Central Oregon Waterfalls

Central Oregon Waterfalls

I’m back with another travel guide, and this time it’s a whole compilation of all my favorite MUST-see Central Oregon waterfalls! Whether you are a local Bendite or simply planning your family’s adventure of the year, this guide is for you! I’m going to go ahead and take a stand against TLC’s famous song and say “you chase ALL the waterfalls you want, honey.”

Central Oregon Waterfalls

About Bend

Wonderful—you’re reading a Bend-based blog! That means you either live here, or maybe you’ve heard a little something about the magic of Bend. Bend, Oregon is a beautiful town located on the Deschutes River in Central Oregon with a claim to fame of 300+ sunny days per year. Bend has everything an outdoor enthusiast could dream of! World renown skiing at Mt. Bachelor brings a lot of tourists from all over, but not to be discounted is Bend’s expanding diversity in art, food & drink and a multitude of lake, river, and hiking activities. Oh and the waterfalls in the surrounding areas are STUNNING! Listed below are my family’s top favorite waterfalls in Central Oregon within reasonable driving distance from Bend! Whether you’re a local, a visitor, or scouting the place out, put these Central Oregon waterfalls on your bucket list.

**Note: each waterfall has an “Emmy Whine-O-Meter Rating”. This is my 10-year old daughter’s personal scale of 1-10 how unpleasant each hike is!!**

Chush FallsCentral Oregon Waterfalls

Chush Falls, just outside of Sisters, is a beautiful, accessible cascading waterfall that is sure to take your breath away. This hike is different than other hikes we’ve done in the past, which usually leads you through the dense green forest. This area was devastated by the Pole Creek Fire several years ago, which has altered the surrounding landscape and the hike itself. It truly is a unique (and slightly eerie) hike as you make your way through the fire-ravaged landscape. The hike itself is approximately 5.25 miles round trip and will take you approximately 2.5-3 hours.  My kids are 10 and 12 years old and they had no problem making this hike. There are tons of downed trees throughout the trail, which my kids considered a fun obstacle course. Proper hiking shoes are a must as the trail down to the base is incredibly steep and not recommended for novice hikers. We brought raincoats so we could get closer to the falling water and quick-dry hiking pants, which were absolutely soaked after the falls! We dried off quickly and were totally comfortable for the 2.5-mile hike back to the car. It’s absolutely worth it to have the right gear!

Know Before You Go:

  • Screenshot or print directions – there is no cell service as you begin to reach the trailhead. To ensure you make it to the trailhead without literally driving in circles, follow the directions in our original blog post (click HERE)
  • Visit June-September to avoid the snow
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks to refuel
  • Bring sunscreen, bug spray, and hats
  • Hiking shoes are recommended if you plan to venture down to the falls
  • Bring a raincoat and/or wear quick-dry clothing if you want to get close to the misting water.

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 5 “Are we there yet?”

Toketee Falls

Central Oregon Waterfalls

Sitting just north of Crater Lake, is Toketee Falls–an absolutely stunning waterfall. It’s worth the drive and just the perfect change of scenery! Our family discovered a glorious stretch of southern Oregon on the drive to this amazing hike. The highway is flanked by a steady stream of gorgeous waterfalls nestled in the heart of the Umpqua Forest. The drive along Highway 138 offers endless trailheads and SIX waterfall hikes to explore: Clearwater Falls, Whitehorse Falls, Watson Falls, Toketee Falls, Fall Creek Falls and Susan Creek Falls (listed in order driving from Bend, OR to Roseburg, OR).

Toketee Falls have been given the honor of “one of the most famous waterfalls in all of Oregon” by alltrails.com and “It is renowned far and wide for the graceful columnar basalt formation framing the two-stepped falls. The hike is less than ½ mile in length (one way) and takes you through old-growth forests of Douglas-fir, western red cedar, big leaf maple, and Pacific yew, ending at a viewing platform overlooking the two-tiered waterfall. The North Umpqua River is visible at several points, cascading through a narrow rock gorge. It should be noted that, because of the steep elevation gain/loss, the hike itself is rated ‘‘more difficult’ and there are 97 steps up and 125 steps down, with easily accessible areas to rest along the way.

The columns of basaltic lava framing Toketee Falls were formed from a High Cascades flow that funneled down the canyon. After passing through a narrow gorge etched out by ages of  swirling sediment, the North Umpqua River plunges 40 feet over a ledge into a secluded cavity; then plummets another 80 feet through a gaping notch into a large pool.

Know Before You Go:

  • Wear sturdy boots
  • Bring your camera!
  • Check to make sure the McKenzie Pass is open
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks to refuel before heading back to the car
  • Read up on the history of the epic pipeline at the trailhead

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 6 “So many steps!”

Proxy Falls

Central Oregon Waterfalls

Proxy Falls is a stunning set of waterfalls located an hour and a half from Bend, over the McKenzie Pass. It’s a must-see trip, and can be done with kids, dogs (on-leash), and is considered a great hike for all skill levels. The trail is best during the months March-November, and is in the heart of the Willamette National Forest.

The drive there is equally amazing as the hike/views of the falls as the road passes through massive lava fields (50 square miles!) with captivating views of the Three Sisters on one side of the road and Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson on the other side! When you make it to the summit of the pass, check out the Dee Wright Observatory! The kids loved it! The Observatory has a trail through the lava flow and interesting information about the history of McKenzie Pass. On top, you can view all the surrounding mountains, buttes, and the craters responsible for the jaw-dropping lava river flow. If you’ve never been on the road up to the pass summit before, be aware that it is a narrow and winding on the way up, over, and back down. Before you reach the summit, the road was literally cut through the lava fields so you will find towering walls of lava rock surrounding you–it’s a unique area to drive through! Because of this, no vehicles (or vehicles w/a trailer) over 35’ are allowed on this route.

The hike itself is a relatively easy, short loop (approx. 1.25 miles) that takes you first to Lower Proxy Falls with a short walk to the second waterfall, Upper Proxy Falls. There are opportunities along the way to see the waterfall up close and get a little wet! One thing I learned in my handy-dandy Bend, Overall book is that the drive and hike to Proxy Falls is even more magnificent during mid-late October. During this time you can witness first-hand an “explosion of vibrant Fall colors as the Vine maples change with the season”.

**Fun Fact: Lower Proxy Falls is one of the most professionally photographed waterfalls in the NW, featured in magazines, hiking guides and a multitude of calendars every year– so bring your nice camera–this Central Oregon Waterfall is worth it!**

Know Before You Go:

  • Start early in the morning
  • Bring water, snacks/ a picnic
  • Wear sturdy shoes
  • Pack Bug Spray & Sunscreen & your face covering
  • Tag #HelloBend in your social media posts when you go! 
  • Stop at the Dee Wright Observatory

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 4 “It doesn’t matter where you’re going, it’s who you have beside you on the journey!”

Tamolitch Falls – Blue Pool

Central Oregon Waterfalls

The Blue Pool of Tamolitch Falls is one of the most exquisite, bright turquoise pools in Oregon and it’s a little bit of a hike to get there! The falls are created where the McKenzie River flows through a lava tube, and the Blue Pool is the collection of the frigid (37 degrees Fahrenheit) crystal clear water from the falls.

Tamolitch Falls is located about 60 miles outside of Bend or a 45-minute drive from where we stayed at FivePine Lodge in Sisters for a weekend getaway. The trailhead itself is in very close proximity to Sahalie and Koosah Falls, so it’s easy to take a pit stop on the drive and check out those stunning falls with very little hiking involved!

Local Tip: Stop at Sisters Meat & Smokehouse on the way in for a DELICIOUS picnic lunch!

The trail is a fairly simple 3.7 mile round trip out-and-back hike that only sports about a 300-foot elevation gain. The beginning of the hike starts off easy through the beautiful old growth Douglas Fir forest–but DON’T let the ease fool you–it gets steep with tricky footing in some places. Because the majority of the path is rocky, it is not accessible to strollers or rolling coolers. One warning for those with backpacks or kids–the trail passes one ledge with a steep drop off to the McKenzie River before you reach the Blue Pool.

The stunning bright Blue Pool is unlike really any other body of water in the area. It’s a little bit of a steep descent down to the lower area, but so worth it! Fun fact: the water temperature is so cold, that several native, normal microorganisms present in other areas nearby are not able to survive in the frigidity.

Know Before You Go:

  • Start early in the morning
  • Bring water, snacks/ a picnic
  • Wear sturdy shoes
  • If you bring a swimsuit, also bring a towel and be prepared for the cold
  • Tag #HelloBend in your social media posts when you go!

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 3 “Will I turn blue if I jump in?”

Steelhead Falls

Central Oregon Waterfalls

Steelhead Falls is located roughly 45 minutes outside of Bend in Terrebonne and nestled within the sprawling community of Crooked River Ranch. This waterfall on the Deschutes River is an easy, family-friendly half mile hike from the trailhead to the picturesque cascading waterfall. Once you turn off 97 just past the little town of Terrebonne, the directions to Steelhead Falls are clearly marked, although your GPS should get you there easily.

The hike down to the falls is a fairly easy one. On the way back to the car, you’ll get a bit of a workout making your way back up the canyon. Nothing too strenuous though.  I didn’t hear any griping from my kiddos, and this is how I rate the “kid-friendliness” of all our hikes.

You have the option to bring your swimsuit for a refreshing (yet chilly) swim at the base of the falls. This is one of the only true “swimming holes” on the Deschutes! There are several areas where you can walk down to the edge of the river to get your feet wet. For the more adventurous at heart, I’ve heard this is a popular spot for cliff jumping. Although, I must insert a disclaimer here that it is not advisable unless you have researched the depth below and know exactly what you are jumping into.

Know Before You Go:

  • Base Camp Pizza is a great place for a post hike/swim meal!
  • Bring water, snacks/ a picnic
  • Wear sturdy shoes and don’t count on cell service
  • If you bring a swimsuit, also bring a towel–it’s an epic place for a swim!
  • Tag #HelloBend in your social media posts when you go!

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 4 “Will hike for pizza”

Paulina Falls

Central Oregon Waterfalls

The trek out to Newberry National Volcanic Monument is well worth the trip and something you should definitely add to your “Bend Bucket List”! This amazing area is located about an hour south of Bend, past Sunriver & La Pine. You can drive or hike to the top of the peak to see the amazing views of the epic landscape. From the top of Paulina Peak, you can see the Newberry Caldera that surrounds the entire area with two lakes in the center. We learned that the caldera is actually a collapsed volcano and the two lakes were originally one. When the volcano collapsed, the lakes were split in two. The view at the top of Paulina Peak is simply amazing! Local tip: once you make it down, have your picnic lunch on the banks of Paulina Lake. You could also grab lunch at the lodge or have a post-hike beverage in the upstairs bar.

Next up, Paulina Falls! It is a super short walk to the upper viewing area from the parking lot. The majesty of these twin waterfalls is simply amazing! You can continue hiking along the path at the top of the waterfalls and explore the river or even have lunch at the top. You can also view the falls from a lower viewing area, which is a short 1/4 mile hike to the bottom. The view from the bottom of Paulina Falls is just as amazing as the one from the top!

Locals tip: You can walk to the base of the waterfall! It’s slippery, wet and a little bit of a climb, but it is all worth it!  Where else can you stand at the base of a waterfall, take in a view of the pool, get soaked in the mist and touch a rainbow? It was simply an amazing experience!

Know Before You Go:

  • Plan your trip before Paulina closes for the winter
  • Bring water, snacks/ a picnic
  • Wear sturdy shoes and clothes that can get wet in the mist!
  • Check out the peak AND the falls!
  • Tag #HelloBend in your social media posts when you go!

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 0 “Best day EVER!”

Tumalo Falls:

Central Oregon Waterfalls

Tumalo Falls is a stunning 100 ft tall waterfall right outside the heart of Bend! The Tumalo Falls Loop trail is a 6.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail with lots of opportunity for connecting to other trails or cutting it short to customize a hike to your family’s skill level, attention span, and needs.

The trailhead is not accessible by motor vehicle in the winter, but it can still be accessed on foot which makes the trek even longer (but oh so stunning)!

During the summer, the falls are a stunning, misty backdrop to a warm sunshiney trail. During the winter, the icy falls look like they came straight out of a real live Frozen movie! The trail offers a number of activity options (like mountain biking) and the accessibility year-round make this a prime location to explore. Every time we visit, we discover something new about the area or trail. Dogs are also able to use this trail on leash!

Know Before You Go:

  • Plan your trip before Paulina closes for the winter
  • Bring water, snacks/ a picnic
  • Wear sturdy shoes and clothes that can get wet in the mist!
  • Check out the peak AND the falls!
  • Tag #HelloBend in your social media posts when you go!

Whine-O-Meter Rating: 7 “You need special shoes for hiking…and a little bit of a special attitude too”

Waterfalls in Central Oregon

The longer we live here in this beautiful state, the more we fall in love with exploring the many Central Oregon waterfalls and overall adventures in the pacific northwest. The dense, luscious, green forests that encompass our state make this truly an adventurer’s paradise and it is unlike any other place in the nation! I’ll never forget each and every one of these adventures, and I’ll never take my time spent in Oregon for granted! If you’re like me and planning your next adventure, or if you are traveling from out of state, check out the Oregon State Park Status page to confirm that your location is open and accepting visitors. SUBSCRIBE to the blog for more adventures in this gorgeous little slice of PNW heaven!

Central Oregon Waterfalls

Interested in more adventures from Hello Bend? Read more HERE, SUBSCRIBE to the Hello Bend Blog, and follow along on Facebook and Instagram to stay in the know in Central Oregon.

Brenda Menzel, Broker
Cascade Sotheby’s Int’ l Realty ~ Hello Bend Real Estate
541-640-2125

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