When I arrived at the Tumalo Falls Trailhead at 2:30pm, I had high expectations for the distance I planned to hike. I read about a 10-mile loop that starts and ends here, just a stone’s throw away from the always-beautiful Tumalo Falls, but it wasn’t long into the hike when I realized that I was being too much of a naturalist and not enough of a hiker to complete such a feat this afternoon. But no regrets! With winter coming, I’m not passing any opportunity to check out the plants, wildflowers, or other flourishing fauna on the trail. It will be just a matter of time before all will be buried under snow, especially here.
This is my fourth time to Tumalo Falls. I visited here in the winter and early spring this year. On all past visits, I had to turn around after just a short trek up the North Fork Trail due to the high drifts of snow. In fact, on one visit this winter, a friend and I slogged through a few feet of snow. Yes, North Fork Loop is definitely a summer hiking trail.
My first stop was below the Tumalo Falls. There’s an easily-missed unofficial trail that leads into the canyon and below the 97-foot waterfall. The constant mist from the falls transforms the canyon walls into a naturalist’s dream. Thick mats of moss, berry bushes, and many wildflowers – some you have to look closely to find. I spotted Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), which my guidebook says is not found in this county, yet there it was.
I hiked back to the main trail and rose up and beyond the lookout platform installed above the waterfall, stopping briefly to check out the pleasant view down the canyon. In a matter of minutes, the trail darkens as the canyon narrows. The single path is dusty – as are most trails in the Deschutes National Forest this time of year – but well designed.
For the next 4 miles, the trail climbs past many fantastic waterfalls measuring 20-60 feet in height by my guess. Most of the falls are easy to hear from the trail, but just in case, the forestry service has installed signs to tell you of the “view points.” Don’t expect to find any man-made viewpoints like the one above Tumalo Falls. Other than a few logs spanning Tumalo Creek and these viewpoint signs, this is a well-groomed yet primitive trail – just the way most hikers like it.
the further up the trail, the more impressive the waterfalls get. My favorite is the highest of the falls, found on the Middle Fork Tumalo Creek. It must be at least 70 feet in height and surrounded by moss-covered rocks. It was worth the effort to get here!
I continued up the canyon – the trail being a little steeper here (thus the congregation of waterfalls) but finally plateauing off at the southeastern end of Happy Valley. I passed a family who weren’t impressed by their destination: “Happy valley didn’t look too happy,’ said the teenage boy of the foursome. “It was a little overrated.” I wondered if they took the time to look at any of the waterfalls on their journey – certainly the falls would have made the hike worth it despite the post-bloom valley – but they had already continued down the trail.
I, too, wasn’t that impressed with the Happy Valley area. The tall grasses of the meadows were starting to turn gold. The late afternoon sun highlighted the autumn-ness of the area. I didn’t linger long – my hike was only half complete. Now came the easy half: hiking back down the canyon to my car.
Despite the popularity of this trail, I was the only one here this late in the afternoon. I love it when i can have the beauty of the Cascades to myself for a bit. I hope to come back again soon before the snow arrives, when this trail has even fewer visitors.
- Oregon Outdoor Activities – Tumalo Falls
- USDA-FS: North Fork Trail
- Mountain View Living – Tumalo Falls
- Date of hike: September 12, 2012
- Location: Bend, Oregon
- Duration: 4 hours
- Length: 8 miles
This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike.
For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.