Bend is known for its vast high-desert landscape, rushing rivers and towering mountains. In those natural wonders, the world of waterfalls sits idly by, waiting for discovery. All in a day-trip from Bend, visit some of the area’s most popular hidden gems. From Paulina Creek to the Deschutes River, waterfalls captivate Central Oregon with their dramatic cascades.
Arguably Bend’s most popular waterfall hike, Tumalo Falls is only a 30 minute drive from town up Skyliners Road to Forest Road 4603. When the falls are open in the summer, it’s an easy quarter-mile hike on the North Fork Trail. The trail–paved and wheelchair accessible at the observation deck–leads visitors to views of the spectacular 97-foot waterfall.
For those wanting to explore more of the forest, the trail continues into the wilderness beyond the viewpoint. Note that the North Fork Trail is located at the base of the Bend Municipal Watershed and trails leading into the watershed prohibit dogs. A pass is also required for the trailhead which leads to a worthwhile hike up the North Fork Trail and reveals more waterfalls lining the Tumalo Falls wilderness.
Salt Creek Falls
Plunging from 286 feet, Salt Creek Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Oregon. About a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Bend via Highway 97, continue onto Highway 58 to access the Salt Creek Falls Observation Site. When the site is open in the spring, visitors will walk only 150 feet to the wheelchair-accessible lookout and reach the breathtaking view of Salt Creek Falls plummeting into the forested canyon. Use caution when descending the stairs leading from the viewpoint, as the short hike to the connecting trails is steep and difficult. A pass is required for viewing the waterfall and hiking in this area of the Willamette Wilderness.
Just 30 minutes outside of Bend driving north on Highway 20 to Cline Falls Road, the Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint offers visitors and travelers a picnic area with a view of the Deschutes River. A pass will be needed to park at the picnic area, and be sure to note the areas where dogs are required to be on leash. From the park, an easy and relatively flat hike follows the river for about a half-mile before approaching Cline Falls. The falls are subtle as they drop 20 feet into the Deschutes, but their distinctive layered structure does not go unnoticed. Surrounded by sagebrush and dry desert views, the scenery is worth traveling downstream for.
One after the other, waterfalls tumble down the Deschutes River. Dillon Falls is located just outside of Bend off Cascade Lakes Highway. Signs will direct visitors to the trailhead where they will be met with a short half-mile hike on the Deschutes River Trail to view the falls. A pass is required at the trailhead before starting the journey to the waterfall. The falls themselves drop at most 15 feet at one time, however the long, rocky shore beneath the water results in Dillon Falls cascading into the Deschutes in continuous rapids. Dogs are welcome to also enjoy the hike but must be leashed on the Deschutes River Trail from May 15 to September 15.
Up the trail–or the road–from Dillon Falls, Benham Falls drops 25 feet over a series of rapids into the Deschutes. To view the falls, hikers have a choice to start at either the West or East Trailhead entrances to Benham Falls located off Forest Road 41 and Cascade Lakes Highway. During the short, easy trek from either direction, hikers will experience the surroundings of many familiar Central Oregon flora including towering ponderosa pine and miles of sagebrush. Since Benham Falls is located on the Deschutes River Trail, the same leash restrictions and requirement for recreation passes as Dillon Falls apply at the trailhead.
Paulina Creek Falls
After it opens in June, be sure to visit Paulina Creek Falls located in Newberry National Monument. Two waterfalls shoot off a volcanic cliff and grace Paulina Creek 80 feet below. From Bend, the drive is an hour south on Highway 97, then east on Paulina Lake Road. At the Paulina Falls Day Use Area, hike a half-mile to the paved observation site to watch the falls cascade past the rocky, forest-rich cliffs. A pass is required to enter the Newberry National Monument and dogs should be kept on a leash. Visitors can choose to hike beyond the lookout towards the source of the waterfall: Paulina Lake.
At two hours, the Toketee Falls Trailhead is the furthest drive time from Bend traveling south on Highway 97 and west on Highway 138. Though it’s the longest drive on the list, it is worthwhile to hike the half-mile to the falls. After trekking through the western red-cedars and Douglas-firs, hikers come to a lookout where Toketee Falls spills nearly 90 feet over two tiers. The waterfall collects in a bright blue pool below before continuing into the North Umpqua River. Though the area is open without a fee, check the status before making the trip as there may be closures at some points in the year.
If you aren’t ready to end your waterfall exploration here, and are willing to travel further out of town, check out these 9 Waterfalls to Visit in Sisters, Oregon.
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
Hiking Black Butte – Central Oregon’s Iconic & Majestic Cinder Cone
From a distance, Black Butte looks like it doesn’t quite match the picturesque alpine mountains that surround it. The volcanic rock that emerges above the tree line gives the impression of a hill constructed with loose stones that was carelessly dropped in the middle of the woods. Unlike the Cascades that puncture the horizon to the west and north, Black Butte can be hiked and enjoyed in under four hours.
Accessible Adventure: Easy Hikes for Families near Bend, Oregon
There are so many great hikes in Central Oregon, it can be tough to choose where to start. For beginner hikers or families here’s a couple of easy to get to – and more importantly – easy to conquer starter-hikes. Flanking the Deschutes River near Bend’s Old Mill District, the Deschutes River Trail is a 3-mile loop that starts near Farewell Bend Park.
Adventures Abound Starting at Sunriver Resort
Sunriver is the type of place that takes your breath away no matter what season it is. During the summer you can hop on a horse for your very own wild wild west experience. The team at Sunriver Stables will make you feel comfortable on your ride, even if you’ve never saddled up before. Whether you’re in a tube or a kayak, floating down the Deschutes River is a relaxing activity that’s fun for the whole family.
Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver
Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.
Outward Bound in the City: Central Oregon’s 5 Best Urban Hikes
Hiking in Central Oregon can take you deep into the wilderness, far away from worry and stress. But sometimes all you need is a quick break from reality…just a half hour or so outside in nature, on a trail, alone with your thoughts (or with your dog, husband and two kids.) There are hundreds of hikes and trails available in and around Bend, Oregon and Sunriver, Oregon. These “Urban Hikes” are the perfect remedy to slow down our all-too-busy lives.
Lava Lands Visitor Center a Central Oregon Geologic Gem
In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.
Central Oregon Hiking Trails
Head east on Highway 20 (Greenwood Avenue) to the Pilot Butte State Park. The parking area and trailhead are just east of the butte. Walk on either the nature trail or the paved road. The road is also for vehicle traffic, weather permitting. It is a wonderful viewpoint for the entire Bend area. This hiking trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon.
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Pull Off For a Central Oregon Adventure
The Cascade Lakes Scenic byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. But it might be the most recreationally rich road you’ll ever drive too. From Bend southwest to the Highway 58 junction, the Oregon Route 372 cuts through 66 miles unique volcanic formations and geological beauty that offers everything that makes Central Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Central Oregon’s Moonscape
Many who come to Central Oregon say it looks like nowhere else they’ve visited. Sure, there are the mountain vistas and the Ponderosa pines, the picturesque rivers and the deep blue lakes. But to many, the most astonishing aspect is the lunarscape — the lava rocks, cinder cones and lava tubes that dot the region, betraying its geologic history.
The Central Oregon Adventure 6-Pack
6 ADVENTURES…1 DAY….A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES. “You should do it,” they said. “Think about how cool it’d be,” they told me. “You get to do it during the work day, ya know,” they reminded me. So I said yes.