Adventures in Oregon: Kentucky Falls
Since moving to Oregon, my weekends have changed significantly. A typical Saturday morning finds me with a mug of coffee in one hand and a guide book in the other. Andrew and I pore over suggested hikes and locales within an hour or two’s drive.
“Do you want to head to the coast or the Cascades? See starfish or mountain views or waterfalls?”
This conversation would make sense to me if we were on vacation. But we’re not. This is regular old everyday life.
But with a pinch of adventure thrown in.
This past Saturday was no exception. We settled on hiking Kentucky Falls, nestled in the Coastal Range between Eugene (about an hour south of Corvallis) and Florence (on the coast). We had detailed directions on how to get there and let me tell you – the getting there was an adventure in itself.
We turned off Highway 126 and found ourselves winding up, up, up on logging roads that could be described as questionable at best.
I was somewhat startled to look out the window and realize we were so high up – it seemed at one point that we were literally driving along the peaks! With such a clear, sunny day, we could see for miles.
We continued on, turning onto one crappy road after another. Most of the area we drove through is under the Bureau of Land Management and as far as I can tell, they do their very best to not manage any roads that run through said land.
Patience is essential on this drive: all the bumps and dips are eagerly waiting to eat your axle and if you want to deny them the privilege, then you must drive at 0.1 miles per hour. I may be exaggerating. Or not.
This is Roman Nose Mountain. I had no idea it even existed until we drove right by it. I’ll bet you didn’t know it existed either … until now. You’re welcome.
During this slow-going, body-jarring drive, you think to yourself, ‘This is great! We’ll have the trail to ourselves! What other fools would make this ridiculous journey?’
And then you round the final turn along the winding road and the parking lot comes into view. The parking lot that is packed to capacity except for one tiny half-spot that you squeeze your Jetta into. And you laugh and shake your head as you realize this is Oregon and everyone’s just as crazy as you are about trekking through the great outdoors.
After we filled in the last available space in the parking area, we hit the trail with Annie, Sasha and my tripod that is apparently made out of lead. Kidding – but that sucker is heavy. The descriptions we had read of the hike all described it as moderate to difficult with a steep climb on the return so we fully expected the hike to be challenging. Spoiler – it’s not. I think it would fit more in the moderate-easy category. It’s a 4.4 mile out-and-back hike that goes down on the way in and up on the way out but the climb is never truly steep and the path is pretty well maintained.
A little less than a mile in, we came across Upper Kentucky Falls, cascading gracefully down amidst lush green. I scrambled around moss-covered rocks and logs in glee, setting up my tripod here and there to play with my camera. Photographing nature is always ‘play’ for me – it is the equivalent of childhood recess in that it brings me simple pure joy. Andrew, Annie and Sasha patiently waited on me. Well, one of those three was patient. I’ll let you guess who wasn’t. I finally put my camera away and we continued on (but not before I captured a million and one photos).
Despite the number of cars at the trailhead, we only passed a few people along the way and I began to wonder where everyone was. Perhaps Sasquatch had made off with them? But as we followed the trail to its end, we found them! Everyone and their grandma was hanging out at the base of the falls, relaxing and soaking up the beauty before making the return hike. In reality, there were maybe 5 or 6 people there but it seemed like a crowd after the relative solitude along the trail.
The trail ends at Lower Kentucky Falls and North Fork Falls, which are essentially twin falls spilling ~100 feet down from Kentucky Creek and North Fork Smith River, respectively.
From the right spot, you can see both falls but sadly I do not have a fancy schmancy wide angle lens that can capture that. So I guess you’ll just have to make the hike yourself so you can see them in person, right?
(If you look really close in the photo above, at the very top you’ll see a little rainbow/prism action dancing across the water).
We explored around the rocks below and Annie and Sasha begged us to go over to a couple who were eating some deli sandwiches. We tried to explain to the dogs that total strangers were not going to share their lunch but Annie wasn’t buying it. That dog is a bread fiend, I tell you. She will snatch a piece of bread right our of your hands if she has the chance and she always knows if anyone in a three mile radius has bread. I wish she would turn her special bread-smelling power to truffles instead and make us rich but she’s stubborn, that one.
We headed back up the trail, winding our way through tall trees bathed in the golden light of the afternoon. The air was crisp and the woods were quiet. Even though little beads of sweat clung to our necks, we felt refreshed and peaceful.
And then we emerged from the trees, got into our car and began the white-knuckle journey home along a network of gravel and potholes that someone has humorously labeled as roads.
But any good adventure has to have a few bumps and twists, right?
Looking for more Adventures in Oregon?
Find them all on the Oregon page here