Drift Creek Falls. Just another waterfall in Oregon’s endless bounty of them, right? Wrong! Well, you’re not totally wrong. It is just a waterfall and Oregon does have a ton of them. Don’t get me wrong, it is a cool waterfall, aesthetically pleasing, good flow and drop, cool cliffs around it. But there are definitely more beautiful ones out there. But none of those have a 240-foot-long, 100-foot-tall suspension bridge over the gorge right next to the falls, so you can look down on it and actually see the falls. That is what makes this hike so special.
The trailhead for Drift Creek Falls is located off of Forest Road 17, deep in the Siuslaw National Forest. The hike begins with a nice, slow ascent through a forest of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and Sitka Spruce. At about 2/3 of a mile, you will cross over a side draw and encounter a trail junction. If you aren’t really concerned about hiking and just want to get to the falls as quickly as possible, head to the right for the quick trip down to the creek. If you are enjoying your walk through the woods and figure you drove all this way, you may as well get all you can out of it, head left on the North Loop Hill.
If you headed to the left on the North Loop Trail, you will start to climb slowly as you round a ridge and head up another draw. You will travel through an area with a lot of blowdown as you climb 100 feet or so towards the head of the draw and then begin working your way back down the other side. You will hit the banks of a creek at about the 1.5-mile mark and soon pass the junction with the cutoff trail. Head over a bridge over the creek and begin traversing up the hillside.
In less than 1/3 of a mile from the first bridge, the suspension bridge will begin to emerge from the trees. It is one of the more impressive things you will see deep in the woods. Everything used to construct the bridge was flow in by helicopter in 1997. And don’t worry, its designed to support 165,000 lbs. (that’s a lot of people on the bridge at once). As you walk across the bridge, you can stare down to Drift Creek below and get an amazing view of Drift Creek Falls. (Look behind you once you get about half way across.)
Once you are over the bridge, the trail continues for a little less than a quarter mile as it drops down to the creek itself. It is a little way from the base of the falls, but you can climb under a log or two and scramble over some rocks to get right there if you desire. This area changed dramatically in 2010 as the entire rock face of Drift Creek Falls broke off, resulting in all the huge boulders at its base now. It also exposed a cool face a columnar basalt over which the falls now flow.
When you are done, you may as well take the shorter loop on the way back, just so you can see everything this trail system has to offer. It is a little steeper getting up there, but nothing to extreme by any means. It is a nice solid push of climbing to get you back to the trailhead, so just remember that on your way down. Just remember what my wife always tells me, it’s good for your heart.
The Drift Creek Trailhead can be reached from two different directions. From the north, off of Highway 18, take Bear Creek Road (NF-17) South 4.8 miles east of the 101 Junction or 17.5 miles west of Spirit Mountain Casino. Follow the 17 road for 9 miles until you reach the trailhead. There are numerous side roads that can make things confusing, but the road to Drift Creek Road is paved except for maybe a mile or so near the beginning, so it is pretty easy to follow. Once the road transitions back to paved, just stay on it.
The trailhead can also be reached from the west from the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Head east on S. Drift Creek Road about 3 miles south of Lincoln City. Stay on Drift Creek road for about 3 miles before taking a left onto NF-17. The trailhead will be 9.3 miles ahead. At this time, this route has been closed due to a landslide on the road, so the only route in is the one described above.
Passes: A Northwest Forest Pass is required at the trailhead.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed and must be on leash.
Open Season: All year.