The Proxy Falls Loop is an amazing trail that can grant almost anyone access to see two of the cooler waterfalls in Oregon. Plus, if you are an able scrambler, you can get right down in the spray of Lower Proxy Falls, a unique and magical experience. The scenery is beautiful and this is one easy loop that you will never forget.
Both Proxy Falls occur at the end of a hanging valley. Proxy Creek flows out of the Three Sisters Wilderness from the vicinity of the Husband, and spent thousands of years cutting a canyon through the volcanic landscape. Following that, around 20,000 years ago, ice age glaciers descended down from the Three Sisters, carving out the valley of the White Fork seen today. Eventually, about 6,000 years ago, the glaciers retreated, leaving one deep, scooped out canyon at the bottom of the Proxy Creek canyon, thus, leading to some beautiful, and big, waterfalls. Finally, about 1,500 years ago, lava flows from Collier Cone near North Sister descended the valley. This lava is extremely porous, allowing most streams to just sink into the ground and flow beneath the surface on their way to the McKenzie.
Begin you hike from the Proxy Falls trailhead, located right along the side of the road. This trail can get very popular in the summer, and there isn’t much room for parking, so trying to begin this hike can sometimes be the most challenging aspect. Once you do find somewhere to park, find the trail on the side of the road across from the restrooms and pick your direction. I like to head to the right first, so you can get the longest, waterfall free stretch done first.
The hike will quickly climb up out of the forest and out over a lava flow. Rhododendrons and scattered throughout the forest and in the fall, patches of vine maple can turn fantastic colors. The lava fields also offer some nice views of the canyon that you can’t readily see when buried in trees.
At a little less than half a mile, you will reenter the forest as you approach Lower Proxy Falls. You will reach a trail junction at 0.7 miles, with a sign kind of directing you in both directions. Head to the right and prepare yourself for an amazing spectacle. Quickly after heading on the right fork, the official trail will end at a viewpoint of Lower Proxy Falls. And it is impressive. The falls drop over 225 feet, starting as a narrow creek near the top and fanning out at it cascades down the cliff face. You can’t even see the bottom of the falls from the viewpoint.
If you enjoy a little scrambling, you can make your way down to Lower Proxy Falls by following some user trails. They kind of zig zag all over the place, and some a pretty steep, but it is not too hard to work your way down. Soon, you will find yourself along a creek at the base of the falls. A little log climbing or rock hopping may be necessary to get super close, but if you are sure of foot, you can get right under the spray.
Once you done playing in the falls like a little kid in a sprinkler, head back up to the trail and continue around the loop. In less than a quarter of a mile, you will encounter another trail junction. Bear right again and continue over a small bridge on your way to Upper Proxy Falls.
Upper Proxy Falls in kind of like a kids drawing of a waterfall. It’s pretty but doesn’t really make sense. The creek emerges from springs in the valley just above the falls and then cascades down 129 feet to the valley floor. At which point it just disappears into the ground at the base of the falls. The entire length of the creek is basically just for the benefit of the waterfall. Geology is so cool.
It is hard to get a good look at Upper Proxy Falls if you are not willing do to a little scrambling here as well. The pool which forms at the base of the falls fills up the valley floor, so you will need to sidehill it over a couple trees along the edge of the pool to get a good, head-on look at the falls. From there, you can clearly see the two separate streams merging together about hallway down the drop.
After Upper Proxy Falls, it is about half a mile back to the trailhead. You will once again have to pass over the lava flow, this time pretty much climbing right over the top of it, rather than messing around with those turns and stuff at the beginning. After the lava, the trail will parallel the road for a little bit before dumping you back off at your car. So considerate of a trail. And people say they have no manners…..
From Sisters, head over McKenzie Pass on Highway 242 for 28.1 miles, or 13.1 miles past the Dee Wright Observatory on the top of the pass. From the valley, head east on highway 242 for 8.7 miles up towards McKenzie Pass. The trailhead has a big sign that says Proxy Falls and is located right along the side of the highway.
Passes: A Northwest Forest Pass is required at this trailhead.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Trails will usually be snow free in April-May. McKenzie Pass is usually closed until mid June, but if you are coming from the Willamette Valley, the lower gate will usually open in April or May, allowing access from the west to this trailhead.
Bugs: There are usualy some mosquitos in June and early July, but they are not as nearly horrendous as higher up in the mountains.