Is there anything more satisfying—anything more awe-inspiring—than gazing upon a thundering waterfall, its raging waters tumbling over ancient rock walls? Does it get any better than seeing a waterfall reach full boil in the midst of an otherwise quiet river as it crashes through a rock-lined canyon?
We think not—which is why we’re so spoiled to live within a short drive of majestic waterfalls all over Central Oregon. And with so many to choose from, we’ve put together a round-up of five must-see waterfalls around the region—from the scenic Tumalo Falls just outside Bend to the twin cascades of Paulina Creek Falls in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
So as you make plans for your next outdoor outing in the region, here’s a look at five of the most scenic waterfalls in Central Oregon.
Wherever you hike around Central Oregon, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. These waterfalls all flow year-round—but flows are usually more dramatic in late winter and early spring, when snowmelt fills creek and river channels. And no matter the time of year, be sure to pack along the Ten Essentials when hiking; the gear (which includes sunscreen, extra water, and other important items) can help keep you safe and prepared for whatever the Central Oregon elements may throw your way. Finally, try to dress in layers so you’re ready for whatever weather you might encounter on the trail.
Paulina Falls in Newberry National
When Newberry Volcano was in the midst of one of its many eruptions 75,000 years ago, it sent a torrent of ash and pumice flooding westward toward the modern-day city of La Pine. Most of Newberry’s volcanic deposits were buried under subsequent lava flows, but some of that material was so hot that it welded together before cooling and solidifying into rock that remains visible today.
Such is the case at Paulina Creek Falls, where two separate falls cascade 80 feet over that volcanic cliff—and into a rocky creek bed below—in the heart of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Visitors can enjoy top-down views of the waterfalls just a short walk from the parking lot, but a few hiking trails offer better views.
A short, half-mile round-trip hike loses about 200 feet of elevation before arriving at an upper viewing area, while a longer, four-mile round-trip hike loses about 400 feet of elevation en route to a lower viewpoint that ends at Paulina Creek (the only year-round creek on Newberry Volcano). Hiking trails continue along Paulina Creek above the waterfall (and toward Paulina Lake) if you’re so inclined.
If time spent on Newberry Volcano has you curious about the region’s peaks, check out our page on the mountains in Central Oregon for history and ideas for enjoying your time in the area.
Benham Falls and Dillon Falls on the
Benham Falls and Dillon Falls check all the boxes you could want from a set of Central Oregon waterfalls. The waterfalls sit roughly halfway between Bend and Sunriver along the Deschutes River (one of the most iconic rivers in Central Oregon), making them easy day trips from either community. Both can be accessed from along the Deschutes River Trail, whether from viewpoints near parking areas or as part of longer loops. (Several access points make it easy to choose the hike length that suits you best.) And both can be viewed year-round in the flourishing Deschutes National Forest.
Dillon Falls is the northernmost of the pair and can be accessed via a short, accessible trail from the Dillon Falls Day-use Area. The waterfall itself only drops about 15 feet—but from there, the Deschutes River plunges into a series of rolling rapids through a rocky river canyon. Keep an eye out for ancient lava flows (part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument) on the opposite shore.
The Benham Falls East Day-use Area, meanwhile, sits surrounded by a forest of ponderosa pine at a U-shaped bend in the Deschutes River. From the parking area, hikers can follow the Deschutes River Trail north before arriving at an overlook that showcases the rapids-like series of cascades that comprise Benham Falls—all as it churns through a river canyon of volcanic rock. A footbridge above the waterfall lets you peer into the forested canyon here. (Friendly note: The mostly flat hike is about one mile round-trip; while it remains open year-round, the trail can get snowy and icy in winter; check conditions with the U.S. Forest Service before heading out in December, January, or February.)
However you experience the falls, you’ll enjoy lush stands of fir and ponderosa pine along the way—emblematic of the region’s beautiful landscapes. For more, check out our page about the forests in Central Oregon.
Tumalo Falls Near Bend, Oregon
Perhaps the most photographed waterfall in all of Central Oregon is Tumalo Falls, just a half-hour west of Bend. At 97 feet tall, Tumalo Falls is the tallest waterfall in Central Oregon—and is among the region’s most popular outdoor attractions.
It’s easy to see why the waterfall is so well-loved: Tumalo Falls cascades over a basalt ledge, ringed by a stately forest, into the rocky bed of Tumalo Creek. And it does all this just a short, 0.4-mile round-trip walk from the parking area.
That said, other waterfalls await further upstream on Tumalo Creek—so continue following the North Fork Trail if you’re up for additional views and a quieter experience away from the crowds near the trailhead. The trail ascends steadily, yet gently through a forest of pine for about a mile beyond Tumalo Falls before arriving at Double Falls—a pair of 20-foot waterfalls in Tumalo Creek. After another mile of gentle ascents, the trail passes another waterfall. Other waterfalls await as the trail continues on another few miles from here, but this makes a fine turnaround point if you’re hiking with small children, are pressed for time, or have other waterfalls to visit. (Curious about other fun footpaths around the region? Check out our page on hiking trails in Central Oregon for ideas and inspiration.)
Note that Tumalo Falls Road, the final road to the waterfall, is gated and closed between October and May. Hikers can still park near the gate and walk or snowshoe (weather depending) the final 2.5 miles to the base of the waterfall during this time for a quieter experience. And given the popularity of Tumalo Falls in summer, consider a midweek visit—or arrive by 9 a.m.—to avoid the biggest crowds.
Steelhead Falls Near Redmond, Oregon
Sitting west of Highway 97 between Madras and Redmond, Steelhead Falls affords a picturesque look at a rimrock canyon in the Central Oregon high desert—all from along a mostly flat hiking trail.
A one-mile round-trip hiking trail follows the Deschutes River in the heart of a rocky canyon before arriving at the 20-foot Steelhead Falls, which plunges into a crystal-clear pool on the river.
The waterfall is far more than a quick viewpoint, though; the trail, which remains open and accessible year-round, offers something new and exciting with each season. In spring, wildflowers line the trail and cover the slopes above you; in summer months, the pool makes a popular place to take a dip (especially among guests at nearby Crooked Ranch). Cooler temperatures make the (mostly shade-free) hike a bit easier in fall, and winter brings occasional snow and iciness to the canyon for a particularly dramatic display. Anglers also enjoy fishing for steelhead and trout in the pool at the base of the falls, as well.
In addition to the falls themselves, keep an eye out on the colorful rimrock surrounding you; grooves in the rock show how the Deschutes River eroded this canyon over a few million years—resulting in the scene before you.
Keep in mind: Steelhead Falls is well worth your time and is one of the region’s most popular waterfalls for good reason—but rattlesnakes are present here, especially around rocks and in the brush along the trail. Remain alert, and stay on the trail at all times.
Fall River Falls Near Sunriver and La Pine, Oregon
Sitting between La Pine and Sunriver, Fall River Falls is a bit off the beaten path—but rewards visitors with some of the clearest waters anywhere in Central Oregon.
First, it’ll help to know how to arrive at Fall River Falls. From Highway 97, just south of Sunriver, head west on Vandevert Road, following a sign for Fall River. After about a mile, turn left onto South Century Drive; in another mile or so, turn right at a four-way intersection to continue west and remain on South Century Drive. In another five miles, turn left onto an (unsigned) gravel road; this is West Deschutes River Road. Continue south for about 0.8 mile before arriving at a parking area just before the bridge over Fall River.
The trailhead for Fall River Falls is located on the east edge of the parking area; head east along the trail, hugging Fall River in a dusty forest of pine, for about a half-mile—at which point you’ll arrive at the raging waterfall. Here Fall River Falls roars, cascade-like, over a basalt outcrop and through a rocky river canyon, flanked on either side by bucolic meadows. The falls drop into a chilly pool before continuing downstream, where Fall River eventually feeds the Deschutes River. The drop isn’t much—only about 15 feet or so—but the waterfall remains a beloved attraction, thanks to the dramatic scenery and crystal-clear waters. (The spring-fed Fall River is positively see-through, and anglers love casting a fly here for brook trout and rainbow trout.)
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
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