Short but sweet fall hikes around Bend
September 21, 202312 minute read
Make a splash, and don’t mist an opportunity to visit a waterfall on your vacation; they’ll have you roaring with joy. How many waterfall puns can we make, you might ask? Well, I’m not going to water this down for you — a lot.
What makes Bend’s waterfalls so magical? Maybe the musical spatter of droplets splashing over river rocks. The tickle of mist laced with green moss and fluttery fern. Or the raw power of water plunging without fear to the earth below.
Maybe it’s all of the above.
But one thing’s for sure, no matter your fitness level, age, or enthusiasm for hiking, all are invited to have a blast exploring Central Oregon’s waterfalls.
Numerous beautiful waterfalls await you within a short drive from Bend. There’s the stately, cascading Tumalo Falls with its 97-foot drop and trail system that winds among trees and past several smaller falls. You’ll also find subtle falls like Benham and Dillon, where the churning Deschutes River stair steps gradually over craggy rocks and ledges.
For those eager to earn their views, discover tucked-away gems like Chush Falls on Upper Whychus Creek or Steelhead Falls, which serve as sparkling rewards at the end of a dusty hike.
When’s the best time to explore Bend’s waterfalls?
All year long!
Summer is the most popular season for visitors. Warm weather and accessible trails make for excellent opportunities to embrace these cascading wonders. Springtime gifts us vibrant wildflowers and run-off that refills our rivers and makes for roaring falls. Fall and winter bring a change in seasons with golden foliage and crisp days to silent, frozen-in-time falls that glisten like a chandelier.
No matter what time of year, it’s always a great idea to check conditions and make sure trails are open for hiking.
Are you ready to soak up some serious nature eye candy? Excellent!
Here’s a list of popular waterfall hikes in Central Oregon. From majestic cascades to gentle streams, these trails have got it all.
Keep in mind that others love waterfalls as much as you do, and trails can be packed in the summer months. Getting an early start can help, and you should always have a backup plan in case the parking lot is full. Don’t forget to purchase a Northwest Forest Pass ahead of time; it’s required at most trailheads.
Tumalo Falls is Bend’s most popular waterfall. At 97 feet tall, this splendor along Tumalo Creek fills countless Instagram posts with its majestic beauty. In the summer, the main viewpoint is just a few steps from the parking lot. Tumalo Falls Trail leads from the picnic area to a viewing platform above Tumalo Falls, about 0.25 miles upstream. About 1.25 miles further upstream, the trail reaches a second waterfall, Middle Tumalo Falls, a two-tiered cascade totaling 65 feet in height, and a tributary, Bridge Creek and its Bridge Creek Falls. Bridge Creek is within the city’s watershed and provides Bend with drinking water, so the trail is only open to hikers. No dogs are allowed and be especially vigilant to practice Leave No Trace.
Opt to leave the car at Skyliner SnoPark for a mellower hike that winds through towering pine forests. During winter months, park at Skyliner and enjoy a pleasant snowshoe or cross-country ski to the peaceful, frozen falls. It’s well worth it! You can reach the Tumalo Falls trailhead by driving less than 30 minutes from Downtown Bend, leaving lots of time in your day for other adventures.
Benham Falls is the largest and best known falls on the Deschutes River. Although it’s more like cascading rapids than your standard waterfall, it’s an easy hike with lovely views. Dillon Falls, like Benham, is a steady whitewater plunge. More lava features and stunning gorge vistas await you here. Bring your camera for beautiful sunsets. Lava Island Falls is difficult to reach due to steep slopes and riverside residences. But it may be the most scenic with a 15-foot two-step cascade and a smaller second channel.
These three waterfalls are located along the Deschutes River in close range to one another. And the Deschutes River Trail System, only minutes from Bend, is the best way to access them.
Wizard Falls, located along the Metolius River Trail, is a chute-style falls that looks more like a set of rapids descending over a ledge in the river. But wow, what an incredible set of rapids! Admire the stunning greenish-turquoise hue of the water here. Believe it or not, it’s not clever photo editing but rather the true color of the water.
Besides the falls, there’s plenty to see along this stretch of the Metolius. From visiting trout at the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery to the stunning spot where the river springs out from beneath a mossy hillside at the base of Black Butte. The entire family will have a blast on the Metolius!
Located on the Deschutes River, Steelhead Falls is near the town of Terrebonne but is well worth the short drive from Bend to reach it. Enjoy an easygoing hike through a winding gorge. The trail will lead you to the main falls, which plunge a dramatic 20 feet and are framed by stunning volcanic cliff walls. In the summer, swimmers flock here, and the brave ones even make the 20-foot jump. During cooler months, you’ll find anglers casting a line in the water and catching and releasing some pretty impressive trout. Tread with caution in the winter if it’s icy or snowy.
Some of the waterfalls on our list are best viewed in the summer when the roads are clear, but Cline Falls is at its most beautiful in the spring when there is enough water flowing to make it captivating. Prepare to be dazzled when you reach the spot where the Deschutes River braids out into dozens of spilling chutes. Find a flat rock to sit and study the streams, enjoy a picnic, or simply savor the views.
If you’re itching to visit two in one day, it’s a perfect stop on your way to or from Steelhead Falls and is only 30 minutes from Bend.
Paulina Falls is surrounded by impressive volcanic cliffs formed from eruptions over 75,000 years ago! These 80-foot falls spill from high above and tumble over boulders the size of cars. You can admire the falls from the upper viewpoint, a ¼ mile from the parking lot. From there, you can hoof it to the lower falls viewpoint for more inspiring sights from below. Paulina Falls is also part of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which is worth a day of exploration.
Whychus Falls—fondly known by locals as “Chush Falls”— is a fairly easy 5-mile round trip hike that’s located near the quaint town of Sisters. The trail winds along Wychus Creek and offers up some incredible views of South Sister towering above. Part of the trail winds through burned remnants of a past forest fire, so be prepared for some open sections that may not be as pretty.
Sahalie and Koosah Falls are located along the McKenzie Highway, west of Bend. Both waterfalls boast an impressive and breathtaking 75-foot drop. The Waterfalls Loop Trail provides access to both falls before merging with the McKenzie River Trail. Another highlight of this hike is the opportunity to stroll alongside the McKenzie River, where the cascading water takes on a mesmerizing turquoise hue as it winds through lush, green forests.
A bit of a drive from Bend–roughly 1.5 hours–but it’s well worth it! Located off the McKenzie Highway, west of Bend, it gets its fair share of moisture, making for some lush green forests. This 1.5-mile hike is pretty easy-going and full of epic scenery, making it perfect for families. Or for those who prefer the good stuff without needing all-day hiking.
This one’s best tackled from late spring to early fall, as snow can make trails tricky in colder months (not to mention seasonal closures of the McKenzie Pass).
Now that you know where to go, here’s a few things you’ll want to know before you head out on the trail.
The majestic waterfalls of Bend, Oregon offer an awe-inspiring testament to the region’s natural beauty. From the thunderous power of Tumalo Falls to the subtle cascades of Wizard Falls, each waterfall has a unique allure. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or a connection with nature, these enchanting wonders will leave you spellbound.