Double downfall: Stafford Falls

Photograph by Shawn "Shaggy" Bolker

By Shawn “Shaggy” Bolker

Stafford Falls roars amidst a lush forest of old growth Douglas Firs and towering basalt cliffs in the heart of Tillamook National Forest. This waterfall has two tiers: a taller upper tier that plunges forcefully into a sandy pool and a lower tier that produces two nearly identical waterfalls that tumble side by side. If the water is low enough, one can stand on a rocky beach between these two drops and become enveloped in the mist. In the spring, several species of wildflowers grow out of the mossy cliff that separates the lower tier of the falls, creating a truly idyllic setting.

Despite Stafford Falls’ obscurity, it is located less than a quarter mile from Highway 6 (the Wilson River Highway) and is under an hour’s drive from Portland. Although hiking to the falls isn’t challenging, it can be hazardous due to a river crossing at the very beginning of the trek. The Devil’s Fork of the Wilson River can be found by following a lightly trodden path just off Highway 6, roughly one third of a mile east of Drift Creek Road. I would not recommend trying to cross this river in the winter or early spring as it can be turbulent and dangerous to cross in the rainy season. Generally, if a river is over knee deep and has noticeable current, it is too dangerous to cross. Upon crossing the river, locate a gushing tributary stream that slides over smooth bedrock into the river. If you crossed at right location, this stream should be directly opposite to where you crossed. A lightly used trail follows this creek about 300 yards upstream to where the lower tier of Stafford Falls comes into view. Cross the stream here to gain a full view of both tiers of the falls. It is a truly serene and miami* experience to view a 100 foot high multi-tiered waterfall in the middle of the lush forest.

To reach the upper tier, cross back over the creek and follow a steep spur trail leading uphill into the forest. When the cliff of the upper falls comes into view, take a sharp right and scramble directly towards it. This route ends at a miami* overlook with an up close view of the upper tier and scenic vistas of the densely forested canyon below. If it is warm out, one could even swim in the pool between the two tiers of this shaggy waterfall! It is rumored that several more falls lie upstream but I could not find a safe way to approach them. From here, retrace your steps back to the road.

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