Suislaw National Forest, near Lincoln City, Oregon
Access: There are two ways to get to this place, both involving significant mileage on a twisty one-lane mountain road where you can rarely exceed 25 mph. From Hwy 101 north of Lincoln, take Drift Creek Rd east, turn south on S Drift Creek Rd for ¼ mile, turn left onto FR 17 and drive 10.3 miles to the Drift Creek TH. Alternately, from south of Lincoln City, take Hwy 18 east from Hwy 101 4.5 miles, turn south on Bear Creek County Rd for 3.5 miles, then turn left on FR 17 and drive 7 miles to the TH.
Trail: Easy, light grade, wide, well-defined. The trail gets slick in places going from the bridge down to the base of the falls. Distance is 3 miles roundtrip, with an elevation loss to the base of the falls from the TH of 400 ft.
Fees: $5 daily pass or $10 weekly Forest Pass
Dogs: Leashed pets allowed
August 13, 2007
After leaving Harts Cove around noon, we made straightaway for Drift Creek Falls west of Lincoln City. The drive to the trailhead was pretty long and tedious, what with more than 10 miles of it being on a winding, one-lane mountain road with pullouts. Drowsiness overtook both of us on this road, as the sweeping curves and speckled sunshine on the road lolled us to near sleep. Andra was driving, and pulled off into one of the pullouts where we both released the seatbacks and forthwith fell sound asleep in the shade of maples. As the sun hit the car after twenty minutes or so, I awoke to the heat and a swarm of bees thudding against the car. We had parked in a patch of blooming blackberries, and the bees were zipping around gathering nectar. Many of them found their way through the open windows of the car, bonked around against the windshield for several moments, then found their way out again. Andra woke up as the sun made it unbearably hot in the car, and we resumed our trip up FR17.
The trailhead was obvious when we arrived, and we parked. Almost instantly, a convoy of three cars pulled in from the opposite direction and parked on either side of us. About 10 people soon congregated right behind our car and we decided to wait for them to move on before getting out and putting on hiking shoes. Trouble is, they didnít move on for quite some time. They talked and talked and talked and talked. One loud old lady, whom we began to refer to as Aunt Marge, stopped two couples of returning hikers and interrogated them hawkishly about the trail: "Where does it go? How long is it? How long did it take you? Was it difficult? Is the falls worth it? Was it steep?" At first annoyed by the group of folks feet from our bumper that would not disperse, we soon had difficulty quelling our laughter as we listened to the ridiculous fusillade of questions from Aunt Marge through our open windows. I mean, "Is it worth it?" is a pretty subjective question...what value would you get from any answer to that? Finally, we decided such folks would undoubtedly hike slowly if they ever actually got started, and we better get on the trail before getting stuck behind the herd. Thus, we slipped out, threw our shoes on and in a blink we were on the trail, leaving the ruckus of the parking lot behind for the cool, quiet shadows of the woods ahead.
The trail was beautiful, especially in the full brilliance of a sunny August afternoon, and we strode down the gentle, wide slope quickly and easily. Initially, the trail led through a dense thicket of younger hemlocks which blocked out so much light that not much grew underneath. Iím not a fan of young hemlock stands. That soon ended, however, and from there on, enormous Douglas firs and hemlocks lined the trail, well-spaced so as to allow some light in, all of them interspersed with vine maples draped in moss. Ferns exploded from the forest floor everywhere, and periodic patches of blackberries provided convenient and tasty snacks.
It was a very enjoyable mile and a quarter to a wooden-plank suspension bridge that spanned 200 feet across a 100-foot deep chasm. Although held only by steel cables, the bridge was surprisingly firm underfoot, and even though I jumped and swayed to shake the bridge to discomfit Andra who was walking up ahead, I hardly managed to shimmy the bridge at all. I earned a dark look from Andra, nonetheless. From the middle of the bridge, I looked down to the stream below and from the cliff side of this gentle stream came a beautiful 75-foot spout of water that splashed into the green water at its base. The water sparkled brilliantly in the sunshine. I photographed it, then turned to follow Andra, who had already disappeared on the steep trail leading to the base of the falls. I hurried after her, slipping once on the slick ground, but not falling.
When I completed the 3 switchbacks that brought me out to the falls, Andra was already there, staring up at the tumult of water from the shade of a giant maple tree. Three other people were silently enjoying the spectacle. Andra took off her boots and socks and waded into the cold water. Having no tolerance for cold feet, I kept my boots on and slowly picked my way among the mossy, slick rocks at the edge of the plunge pool for a closer vantage. After photographing the falls and allowing myself several minutes of mindless mesmerization in the churning waters of the plunge-pool, I carefully stepped back over to firmer ground near Andra, who was standing ankle-deep in the water. She and I walked over to a little overhang in the shade where maidenhair ferns were drooping from the cracks which seeped water. She dried her feet with her socks and put her boots back on. In a few moments, we were back on the trail.
Here came Aunt Margeís group. An elderly man in the van of the group asked me if the trail just went to the falls and ended. I said yes, and that it was beautiful, and kept walking. Next came Aunt Marge, who asked the same question, and I answered the same. After seeing the plight of the trapped hikers in te parking lot, I resolved that not stopping was my only defense against the interrogation. Unfortunately she physically trapped Andra, who was walking behind me, and peppered her with questions about the falls and the end of the trail, both of which lay a mere 60 yards down the trail. Iíve never seen someone so opposed to surprise as Aunt Marge. Noting that Andra had been caught, I slowed and listened from above the trail as several other of their group passed me quietly. As it became apparent from Andraís responses to Aunt Margeís questions that the trail indeed ended no more than 60 yards down the trail at the foot of the waterfall (which is all clear enough to anybody looking down from the bridge), Aunt Marge and her husband proposed to the rest of their group that they simply turn back now since the trail just ended nearby and they would have to turn around and walk up the trail anyway. Dumbfounded, I was amused. By that logic, why hike the trail at all? Andra broke free with some encouraging words, and we quickly scuttled around the bend to avoid more questioning. Their debate about whether to attempt those last 60 grueling yards to the plunge pool was loud, and we could hear them discussing it for the next minute while we hiked up the damp clay of the shaded trail. I think if I had to hike with Aunt Marge she would soon find herself in the plunge pool.
We arrived back at the bridge, and crossed it again going the other way. Andra warned me not to try any funny stuff like bouncing or swaying the bridge, but sometimes I just canít help myself. The hike back was enjoyable, and we made the trip swiftly to arrive back at the car about 2 hours after we had begun. We decided to drive out the alternate way, and took FR 17 to Bear Creek County Rd which led, eventually, to Highway 101 near Lincoln City. We got a little turned around in a residential neighborhood going this way, but found the highway, and then headed south towards other adventures.
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