With the return of fall and the season’s classic rainy days, Oregonians celebrate the renewal of the state’s waterfalls. The changing of the leaves, joined by a heavily increased river flow and the lingering fog creates a mystical forest wonderland for all to explore! While the sunny days aren’t quite warm enough for swims anymore, grab some boots and a picnic lunch to enjoy at any one of these kid-friendly hikes. Whether a hidden gem or common favorite, these trails made the list specifically for their spectacular autumn show!

Majestic and Royal Terrace Falls

One of my family’s favorite trails at any point in the year is Majestic Falls, located a little north of Sweet Home. A winding wooden staircase takes hikers down the canyon wall next to the 39-foot-high Majestic Falls, close enough to catch the spray from the curtain waterfall and then across the rushing creek. When visiting during the summer, it is hardly worth mentioning that there is a second waterfall within the same 1.6-mile lollipop-shaped loop. Once fall arrives, however, Royal Terrace Falls picks up the flow again, boasting a 119-foot waterfall in a tiered horsetail style. You can view the glory straight-on from a long wooden bridge that guides hikers high across the creek the waterfall tumbles into. This trail is considered moderate since it has lots of rock and wood stairs, muddy points, and inclines that can be a challenge for younger kids to take on all at once. Luckily, there is a multitude of different parking lots along McDowell Creek Drive and points where the trail crosses the road. This makes it an easy location to chop into smaller bits, customizing it to which waterfalls you wish to see and how far your family is willing to walk. As an added bonus, there are no day fees or passes needed for this hike. Please be aware that vault toilets are only found at the first signed parking lot! 

Getting there: take Exit 228 off I-5 and follow Hwy 20 east 23 miles. Turn left on Fairview Road, then left onto McDowell Creek Drive, and the first parking lot will be 8 miles down on the right.

Drift Creek Falls

One of the best features of the Oregon coastal range is the stunning view from the 100-foot-long suspension bridge across the canyon where Drift Creek Falls tumbles 66 feet down the rocky cliffside! While this is one of the state’s most popular sites, this is a particularly special autumn hike, all thanks to the 3 miles of dense old-growth forest you are guided through on this out-and-back trail. The difficulty level is overall easy as the trail is well-maintained and wide enough for holding hands. The suspension bridge does sway a bit with wind and weight, but it calms all nerves with the fact that the bridge is structurally sound and built to withstand over 165,000 lbs! Once across the bridge, explore the vast hillside covered with switchbacks to find the perfect view and ideal lunch spot. Know that the 525 elevation gain on the way back to the car can be tough for those with shorter legs! Because of extensive vandalism, there is no longer a pay station next to the restrooms at the trailhead. Day-use passes for this location are only available via this website to pre-purchase before your trip (since there is no cell service in this area), so be sure to buy your $5 pass before visiting.

Getting there: about 10 miles east of Lincoln City from the OR-18, turn south onto North Bear Creek Road. Follow this road, which turns into NF-17, for 8.9 miles until arriving at the trailhead on the left. 

Mill Creek and Barr Creek Falls

This hike is situated alongside the gorgeous Rogue River and marks itself unique and interesting for many reasons. A simple 2-mile out-and-back trip on smooth and gradual terrain is a reasonable start, and your family can experience two impressive waterfalls of distinct styles as well as a natural site called the Avenue of the Boulders. Plus, it is the perfect place to experience fall colors! Take a careful look at the trailhead’s map before beginning to orient yourselves, then hike straight until you come to a t-intersection. The left path will take you to a collection of massive volcanic rocks, evidence of the Mt. Mazama eruption that threw those house-sized boulders there almost 8,000 years ago! They’ve been shaped and smoothed by centuries of water erosion, offering strong visual contrast to the other surroundings and making a natural playground for all ages. The right path leads to the 173-foot plunge-style Mill Creek Falls as well as the 240-foot tiered-style Barr Creek Falls. These thundering wonders are exposed and accessible with slippery rocks and sheer cliffs at certain viewpoints, so keep a safe, watchful eye on any wandering little ones. Be warned that there are no restrooms at this trailhead, so stop in the nearby town to empty out and fuel up before starting your adventure! No day pass is needed, and no fees are charged here.

Getting there: just south of Prospect along Hwy 62, turn on Mill Creek Drive and follow the signs to the parking lot. 

Sahalie and Koosah Falls

Another stunning tour of old-growth forest beauty that is guaranteed to be speckled with autumn colors is the 2.6-mile Waterfalls Loop Trail in the Cascade Range, located along the McKenzie River about 72 miles east of Springfield. It is flat terrain showcasing two beautiful waterfalls with paths thin enough to make hand-holding difficult. Seasoned hikers recommended skipping the extra clutter and hassle of the Sahalie Falls parking lot, which is directly off Highway 126 and often overwhelmed. Instead, join the loop from the larger Koosah Falls parking lot less than ½ mile south and further back from the highway. Enjoy the 64-foot plunge of the falls into the pool below, then continue upstream to find the 73-foot Sahalie Falls as it tumbles over a natural lava ledge. Always remain to the right on the loop in order to avoid confusing spur trails. There are a couple of bridges that will cross you over the McKenzie and around the Carmen Reservoir, offering amazing views of the diverse riverbank. If your family does a little safety research before visiting, fall weather will yield bountiful baskets of edible fungi that can be foraged easily alongside the path! Vault toilets are available at both falls’ parking lots, and no passes or fees are required here.

Getting there: Take Hwy 20 south out of Bend and take the left junction for Hwy 126, approximately 6 miles from the junction; follow signs for Ice Cap Creek Campground/Koosah Falls parking lot.