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home : columns : columns February 6, 2016

8/27/2013 1:33:00 PM
Drift Creek Trail is a great little hike at the coast
An impressive 150-foot-long suspension bridge takes hikers across Drift Creek and above Drift Creek Falls to connect with a route to the base of the falls. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
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An impressive 150-foot-long suspension bridge takes hikers across Drift Creek and above Drift Creek Falls to connect with a route to the base of the falls.

photo by Craig Eisenbeis

By Craig Eisenbeis

As is the case with many of my hiking columns, this one will be sending readers west from Sisters on Highway 20. Unlike most of my previous columns, however, I'll ask readers to keep on going until the highway ends!

Over the years, I've discovered that most Sisters residents seem to make periodic forays to Oregon's magnificent coast. Further, I've also observed that more than a few seem to gravitate toward our favorite coastal hangout, Depoe Bay. There are two things we always do in Depoe Bay. One is catching the Friday all-you-can-eat seafood buffet at our favorite Depoe Bay restaurant, Gracie's Sea Hag. The other is doing some exploring, and our trip earlier this month was no exception.

I'm an equal opportunity hiker, and if I can't be hiking in Central Oregon, I'll hike where I am. So, it should come as no surprise that some friends and I headed up into the foothills of the Cascade Range to check out one of the local trails. Next time you're in the area, you should, too!

This hike features a nearly 100-foot-high waterfall, and an impressive 150-foot-long suspension bridge that spans the creek right above the falls. It's a relatively easy three-mile round trip through a dense second-growth coastal forest. Remnants of the old-growth forest are still visible in the rotting, huge stumps and a few downed logs of (mostly) western red cedar.

Still, the new trees - Douglas fir, hemlock, spruce, and cedar - create a towering, mostly closed and shaded forest canopy. On the day of our hike, it was foggy along the ocean shore but sunny and clear up in the coastal highlands.

The elevation differential on this hike is about 350 feet, and it's actually an elevation loss that has to be regained on the way back. This is an extremely well-maintained trail, and a contract crew from the Northwest Youth Corps was making it even better during our visit. For the most part, the trail is sidewalk width and has a smooth pea-gravel base.

The slope is gentle to moderate, but we saw some toddlers demanding to be carried on the way back up. Although we didn't see any strollers, they certainly could have been used. The work crew had no problem using wheelbarrows and other wheeled devices all along the trail.

The forest floor is lush, with multiple species of ferns and mosses, salal, and red huckleberries. Red huckleberries are edible but are much more tart than the sweet blue ones we more frequently see in our mountains. For this reason, red huckleberries are often used - with sugar - to make jams, jellies, pies, and even wine.

As the trail nears its destination, the roar of the falls can be heard, and it's time for the fun of crossing the suspension bridge, which was completed in 1998. The trail was designed by trail builder Scott Paul, who died in an accident during the construction of the bridge in 1993. The accident delayed the project for several years; and, upon its completion, the bridge was dedicated to Paul's memory.

After crossing the bridge, a somewhat steeper trail leads to the base of falls. On the occasion of our visit, we saw quite a few other hikers; so this is definitely a popular hike.

Getting there is easy. Since U.S. Highway 20 passes right through the middle of Sisters, just head west and stay on it until it ends.

Arriving at the western terminus of Highway 20 in Newport, turn right (north) on Highway 101 for about 22 miles. After passing through Depoe Bay and crossing the Siletz River, turn right again (east) onto Drift Creek Road near milepost 119. Follow it for 1.5 miles, and turn right at the T in the road. After 0.3 mile, take the left fork in the road onto Forest Road 17 (also Drift Creek Camp Road).

After a little less than a mile, FR 17 takes another left, uphill fork; continue to follow it another 9 miles to the trailhead, for a total of 12.2 miles from Highway 101. The road is narrow but is paved for the entire distance. This is a fee-use area, and a federal forest or recreation pass is required.

For an alternate scenic return after the hike, you may want to consider visiting the Drift Creek Covered Bridge. Instead of returning the way you came, continue along Forest Road 17 for a nine-mile return to Highway 18. Although mostly paved, this portion of the road does have some short stretches of good gravel. The covered bridge can be see on the right, shortly before Highway 18, which leads back to Highway 101 in Lincoln City.

Originally built in 1914, the historic covered bridge was moved to this site in 1997. Reconstruction was completed in 2001. The covered bridge is open to the public, and there is no admission fee. If coming west from Salem on Highway 18, the covered bridge and the hike can be reached by turning left onto Forest Road 17 a half-mile west of Rose Lodge.

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