Waterfalls are magical in any season, but visiting in winter is especially invigorating because you get to experience the sights and sounds of these coastal forests in all of Mother Nature’s glory. It may be chilly and wet, and the trails may be a little slippery — but the payoff is usually worth the trek, and waterfalls are more robust after heavy rainfall. Winter is also the best time for a waterfall hike if you want to avoid crowds and breathe in the serenity of the mossy coastal forest — filled with the earthy scent of Sitka spruce, cedar, Douglas fir and wild mushrooms, with birds and other wildlife critters all around. Here are several waterfalls on Oregon’s North Coast to explore this season.
Along the Wilson River
Next time you’re in the Tillamook area, set out for adventure at Wilson Falls, a 200-foot-high, multi-tiered waterfall not far off Highway 6 that impresses in any season. Come back between February and November to visit the family-friendly Tillamook Forest Center to tour hands-on exhibits and learn about how Tillamook receives one of the highest levels of rainfall in the United States. Climb the 40-foot fire demonstration lookout tower and stretch your legs on the footbridge over the Wilson River.
Another 1.2 miles west, you’ll come upon Bridge Creek Falls, a stunning 35-foot drop down three tiers. Walk over the bridge to glimpse the clear river water and sometimes see spawning salmon. Enjoy the leisurely hike back, then hop in the car and drive 9 miles east along Highway 6 to the easy-access Fern Rock Falls, marked from the road by a sign that says “Falls.”
For an off-the-beaten-path experience, adventurers can take the meandering side trip by car north of Highway 6 to Kilchis Falls, which drops 100 feet. (Make sure your vehicle can handle about 2 miles on a gravel road, and know that cell coverage will be spotty, so have plenty of fuel, water and emergency supplies.)
Longer Falls Hike
Back on Highway 6, closer to Portland in Gaston, University Falls is a pretty little waterfall you can access via a short 0.3-mile walk or a longer 0.7-mile hike along the University Falls Loop Hike, a moderate 8-mile trek recommended for older children or experienced hikers. Download a paper trail map and carry your 10 Essentials before setting out.
Beside the Ocean Falls
Most coastal waterfalls are inland, so it’s a rare sight to find one directly on a beach. Larson Creek Falls is better known as the waterfall at Short Beach in Oceanside — spilling dramatically down the cliffside onto this rocky, driftwood-laden stretch of coastline popular with beachcombers and children making sandcastles and log forts. Find another waterfall south of Oceanside (about 12 miles north of Lincoln City), where Chitwood Creek Falls gushes into the Pacific Ocean at the Cascade Head landmark known as Hart’s Cove. The 5.4-mile trail is closed Jan. 1 through July 15 to protect threatened species, but you can still view the spectacle from above. Wintertime is ideal since the flow tends to dry up in the summer months.
Twelve miles south of downtown Astoria, a short hike leads to the 54-foot cascades at Youngs River Falls, which flow into a pool after just a 0.3-mile hike from the parking area. It’s so scenic, you might recognize it from its big-screen cameos in “Free Willy 2” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3.”
Just Off 101
Just a few minutes off Highway 101, 10 miles southeast of Tillamook Air Museum, waterfall lovers can’t miss Munson Creek Falls State Natural Site, home to the tallest falls on the Coast Range. Follow the short trail to the 319-foot drop, and look for spawning salmon in the late fall and winter.
— Jen Anderson
Photo of Fern Rock Falls by George Ostertag / Alamy Stock Photo