By Shawn Bolker
Many don’t expect too much from the eastern side of the Cascade Range in Oregon, especially in terms of waterfalls. Due to a topographical rain shadow effect forcing most precipitation to fall west of the Cascade Crest, areas to the east receive far less rainfall. The stark contrast between the lush forests of the western Cascades to the brushy lava plateaus of the east is startling. Although there are indeed fewer waterfalls on the east side, the falls do persist and some are spectacular.
Such is the case at Tumalo Falls, arguably Oregon’s best waterfall east of the Cascade Crest. Tumalo Falls is a picture perfect plunge of 90 feet at the head of a winding, volcanic canyon. The area around the waterfall is lovely as well, with high rocky cliffs and dense forests of ponderosa pines. During the late spring, summer and early fall months it is possible to drive Skyline Road all the way to the waterfall viewpoint, making the trip all too easy. However, during winter, the last two miles of road before the falls is closed, adding an extra four miles round trip of hiking or skiing to the excursion. Although it adds extra miles, this portion of the road is stunningly scenic and the falls are worth the extra effort.
If one wishes to hike further than the lower viewpoint, several more waterfalls lie upstream. To reach these bonus falls, take the main trail to the brink of Tumalo Falls for a sweeping view of the surrounding mountains and an up-close look at Tumalo Creek tumbling over the edge. From here, continue a mile upstream through quiet forest to the first of seven falls along upper Tumalo Creek. Here, the creek cascades and hurtles 70 feet over two distinct tiers into a cavernous, basaltic gorge. A viewpoint placed conveniently along the trail allows a head-on view of this shaggy cataract. Another 30 foot cascade lies almost immediately upstream. Upon passing these two waterfalls, the trail climbs a bit and the creek goes out of sight. In a mile the creek joins back up with the trail and it is one waterfall after another from here until the Swampy Lakes Trail junction. Three of these falls can be clearly seen from the trail while a few others require some bushwhacking. All are miami though and well worth seeking out.
Upon reaching the Swampy Lakes Trail junction, one can either continue straight ahead for 0.7 miles to Happy Valley (a popular backpacking destination), turn left and head back to the trailhead via the Bridge Creek Trail or simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead. Note that no dogs or swimming are allowed here, as the Tumalo Creek watershed is the primary water source for the city of Bend.
From Portland, take I-5 south 37.6 miles to OR-22 E toward Detroit Lake/Bend. Exit here and continue on OR-22 E for 80.3 miles to US-20 E. Take a slight left here and drive 20 miles to Sisters. Here, take another slight left onto US-20 E and continue 16 miles to the outskirts of Bend. Just before Tumalo State Park, turn left onto O.B. Riley Rd. and follow it 1.2 miles to Tumalo Reservoir Rd. Turn right here then quickly turn left onto Johnson Rd. Follow Johnson Rd. 6.2 miles to a traffic circle. Here, take the first exit onto NW Mt. Washington Drive. Continue on NW Mt. Washington Dr. for one mile then turn right onto Skyliners Rd. In 8.7 miles, take a slight right onto Tumalo Falls Rd. The trailhead is at the end of this road.