Hello Bend! Proxy Falls is a stunning set of waterfalls located an hour and a half from Bend, over the Mackenzie 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
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 Mackenzie Pass. On top, you can view all the surrounding mountains, buttes, and the craters responsible for the jaw-dropping lava river flow. If you have the time, we HIGHLY recommend making this stop, not to mention–it looks like a lava castle to the kiddos and they loved it!
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!
As you pass the summit and make your descent, the road winds back and forth with sharp drop offs. Because of these tight turns, no vehicle (or vehicles w/a trailer) over 35’ are allowed on this route.
When we reached the Proxy Falls trailhead, there isn’t a designated parking lot, so be prepared to parallel park along the main road. There is a vault toilet near the trailhead, and forest passes are required. If you don’t have an annual pass, you can pay the $5 daily fee.
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.
Starting out at the trailhead and working your way counter-clockwise, the trail will take you where the lava flow meets the forest. The trail on the first portion of the hike is a bit rocky, but nothing too challenging and it eventually levels out. Beware: a stroller or rolling cooler would be tough to bring along on this hike.
The Lower Proxy Falls viewing area is quite a distance away from the actual waterfall, but it is truly a stunning view.
If you’re up for a little more adventure, you can leave the beaten path behind and get up close and personal with Mother Nature. There are a couple different paths down to the base of the waterfall. If you take the path down next to the viewing area (just to the right of the big log/barrier), it is a much steeper trek.
There is a path that continues a little further to the right of the viewing area, which will get you to the bottom in a less challenging manner.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still a bit of creative maneuvering required once you reach the bottom to make your way closer to the falls. Climbing over/under logs and skipping across large rocks in the stream make for an outdoor playground for kids and adults alike! The highlight for these guys was making their way across this huge “moving” log to get to the other side of the stream!
You can make your way up to the pool at the base of the waterfall on either the right or left side, you just need to decide which side you want to conquer early on. It didn’t look easy to cross over once you reach the base.
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!
Once we made it back to the main trail, it was a surprisingly short walk to Upper Proxy Falls. As you approach, you notice the pond at the base of the falls doesn’t drain out. Wondering where all that water goes? It is actually absorbed into the lava rock below…so cool!
We chose to explore the area to the left of the trail first, looking to capture a view of Upper Proxy Falls from across the pond. There is a bit of climbing required but you gain your footing on the massive root system that works as nature’s stepping-stones on the bank of the pond.
The view is worth the effort!
Next, we decided to make our way up the right side of the waterfall. You can take the scenic, more slippery route right next to the waterfall. This is the path my husband opted for.
The kids and I decided to play it safe (somewhat) and take the dry path to the far right and climb our way up the waterfall. There are opportunities along the way to see the waterfall up close and get a little wet!
Further up, you have a chance to venture near the edge of the trail to see the waterfall from a different vantage point.
Be especially careful here. I know I am going to sound like a broken record (if you’ve read any of my other “The Great Outdoors” blog posts ), in my opinion, the key to a safe and secure off trail experience is legit hiking shoes. The traction they provide, especially on rocky, slippery paths like these, sure beats a pair of sneakers. Not to mention your feet are more likely to stay dry!
Once you are back on the main trail, it is a quick walk back to the car. Overall, we spent about 2 hours exploring both waterfalls. If you were simply passing through and didn’t have much time, you could easily complete the loop and take in both waterfalls in a quick 30 minutes.
Our kids were so famished after all that exploring, they ate everything we had with us once back in the car. We even had to stop in Sisters for a bite to eat on the way home, of which they ate everything on their plate! Speaking of, Sisters is a great place to stop and grab a bite to eat on the way home. Even if you don’t stop for food, my kids will tell you a stop for ice cream is a MUST! Sno-Cap Drive In is the perfect little spot. The fact that it is super popular and always packed is a testament to the quality. Add in the fun, throw-back diner atmosphere and you have yourself a winner!
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”. This picture is just the beginning!
We were so enamored by the beauty of Proxy Falls, we are already planning a Fall visit to see the change in colors before Mackenzie Pass closes in November. Explore and soak in the beauty of Proxy Falls sooner rather than later. We hope to see you there!
Know Before You Go:
Start early in the morning
Bring water, snacks/ a picnic (or plan to stop in Sisters afterwards!)
Wear sturdy shoes
Pack Bug Spray & Sunscreen & your face covering
Tag #HelloBend in your social media posts when you go!
Leave garbage/ trash
Bring a stroller or rolling cooler
Bring your RV or trailer larger than 35′
Forget your Park Day/Annual Pass
Be disrespectful of the trail and other people hiking
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