Monday, June 4, 2018

Tumalo Falls

Tumalo Falls from the trailhead
4 miles round trip, 550 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

The hundred-foot plunge of Tumalo Falls is the prettiest waterfall near Bend, Oregon and is a popular spot; however, most visitors come to the area and leave after just seeing the main falls. Hikers up for a short jaunt can see three additional waterfalls along Tumalo Creek with just an easy four-mile round trip effort; while none of the other falls are quite impressive as Tumalo Falls itself, all the falls along the trail are beautiful and worth the easy effort necessary to reach them.

I hiked to Upper Falls on a holiday weekend morning, arriving at the trailhead just after sunrise to avoid the crowds that would show up later in the day. To reach the trailhead, I took Skyliners Road out from Bend; this paved road had some initial views of the Three Sisters and Broken Top and led out to the Skyliners neighborhood, where the road transitioned to gravel and continued west to a dead end at the Tumalo Falls Trailhead. I was the first person to arrive for the day when I pulled into the lot at 6 AM; the lot was more or less full by the time I returned from my hike around 8:30.

The most famous view of Tumalo Creek plunging down into a gorge of basalt walls was just steps from the parking area. The viewpoint was surprisingly small for such a busy spot: I can imagine having to wait or jostle for a view of the falls later in the day. The sun hadn't risen yet, so I took advantage of the low lighting to take some long exposure shots of the falls and then set out on my hike.

The trail headed uphill from the parking area and arrived at the cliffs overlooking the falls in just a quarter of a mile. Here, a small platform protruded over the edge of the gorge for a better view of the falls. There were good views down the canyon of Tumalo Creek.

Tumalo Falls
Past the falls, the trail paralleled Tumalo Creek for a while; it was absolutely delightful to hike along this rushing mountain stream. The creek has its headwaters on the slopes of Broken Top, the remnants of a former volcano that today forms one of the most dramatic summits near Bend. Snow and glacier melt on the mountain feed this stream as it tumbles down towards the desert to meet the Deschutes River.

Rushing water of Tumalo Creek
The trail then left the creek and began a steady ascent through the forest. Soon, the trail was well above the level of the creek, which now flowed at the bottom of a rocky gorge. A mile past Tumalo Falls, I came to Double Falls, where a rock outcrop jutted out into the gorge and offered a pretty view of the two-tiered waterfall. Although the falls were nearly a hundred feet below where I stood, spray from the falls was still washing over the rocks atop the edge of the gorge.

Double Falls
Just beyond Double Falls, the trail came to another waterfall; although this cascade was smaller and less impressive and not officially named, it was still a pleasant stop; I'll refer to these falls here as Upper Double Falls, as they occur less than a hundred meters upstream of Double Falls.

Upper Double Falls
Past Upper Double Falls, the trail flattened out briefly at the level of Tumalo Falls before beginning yet another ascent. This ascent continued gently for another half mile to reach Upper Falls two miles from the trailhead. There is no clear view of Upper Falls from the viewpoint along the trail, but a rough social path leads towards the base of the falls; as the path was very steep and I was alone, I chose to stop at a clear view of the falls about halfway down this path. Upper Falls were quite impressive, a thundering 45-foot drop on Tumalo Creek.

Upper Falls
I found the vegetation transitions on this hike quite interesting: near the trailhead at Tumalo Falls, the trail was still in a drier habitat and the trail was lined with manzanita and other plants indicative of a drier climb. However, just two miles away and a couple hundred feet higher at Upper Falls, the forest was substantially greener and lusher.

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