Oregon is overflowing with waterfalls, particularly west of the (well-named) Cascade Range.
There’s the Columbia River Gorge, where falls are so abundant that one section is known as Waterfall Alley. There’s Silver Falls State Park, which features what has to be one of the finest trails you’ll find anywhere, with 10 waterfalls, including four that you can walk behind. And there’s the Umpqua River Corridor, with an array of waterfalls that warrants a brochure of its own.
But if you had to recognize one waterfall as the best the state has to offer — the one waterfall you would want a visitor to see — my vote goes to Lower Proxy Falls. And there’s more than seeing Lower Proxy Falls. The viewpoint is a jumping-off point for exploration. Bring sandals.
The Proxy Falls trail starts at the western end of the Old McKenzie Highway — a steep, windy road that cuts through the Cascades — about an hour and a half east of Eugene. This highway is only open about four months each year, so the drive around takes many hours from Central Oregon most of the year. It’s an easier trip from the mid-Willamette Valley. When conditions are snowy or icy, the road is blocked a couple miles before the trailhead, so a longer hike is required in the winter. Though the falls are a spectacle when frozen, summer really is the best time for a visit.
The trail makes a 1.7-mile loop through a mix of thick forest and lava rock, with short spurs to each waterfall. Most people start out by heading right, likely because the obvious path begins next to the informational board and map. My suggestion is to walk a little bit east and make a clockwise loop, starting at the more hidden trail outlet. That way, you warm up by seeing the fine-but-outclassed Upper Proxy Falls first, then make the quick trek to Lower Proxy Falls, where you’ll surely want explore (or at least picnic).
Not that Upper Proxy Falls should be skipped. The split creek cascades about 100 feet down a boulder-strewn incline, then combines where some fallen logs have gathered. The pool at the bottom is of interest because it doesn’t have a visible outlet, likely seeping into the ground and springing up elsewhere. This, however, is just an appetizer.
A quarter-mile down the trail, the roar of a waterfall can be heard. It stays hidden until you reach a large fallen tree trunk, which doubles as an overlook bench. Here, a natural opening in the forest frames Lower Proxy Falls, a 200-foot, diamond-shaped drop down a face of moss-covered columnar basalt, a bulb of which splits the the creek in two. Many turn around here, which is a shame.
While the waterfall appears tall and skinny from the trail, picking your way down various paths to the stream offers a different vantage point, where the falls appear to fan out in the shape of a triangle. It looks far more massive than from above. The creek doesn’t run deep, so if you’re willing to negotiate fallen logs and slippery rocks, you can follow boot paths up either side of the waterfall. There, you can appreciate the small details — a close-up look at the water skipping from one basalt ledge to the next, tiny flowers sprouting out of the thick moss. It’s also a great place for a shower on a hot day.
Pictures just don’t do this place justice.