Getting outside is more important than ever in this locked-down Covid-19 world, and a trip to see the waterfalls at McDowell Creek Park is a perfect way to clear out the quarantine cobwebs.
Tucked away in the foothills of the Cascade Range about 16 miles east of Lebanon, the park boasts three to four miles of trails that take you past three beautiful waterfalls and a couple of cascades that will be quite prominent this time of year.
McDowell Creek is a 110-acre day-use park and is part of the Linn County Parks system. There is no fee. The park offers picnicking amenities, so pack a lunch or get take-out from your favorite restaurant. Click here for a list of restaurants and their current status under Covid-19 restrictions. Some fishing is allowed from late May into October. Check the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife website for regulations and open seasons.
Dogs are allowed on leashes.
To get there from Albany, head east on Highway 20 toward Lebanon. In Lebanon, take a left onto East Grant Street, which eventually turns into Brewster Road, and continue until you cross the Santiam River. Then take a right onto Berlin Road and follow that until you come to McDowell Creek Drive. Take a left onto McDowell Creek Drive and that will take you right to the park.
The trails offer easy to moderate hiking and are set up in a series of loops that can be taken for easier, shorter jaunts or longer excursions through lush green woodlands. The most popular is a 1.6-mile loop that takes you past the most impressive falls, Royal Terrace and Majestic Falls. For a map and current conditions and comments about the park, click here.
A series of bridges and viewing decks help you traverse the terrain a get beautiful vistas of the falls. Majestic Falls and Royal Terrace have the greatest amount of stone stairs and wooden viewing platforms that can be slippery when wet, so be cautious.
You can hit the trails at access points through each of the three parking lots – lower, middle and upper. The bottom lot connects to Lower McDowell Creek Falls easily, and Royal Terrace with a little more effort. Access to Royal Terrace is the longest hike. Majestic Falls is accessible from the upper parking lot through a steep staircase to get to the top of the falls. Or take the trail from the lower lot and hike all the way up.
The falls all should have heavy flow right now. Majestic Falls drops 35 feet, while Royal Terrace falls two levels, first to a small pool and then the rest of the way for a total of 119 feet.
If you are looking for a little more of a challenge, Linn County has many waterfalls that are tucked away among its thousands of square miles of forest land. A website called the Northwest Waterfall Survey has a list of waterfalls in Oregon and breaks that down by county. Here is the list for Linn County.
The list provides a description of the falls and how to get there. Some are visible from the road, others will require a hike. Most are not spectacular – some might even be seasonal cascades – so read descriptions carefully before committing your time and effort.
Please use caution this time of year. Directions can sometimes be confusing, so it is best to be prepared in case you get lost and have to spend the night. Take along gear to stay warm and plenty of drinking water. Don’t rely on GPS, as its navigation abilities can be blocked due to loss of signal in the mountains.
If you want to whet your appetite before heading out, click here for photographs and a video of McDowell Creek Park by journalist and author Grant McOmie as part of his TV show, Grant’s Getaways. It’s dated 2016, but little has changed at the park.
Please observe all Covid-19 restrictions when visiting the park. Keep a mask handy as the spot is quite popular and you are likely to run into more people out and about enjoying the scenery and solitude.
Top photo by Gary Thurman
Bottom photo by Katelynn LaGrone