Let’s go chasing waterfalls in Bend, Oregon!
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon on Visit Bend’s Facebook page.
Every time we share a photo of a waterfall in Oregon the post gets three-gazillion likes, shares, and comments.
It’s clear Bend fans are passionate about the idea of water rushing over towering cliffs and rocky flumes, so let’s take a look at some hiking trails with the best waterfalls in Bend and Central Oregon.
At nearly 100 feet tall, this splendor along Tumalo Creek is the most popular waterfall located within the Bend city limits. It’s a little tougher to get to in winter months when the road is closed about two miles from the normal parking area, but it’s a pleasant enough hike and well worth a little extra effort to reach it.
In warmer months, the viewpoint to see the main waterfall is only a few steps from where you’ll park. Hoof it to the viewpoint for a quick snapshot, then keep walking along the trail to see the falls from several different vantage points.
Want to keep going? As you hike upstream, you’ll encounter several smaller waterfalls along the trail. It can be dicey in the winter months, and snowshoes are a good idea if the snowpack is high. When summer rolls around, you can walk four miles to Happy Valley before retracing your steps for a second look at all the majestic beauty.
Tumalo Falls is easy to reach if you follow Galveston Avenue through the roundabout until it turns into Skyliner Road. Cruise for a little over 10 miles until you see Forest Service Road 4601 on your right. The season and the snowfall will determine how far you can get on the gravel road from there, but it ends in 2.5 miles just 50 feet from the waterfall.
Benham, Dillon, and Lava Island Falls
Bend’s mighty Deschutes River boasts three major waterfalls in fairly close proximity to one another, and each one is special in its own way.
The best-known and largest of the three is Benham Falls. Here, the river stairsteps over rocks and ledges as it chugs along through a rocky gorge. The short hike to access it takes you through a lovely pine forest where you’ll enjoy the twitter of birds and the rush of whitewater. Don’t expect the sort of tall, cascading waterfall you’ll see at Tumalo Falls, but do expect a glorious stretch of churning whitewater and lovely views.
The second most popular waterfall along the Deschutes River Trail is Dillon Falls. Like Benham, it’s a more gradual drop of churning whitewater, as opposed to a lengthy cascade plummeting over a cliff. You’ll see a lot more lava features here, and some pretty spectacular views of the surrounding gorge. The sunsets here can be amazing, so bring your camera if you’re visiting near the end of the day.
Lava Island Falls is the least-known of the three, and it’s tricky to access due to steep, dangerous trails and a bunch of private homes lining the edges of the river. That said, it may be the most scenic of the bunch, with a two-stepped cascade dropping about 15 feet and a second channel that’s a little smaller.
The Deschutes River Trail System is probably your easiest access point for these waterfalls. Start at Meadow Camp, which you’ll reach by driving out Century Drive like you’re headed toward Mt. Bachelor. Hang a left on Forest Service Road 41 and follow the signs to reach the waterfall of your choice.
This waterfall is technically closer to Terrebonne than it is to Bend, but it’s well worth a short drive to reach it. (Bonus: You can combine this with a visit to Smith Rock State Park, which is a must-see when you’re in Central Oregon).
The hike from the trailhead to the main waterfall takes you a little over a mile through a winding gorge dotted with sagebrush and ancient juniper. In the summer months, it’s bustling with people looking to swim in the peaceful waters just downstream from the falls. During chillier months, you’ll still see a lot of anglers casting a line in the water and reeling in some pretty impressive fish.
This waterfall is one of my personal favorites, and my step kids could spend hours standing above it and chucking rocks into the churning water. Tread with caution if it’s icy or snowy, but most of the year this is a pretty easy hike. If you have time, bring a picnic lunch and look for a flat spot to spread your blanket.
To get there, head north on Highway 97 and drive a little over 20 miles until you reach the town of Terrebonne. Turn left on Lower Bridge Way and follow it 2.1 miles before turning right onto NW 43rd. After 1.7 miles, go left on Chinook Drive until you see Badger Road on your left about a mile up. You should see a sign at this point directing you to Steelhead Falls, which requires another mile on Quail Road and a mile or so on River Road.
This is another waterfall that’s a bit tougher to get to in the winter months, but it’s totally worth it if you’re up for a couple extra miles of hiking. Paulina Falls is 80-feet tall and surrounded by dramatic volcanic cliffs created from sheets of hot ash and pumice formed during eruptions more than 75,000 years ago.
One thing I love about this waterfall is that you can check it out from the upper viewpoint, which is less than ¼ mile from the parking lot. Once you’ve had enough of that, hoof it down the trail to see what it looks like from below.
Paulina Falls is part of the Newberry Crater, a national volcanic monument, which would be worth a day of exploration even if there were no waterfall at all.
To get there in the summertime, just follow Highway 97 about 20 miles south of Bend to Paulina Lake Road (you’ll see signs for the national monument). Follow Paulina Lake Road a little over 12 miles until you see signs on the left for Paulina Falls. The viewpoint is only a couple hundred feet from where you’ll park your car.
If you’re visiting in the wintertime, you’ll discover the road is closed a couple miles west of the parking area. Don’t worry! Just park your car and hoof it along the highway (which is pretty easy, since there won’t be any cars). Bring snowshoes just in case, though you won’t likely need them in a light snow year.
Whychus and Proxy Falls
I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian who’s lived in Bend since 1997, and you know what? I haven’t seen every amazing landmark in Central Oregon. That’s not for lack of trying, I can assure you. It’s just a big, beautiful place, and there’s lots to see!
That’s my way of telling you that although I have not personally visited Whychus Falls (also known as Chush Falls) the photos I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard indicate it’s breathtaking. You’ll find some good info about getting there if you go here.
Proxy Falls is another one I’ve missed, though I made one failed attempt at getting there last fall in the midst of our first blizzard of the season (don’t try this at home, kids). Proxy is obviously on my bucket list, for reasons that should be obvious if you check out photos of it. Learn more about how to find it by going here.
So where’s YOUR favorite waterfall in Central Oregon? Is it one I didn’t list here? Please share!