If you spend enough time in the Oregon outdoors, you realize that when it comes to winter weather, luck can be a good partner to have by your side.
So it was on a recent streamside stroll into a watershed where the rain is often measured in feet – not inches and where huge surprises waited at the end of the trail.
Drift Creek will carry you away --- perhaps where imagination travels---on a wonderful trail alongside a classic “pool and drop” Oregon stream.
Flanked by ferns, alder trees and vine maple, Drift Creek Trail winds through the rain-drenched Siuslaw National Forest.
“You can come out and hike this trail pretty much all year as it’s a pretty gentle downhill with a lot of switchbacks,” noted USFS Manager, George Buckingham. “It’s only 3 miles round trip and a fairly easy grade so you can bring small children and they do just fine.”
Buckingham and USFS Recreation Specialist, JW Cleveland, were our trail guides for an amazing adventure into a unique area of the forest – one characterized by a marvelous payoff for our time and efforts.
But JW cautioned, “Rain gear is a necessity this time of year! Be sure to have it in your vehicle and then make the call about taking it when you get to the trailhead. It can get really wet in here so you could need the gear. You want to make sure you’ve got a camera too because you’re going to see some pretty amazing things.”
The Drift Creek Trail is amazing until you arrive at something even better and bigger that will take your breath away: a 240-foot long cable suspension bridge!
“The feeling that you have is really a bit like being suspended off the ground – a hundred feet off the ground, noted Buckingham. “There’s a stream down below you and a waterfall flooding in so it really triggers your auditory senses too. It’s quite a neat experience.”
Anchored by cables and ties that are cemented into opposing bluffs, the bridge holds over a hundred fifty thousand pounds, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
While the bridge does offer a bit of a bounce, the thirty-inch wide tread is perfectly safe and the bird’s-eye view will leave you spellbound.
As does Drift Creek Falls, a 75-foot freefall and whopper of a waterfall that’s located immediately below you.
Buckingham said something “really big happened here last summer.”
”The entire rock face of the falls tumbled into the stream below and the stream is actually under the rock now – it goes underground where as there used to be a pool.”
That’s right – after millions of years of standing tall, more than 150 feet of basalt rock wall fell into Drift Creek.
“There’s one boulder down there that would fill up most of the parking lot in front of my office," noted Buckingham with a chuckle. “As you can see columnar basalt has strongly vertical joints and the water worked in there over time – probably over thousands of years in this wet climate and eventually gravity took over and ‘boom’ – just slipped off.”
The sound of the crashing rock wall must have been deafening – perhaps even terrifying - but fortunately, no one was in the area when it happened in August of 2010.
Nevertheless, it is a thrill to see from ay up high and it’s the sort of hiking experience best enjoyed this time of year.
“Now is the time to get out and view the falls,” added Cleveland. “That’s especially true after a large rain event. If you come here in the summertime when the water flow is lighter, it just isn’t the same.”
“People do love to come here,” said Buckingham. “It is fantastic to provide unique places like this for people to recreate in, get close to a rugged outdoor setting and get some exercise at the same time. It’s well worth your time for a visit.”
Directions to Drift Creek Falls:
From Portland, travel U.S. 99W south, then Oregon 18 west. At Rose Lodge look for signs and turn left onto Bear Creek County Road. Travel approximately 3.5 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 17. Follow the sign and continue seven miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.
From Lincoln City, travel south approximately one mile on U.S. 101. Turn left onto Drift Creek Road, then right onto South Drift Creek Road for a quarter mile. Turn left on Forest Service Road 17 for approximately ten miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.