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Find the forgotten falls of Florence, Ore.

Oregon's Coast Range hides a trio of waterfalls that deserve a detour

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By Zach Urness
Statesman Journal
Published:
  • Lower Kentucky Falls crashes more than 100 feet in the Siuslaw National Forest near Florence, Ore.

    The Statesman Journal / Zach Urness

    Lower Kentucky Falls crashes more than 100 feet in the Siuslaw National Forest near Florence, Ore.

FLORENCE, Ore. -- The Coast Range is not famous for waterfalls.
Within the green and blue mosaic of rolling mountains, you'll find patches of old-growth trees, silver streams and a lush rainforest of wildlife and plants.
But waterfalls?
The few that drop through the Coast Range rarely eclipse 40 feet and are certainly no match for the thundering majesty of cascades in the Columbia River Gorge or Silver Falls State Park.
Except ... hidden in a remote canyon of mist-soaked mountains, at the end of gravel roads filled with potholes the size of swimming pools, is a trio of waterfalls that can challenge anything in Oregon.
The Kentucky Falls Trail, southeast of Florence, combines coastal lushness with the raw power of water dropping more than 100 feet.
If the name feels out of place, than so do the cascades, two of which thunder side-by-side in one of the state's most spectacular hideaways.
The trail is moderately strenuous at 4.4 miles round-trip, dropping (and then climbing back up) a total of 825 feet.
Kentucky Falls Trail connects with the North Fork Smith River Trail to form what a few years ago was among the state's most impressive routes.
Sadly, a devastating series of storms and high water events knocked out two of the bridges on the North Fork Trail and left it in ragged condition. The Forest Service hopes to raise enough money to fix the bridges by next year, but the Forest Service website warns that the North Fork Trail is not passable.
Just reaching the trailhead for the Kentucky Falls Trail is half the battle. It demands driving for more than 2 1/2 hours on unmarked logging roads where a wrong turn could lead to a serious amount of confusion.
The exciting part of the drive starts off Highway 126 west of Eugene, following the Siuslaw River and Whittaker Creek and climbs almost 2,700 feet.
While logging trucks barreling down the road are the greatest danger, and there's a bit of white-knuckle exposure near the highest point, the biggest annoyance are massive potholes and a confusion of unmarked roads.
Many people have been forced to turn around after getting lost on these roads.
Eventually, you'll reach a paved road that glides downhill to a wonderful little trailhead with picnic benches and an outhouse that registers a "moderately awful" rating on the stink-o-meter.
Even in the most famous locations, you'll rarely see two different 100-foot waterfalls standing right next door to each other.
Yet in this canyon of black columnar basalt and thick mossy green, both North Fork Falls (120 feet) and Lower Kentucky Falls (100 feet) drop side-by-side, joining together in a crashing, misty pool where hikers can watch the show from an observation deck or scramble to a small island for a better view.
From the trailhead, the hike begins by entering a forest of old-growth Douglas fir. At mile 0.6, the trail passes the first of three waterfalls -- Upper Kentucky Falls -- a multitiered giant that on any other hike would be the major highlight.
The trail crosses a pair of footbridges as it weaves downhill, the forest growing ever denser until it halts at a T-junction.
To reach the two spectacular waterfalls, turn right.


Learn more
Siuslaw National Forest
3200 SW Jefferson Way
Corvallis, Ore.
541-750-7000
www.fs.usda.gov/detail/siuslaw/
Story tags » NatureHikingGo See Do

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