Falls Creek Falls is in Washington, just a little northeast of Stevenson. To get there from Portland take Interstate 84 east to Cascade Locks and take the Bridge of the Gods ($1 toll each way) over the Columbia River to SR-14 in Washington. Head east, towards Stevenson. Drive through the small town and a few miles past that you will see signs for Carson. Take a left onto Falls Creek Highway and Carson. Drive through the town and head north to about milepost 19 where there will be sign to the right for Falls Creek Falls. Take the gravel road (watch for pot holes!) about a mile or so into the forest to a small parking lot. There is room there for 6-8 cars comfortably, though this day we went there were 15 that had found spots. A Northwest Forest Pass is required for this area, either an annual or day pass, and you cannot buy them here - you must bring it with you. There are also no restrooms or any other kind of facilities - you have what you bring, and please take it all out with you.
The hike begins with Falls Creek to your right on a relatively moderate slope through deep woods. After not too long you cross over the creek on a bridge and the rest of the hike has the creek on your right as the trail winds up and up. And up. And up. The trail is plenty wide so people can pass single-file going opposite directions.
Along the way you get nice views like this:
Now, I would suggest being careful when you take in the views. My ankle says it's best to stop moving before you look around, since there are plenty of rocks and roots jutting from the dirt trail. If you fail to not look at the ground you are crossing, the risk is real of tripping, spraining an ankle, and falling on your face.
Not that I would know or anything. Maybe. I mean, the purple pool at the bottom of my right foot is just about gone, so it may as well have never happened. Right?
I have to say, we've done this hike twice before and I had forgotten how hard it is. It's really a lot of uphill - even the dog was tired. It's 1.7 miles from the parking area to the waterfall, and most of that is uphill over this semi-rough terrain. We have a book about hiking in the Portland area (60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, I think it is) and the description for Falls Creek Falls is "easy" - umm...duly noted. Anything in there marked "difficult" I'm pretty sure we aren't quite ready for. Yikes.
Of course, hiking on a sprained ankle doesn't make it much easier, but thankfully it didn't swell all that much. Just hurt like hell.
There is a point not too far from the end where the trail crosses over another feeder stream of the creek. Lush mosses cover the rocks in the water, both uphill and down, and it's really one of those spots where you think hey, I could hang out here for awhile. In fact, on the way down we passed a group of people so taken with it they asked us if the waterfall at the end was worth going on.
Up the stream.
Oh yes, yes it is. If you turn around here and then see pictures of what you missed you will kick yourself because you will have to go back. And starting over means doing the whole damn hill over again, and no one wants to do that.
As we worked our way towards the top of the trail, our stops became more frequent. Even Misaki asked to stop and catch her breath a couple times. We had to cross a thin stream without the benefit of a bridge and she was not having that - I had to pick her up and set her down close to across, all the while trying not to fall down the hill on my bad ankle myself.
Yes, she is spoiled - why do you ask?
Small dogs may not like this.
The closer one gets to the end of the trail the louder it gets. The crashing of the waterfall is enough to take a tired body the last few feet and when you crest the trail and see the waterfall, every drop of sweat is worth it (click on the picture for a bigger version).
Falls Creek Falls
The trail leaves you about even with the top of the final piece of the falls, but there are actually multiple tiers. This picture doesn't do it justice - a top to bottom panorama might have been better (maybe next time) - there is another piece to the waterfall even higher up. I couldn't guess as to the height of the falls from top to bottom, but in my mind it's much more impressive than the much more famous Multnomah, but since it's not nearly as easy to get to it will never be as popular. Which is fine with us.
We took a lunch and nibbled as we watched the water crashing down the rocks. Despite the roar the sound was pretty relaxing, and despite the sweat and sprained ankle I'd do this trail again in a heartbeat. Well, after the ankle heals of course.
The walk back is much faster as downhills usually are, but because of how steep the trail is and all the rocks and roots, calling it much easier would be misleading.
This is a great trail for dogs. We saw plenty on the hike, both on and off leash (Misaki is a bigger fan of the ones on leash). Definitely pack in water and treats for them at the falls, because it's a tough run. It's a little tougher for smaller dogs because of having to cross that stream - later in the season it won't be an issue, because it will be dry - and Misaki did have to jump over a couple fallen trees on the trail. On the way up she wasn't quite sure about how to approach them and needed some coaxing, but on the way down she just hopped over them like it was nothing. As we struggled a tad more to get over them, she'd look back at us like, "What the hell is taking you guys so long?!"
Of course, when we got home, who was the one who collapsed on the floor, only to get up for dinner before collapsing again? Well, besides me, it was the dog.
I think she's looking forward to the next adventure.