 43.61194
Waterfall Longitude: -122.1286

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Salt Creek Falls was definitely one of the more impressive waterfalls we’ve seen in the state of Oregon.

We could tell that it was very popular because it was so easily accessible in addition to its impressive height and flow.

Salt_Creek_Falls_066_07142016 - Salt Creek Falls
Salt Creek Falls

Each time that we’ve been to the Salt Creek Falls so far – once in late August 2009 and another time in mid-July 2016 – the falls flowed nicely.

This led me to conclude that the falls must have good flow all throughout the year.

To put some numbers behind our impressions of the Salt Creek Falls, it was said to have a plunge of around 286ft causing some to proclaim this to be Oregon’s second tallest waterfall.

While that claim can be disputable (unless you only count vertical drop waterfalls in the state), I tend to associate it with the kind of plunge waterfalls that we encountered in the Columbia River Gorge such as Latourell Falls and Elowah Falls among others.

Salt_Creek_Falls_028_07142016 - Looking downstream from the Salt Creek Falls towards the surrounding volcanic scenery, which provided clear evidence of how volcanism results in the formation of plunge waterfalls like this
Looking downstream from the Salt Creek Falls towards the surrounding volcanic scenery, which provided clear evidence of how volcanism results in the formation of plunge waterfalls like this

Perhaps the main reason for this association was the presence of basalt columns suggesting that the area was once filled by lava then covered in glaciers that sheared off the hard basalt layers exposing them to the elements.

Ultimately, the sheared basalt layers would have water flowing over them, and you end up with the tall plunge waterfalls like this one.

Experiencing Salt Creek Falls Overlooks

Visiting Salt Creek Falls was pretty much a breeze as there was a short walk leading from the well-signed and well-established parking area (see directions below) to cliff-top overlooks.

The overlooks offered us a vertigo-inducing top down view of the impressive drop of the falls as well as the nearly vertical gorge carved out by Salt Creek.

Salt_Creek_Falls_027_07142016 - Context of the high barricades and the Salt Creek Falls
Context of the high barricades and the Salt Creek Falls

The authorities seemed to have erected very tall railings to make it difficult for more careless people to climb the barricades and potentially plunge over the edge of these overlooks.

Unfortunately, such railings also made it a little tricky to take good photos of the Salt Creek Falls without the infrastructure getting in the way.

It didn’t take long to experience the falls and read the interpretive signs at the Salt Creek Falls overlooks, but we also observed that it was possible to hike to lower vantage points closer to the base of the waterfall.

Hiking to the lower views of the Salt Creek Falls

This trail resumed further away from the Salt Creek Falls alongside the end of the railings where the trail then meandered into a dry gully closer to Hwy 58 before turning back towards the open gorge.

Salt_Creek_Falls_045_07142016 - Mom on the trail leading deeper into the gorge carved out by Salt Creek
Mom on the trail leading deeper into the gorge carved out by Salt Creek

Further down the sloping trail, there were steps as well as more switchbacks eventually brought us to about the middle point of the overall descent.

Then, we encountered a warning sign saying that a rock slide had obliterated the remainder of the trail that would have led us all the way down to the base, and that continuing past the rock slide was not recommended.

So we were content to enjoy the more direct view of Salt Creek Falls from this rock slide area, and it allowed us to more closely examine the pronounced basalt cliffs flanking the waterfall and the trail.

In a way, it was almost like the repeating theme of fire and ice mixing together, which we had seen lots of examples of throughout the world, especially in Iceland.

Salt_Creek_Falls_052_07142016 - at the rock slide area looking up at the vertical basalt walls that supported the plunge of Salt Creek Falls
at the rock slide area looking up at the vertical basalt walls that supported the plunge of Salt Creek Falls

We did notice other people continue the steep scramble all the way down to the base of the waterfall, but from where we were standing, the rock slide portion looked quite steep.

So it was one of those risk-reward things where if getting all the way down there would be perceived to be worth it, then you might take the risk.

I’m sure people who have made it all the way down there would say it’s worth it, but steep scrambles like this (when we were already getting satisfactory views of the falls even up to this point) didn’t seem very necessary to us.

So we headed back.

Salt_Creek_Falls_056_08202009 - Context of Julie checking out the Salt Creek Falls from a lower vantage point near the rock slide area that obliterated the remainder of the trail leading to the very bottom of the gorge
Context of Julie checking out the Salt Creek Falls from a lower vantage point near the rock slide area that obliterated the remainder of the trail leading to the very bottom of the gorge

It took Mom and I about roughly 40 minutes to do this hike, but the difficulty rating at the top of this page didn’t reflect this part of the excursion since I felt this was a very optional way to experience Salt Creek Falls.

Authorities

Salt Creek Falls resides in the Willamette National Forest. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Salt_Creek_Falls_010_07142016 - People gathered around this self-help kiosk where we could have paid $5 in an envelope and keep the proof of purchase to display on the dash of the car (though we were actually in possession of an interagency National Forest Adventure Pass at the time)
Salt_Creek_Falls_009_08202009 - Cliffhugging viewpoints near the brink of Salt Creek Falls
Salt_Creek_Falls_015_07142016 - Looking downstream from the cliffs towards the surrounding forest where even an early afternoon rainbow was appearing from the mist of Salt Creek Falls
Salt_Creek_Falls_026_07142016 - Broad daylight view of the Salt Creek Falls from the upper overlooks during our second visit here in July 2016
Salt_Creek_Falls_034_08202009 - Looking down past a cliff towards Salt Creek Falls from the morning of our first visit back in August 2009
Salt_Creek_Falls_037_07142016 - Later in the day on that second visit in 2016, we came back to the same overlook and got this view of the Salt Creek Falls from the upper overlooks. However, this time, the late afternoon sun was in a more unfavorable position as you can see some lens artifacts
Salt_Creek_Falls_027_08202009 - Looking further downstream towards what appeared to be a volcano that might have blown its top in its past
Salt_Creek_Falls_033_07142016 - Mom continuing to hike past the cliffside overlooks in search of the trail leading closer to the base of Salt Creek Falls
Salt_Creek_Falls_034_07142016 - Looking up at another set of steps climbing higher away from the Salt Creek Falls before the trail descends deeper into the gorge
Salt_Creek_Falls_061_08202009 - Looking back at some of the uppermost of the overlooks of the Salt Creek Falls, where the railings weren't as intrusive as by the steps
Salt_Creek_Falls_053_08202009 - Julie about to approach the lower viewpoint of the Salt Creek Falls
Salt_Creek_Falls_045_08202009 - Direct look at the Salt Creek Falls in the morning shadow as seen during our first visit back in late August 2009
Salt_Creek_Falls_057_07142016 - Here's another look at Salt Creek Falls from the rock slide taken some 7 years later, where one lady scrambled down the rockslide towards the base of the tree stump down below

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There were a couple of approaches that we took to drive to Salt Creek Falls – one from Eugene and another from Medford.

Driving to Salt Creek Falls from Eugene

The nearest big town to Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls would probably be Eugene.

The town of Oakridge (36 miles southeast of Eugene) was probably the closest smaller town.

Salt_Creek_Falls_009_07142016 - The well-signed and well-established parking lot for Salt Creek Falls
The well-signed and well-established parking lot for Salt Creek Falls

The drive from Eugene via Oakridge was very straightforward as it would be 58 miles drive from the I-5/Hwy 58 junction just south of Eugene.

The well-signed turnoff was on the right side shortly after leaving a tunnel.

Driving to Salt Creek Falls from Medford

Alternately, we also made the long drive to this waterfall from Medford, which was probably the closest big city to Crater Lake National Park.

In going this route from the I-5/Hwy 62 exit in Medford, we took the Crater Lake Hwy (Hwy 62) for roughly 54 miles to a signed junction.

Instead of turning right to continue on Hwy 62 towards Crater Lake, we kept left to go onto Hwy 230, which then continued for almost 24 miles to a junction with the Hwy 138.

Diamond_Creek_Falls_001_07142016 - This was the far end of the Salt Creek Falls parking lot, but this was closer to the Diamond Creek Trailhead. Nevertheless, this shows you that there was ample parking on the day of our visit in mid-July 2016
This was the far end of the Salt Creek Falls parking lot, but this was closer to the Diamond Creek Trailhead. Nevertheless, this shows you that there was ample parking on the day of our visit in mid-July 2016

Turning right at this junction to remain on Hwy 230, we then stayed on it for another 18 miles (ignoring the Hwy 232 route going to the north rim of Crater Lake) before turning left onto US97.

We then took US97 north for roughly 17 miles (passing through the town of Chemult [one of the few places to get gas in this pretty remote part of Southern Oregon]) before heading northwest on Hwy 58.

We then drove roughly 31 miles on Hwy 58 (passing by the attractive Odell Lake en route) before finally arriving at the turnoff for the Salt Creek Falls parking lot on the left.

Overall, this drive from Medford to Salt Creek Falls took us about 3 hours.

Salt Creek Falls Parking Fees

Salt_Creek_Falls_010_07142016 - People using the ticket machine at the Salt Creek Falls Observation Site to pay and display the receipt to show in the car that the fees have been paid
People using the ticket machine at the Salt Creek Falls Observation Site to pay and display the receipt to show in the car that the fees have been paid

This parking area had a pay-and-display system costing $5 per vehicle.

Since this was in the Willamette National Forest, we utilized our interagency National Forest Adventure Pass ($35 for the year) and displayed that on our dash to avoid getting fined by the forest service.

For some additional geographic context, Medford was 97 miles (over 90 minutes drive) south of Roseburg, 274 miles (over 4 hours drive) south of Portland, 308 miles (about 5 hours drive) north of Sacramento, California, and 692 miles (10.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles, California.

Sweep panning around the Salt Creek Falls and downstream view from the upper overlooks along the cliff


360 degree sweep of the Salt Creek Falls and surrounding area including the rock slide aftermath itself


Long sweep of the top down view of Salt Creek Falls from a few different spots along the clifftop area


Top down sweep of the falls and then the sweep continues downstream and ends at neighboring mountain range (shot in August 2009)

Tagged with: oakridge, willamette, national forest, lane, oregon, waterfall, diamond creek



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