McDowell Creek Falls Oregon is a moderate hike located north of Sweet Home. It features beautiful forest views and serene boardwalk stairs leading to the base and summit of two waterfalls.
Oregon Hike Views
For us, the McDowell Creek Falls trail started out in a small gravel parking lot at the Royal Terrace Trailhead in Linn County’s McDowell Creek Falls County Park. Surrounded by moss covered trees, there was almost a sense of claustrophobia that was offset by the serene calm of water trickling down the nearby stream.
Through the trees and to the left, a large footbridge marked the start of this Oregon hike and delivered us safely over the creek. Being that we hiked McDowell Creek Falls in the winter, the stream seemed more like a rushing river as it flew underneath the bridge than a trickling creek. It easily drowned out any noise from the nearby road and even talking was difficult.
I stopped to photograph the bridge while Seconds-to-Go’s Oregon mascot, Kimber, and my dad continued up the well-worn McDowell Creek Falls trail. Even though the deciduous trees had no leaves in February when we made our first visit, everything was a bright shade of green or yellow. Moss covered rocks and tree branches, and ferns reached out onto the trail, hiding small and pleasant secrets along the way.
The biggest secret, however, was still to come.
The First Waterfall of the McDowell Creek Falls Trail
Many Oregon hikes lead to waterfalls, but this one starts the action almost immediately. Soon after crossing the bridge we began hearing the sound of falling water. The rushing roar increased in volume until we hit a fork in the path.
At this point, the trail suddenly split in two directions. A rock staircase twisted and turned out of sight up a steep incline, while a footbridge leveled off to the left.
We decided to continue to the left and were immediately glad we did. As we stepped onto another wooden footbridge, we were suddenly in full view of the 119-foot double-tiered Royal Terrace Falls. It is the largest of the two cascades located at McDowell Creek Falls park.
As we stood on the footbridge, it became clear how the falls got their name. The water cascades down the terraced rock face, creating a few separate waterfalls that look as one, delivering a sweepingly majestic view of spray and mist.
As the rain intensified, we thought about cutting the hike short after viewing Royal Terrace Falls. But the McDowell Creek Falls trail is a loop hike.
Plus, we still had some questions to answer, like where that winding trail up the stone staircase would lead us. It was mostly shrouded in green, so the answer was still a mystery. If we continued on with the loop, we’d get our answer and still experience one of the best parts of the McDowell Creek Falls Oregon hike.
Onto the Next Step of the McDowell Creek Falls Oregon Hike
Since we were looking for a little more adventure, turning back was not on the agenda for this Oregon hike. Plus, Australian Shepherds are not known for being lazy, and Kimber was determined to keep going. Following the dog, we made our way through the trees to another footbridge followed by a slight incline in the path.
From here, the McDowell Creek Falls trail continued to follow the river while climbing upward. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves somewhere strange – at the road. A little bewildered, we noticed a small wooden sign telling us the trail continued on the other side of the street.
We were soon glad we did. After crossing the pavement, the trail swept upward with amazing views of the river down below and some pretty close drop offs. The water was flowing much more than normal, so we did miss out on some of the crystal clear pools that appear during the summer when the water level is lower. However, this part of the path, filled with ferns and the fall of old timber, is one of the most mythical parts of the hike and not to be missed if you can help it.
However, one of the most magical parts of the McDowell Creek Falls hike was still to come.
The Second Falls of McDowell Creek Falls
After steadily climbing up the moderate trail of this Oregon hike, the trees suddenly opened a bit and we were faced with a set of wooden stairs. At this point we could hear the water and knew we had arrived at Majestic Falls.
At 39 feet, Majestic Falls Oregon may be significantly smaller in height than Royal Terrace Falls, but it makes up for it with the stunningly unique reveal. There is just something magical about stepping up the first few stairs and having the falls suddenly come into view with the wooden boardwalk in the foreground.
To catch the best site of the falls, there is a small viewing platform that extends out over the water. Without this wooden deck, you’d be hard-pressed to see the falls from this elevation without wading into the stream.
We stood there for a few minutes capturing the vision of Majestic Falls and enjoying the sound of the water rushing over the drop and cascading
down the terraced stream.
From there, we headed up the many sets of the wet wooden stairs, nearly to the top of Majestic Falls. Another viewing area provides a look at the cascade from a different perspective.
While it is possible to look right at the falls from this vantage point, the view isn’t nearly as spectacular as having the mystery unfolded bit by bit as you clime the boardwalk stairs. Combined with the stunning contrast between the wet reddened wood and green foliage, we found this one of the best parts of the trail.
A few signs and plaques located at the viewing point explained a little about the history of the land before a set of slippery rock stairs led up to another trailhead area. If you are not into longer hikes with mystical surprises, but love waterfalls, Majestic Falls can be reached directly from this trail head, aptly named Majestic Falls Trailhead.
We, however, were on a mission and couldn’t wait to meet up with the hidden stone staircase waiting at the end of the loop trail.
Connecting the McDowell Creek Falls Loop
After seeing both waterfalls of the McDowell Creek Falls hike, the next section of this Oregon hike seems a little on the dull side. But if you take a moment to appreciate the trees, moss and other greenery, it can be enjoyable. We quickly made our way through this section, knowing that it connected back to the staircase at Royal Terrace Falls.
Soon, we began to hear the sound of rushing water again and came upon a small footbridge. Stepping out onto the planks, we found ourselves face-to-face once more with Royal Terrace Falls.
This time, our view was from the very top. From the trail, there is a small overlooking platform that reaches out over the precipice. It gives a great view of the falling water, but as someone who does not like heights, it got to me a little bit. It was nothing compared to what came next.
As we left the viewing area, we finally hit the stone staircase, this time winding downward. While the mystery of where it led had been revealed, we were now faced with a steep scramble. The stones are more of an aid, than they are an actual staircase. Some steps down were large and required us to hold onto something for support. Others were perfectly managable.
Still, this was one of my favorite parts of the McDowell Creek Falls hike. The views of Royal Terrace Falls were amazing. In the end, we survived the steep, slippery rock stairs and made our way back to the car to head on another adventure.
What to Know Before You Visit McDowell Creek Falls Oregon Hike
This Oregon hike is located in Lebanon Oregon, outside of Sweet Home. I would consider it moderate if you take the stairs, but if you are worried about your balance, it is best not to attempt the rock staircase. Unfortunately, it only has a handrail on one side, and no handrail in some sections. The rest of the trail can be slightly strenuous during the inclines.
The complete McDowell Creek Falls loop, beginning at the Royal Terrace Trailhead, is a little over one and a half miles. Both waterfalls can be accessed quicker via the trailheads if you prefer not to hike the full loop.
If you are looking for a restroom, there is a vault toilet located at the Royal Terrace Trailhead.
McDowell Creek Falls trails are dog friendly to well-behaved and leashed pets. According to Linn County Parks and Recreation, wading and fishing are permitted, but you’ll want to select your spots with care since the water can pick up speed in some of the steeper areas of the creek.
The trail can be slippery in the winter, as frequent visitors wear the trail down to mud, but the trail is well maintained with no washed out sections or roots or rocks sticking up as trip hazards. The trails can become busy on weekends and during good weather, which can make parking difficult.
It is worth noting that the photos of the falls above are during the winter, when rain is plentiful. The water flows diminish greatly during the dry months. But, this does open up a small additional trail where you can access the natural rock terrace where the water lands after the first fall of Royal Terrace Falls. Simply look for a small trail on the falls side of the stairs in between some brush.
When is the Best Time of Year to Visit?
Visiting McDowell Creek Falls can be a great experience during any season. During the summer months, the trails are mud free and the rocks on the stone staircase are less slippery. This makes the trails easier to navigate.
The first drawback to visiting in the summer is that the crowd levels are higher. The nicer weather packs in the people on this enjoyable hike following McDowell Creek.
Another downside to visiting in the summer is that the water flow of the Royal Terrace Falls is dramatically reduced. The massive sheets of water dwindle to more of a trickle.
The winter and fall months have the opposite pros and cons of the summer months. During the wet and rainy season, crowds are much lower, and the falls have large flows of water loudly crashing down them. But unfortunately, with more water does come more mud and slippery trails.
During the summer, the weather tends to be dry and temperatures range from lows of mid fifties to highs that fluctuate from 75 to 85 degrees with some occasional 90 degree days. Winter temps range from 30 degrees to 50 degrees with rainfall of five to seven inches a month.
2020 Fire Update
Luckily for McDowell Creek Falls, the fires of 2020 have left the trails and falls untouched. While we have lost a lot of well loved hiking and nature spots due to the fires, McDowell Creek was not one of them.