Hike McDowell Creek County Park
Oregon › McDowell Creek County Park,
Added by Zak Stone
- Distance: 3 mile loop
- Duration: 1 Hour hike time
- Short hike, big reward
- 4 waterfalls
- Old growth forest
- Year-around access
- "Land Before Time" feel
GPS coordinates Lat: 44.46389 Long: -122.68278
Exit off I-5 in Albany onto Highway 20 and proceed for approximately 20 miles to McDowell Creek Road and turn left, follow McDowell Creek Road - watching for signs for the park - for about 6 ½ miles, to the first of three parking areas within the park. Alternatively, westbounders can proceed as follows to avoid backtracking. Turn off Highway 20 at Quartzville Road # 11, about 7 miles west of Sweet Home, and proceed 1 mile across the Foster Reservoir, head left on North River Drive for about 1/3 of a mile, then right onto Sunnyside Drive. Follow Sunnyside, which becomes McDowell Creek Road, after 2 ½ miles, for about 6 miles to the lower parking area.
When you arrive to the park there are 3 parking lots, lower, middle and top. I like to park in the middle or top lot. From the middle parking lot take the trail to the fork and go right. This will take you to some picnic tables, great spot to have lunch. Follow the trail past the tables and it will start to wind its way down to the creek. then you will come to another fork, right or left it is up to you at this point. Do you want to start heading up hill or go down hill with the creek and then hike back up later? I like to go right (but feel free to take any trail. I recommend it. Go Explore) which will take you to a cool bridge. When crossing the bridge look up and to the right and left. Huge trees. Cotton woods, Douglas firs and other I don't know the names of yet. Also notice the creek bed down below. Look for the huge solid rock wall, that looks like skateboard 1/4 pipe ramp. Once you cross the bridge keep going on the trail for a couple 200-300ft, you will start to hear falling water. That's Royal Terrace falls. A beautiful 119ft double falls with access to the second tier. Check out the different view points on the right of the falls then go to the bridge. Once you have taken all the photos continue over the bridge to the next fork which will have stone stairs for you to climb. If you go right the trail takes you to McDowell Falls and the lower (1st) parking lot
Take the stairs up to the 97th stair. This will get you to the middle of the two drops. Be very careful, this trail is mud and can be very slippery. This part is for advanced hikers only, do not take small children. The breeze coming off the falls here is a great way to cool down after climbing all those stairs. In the summer you can stand under the falls and get a great cool down.
Back on the main trail, continue up the stairs to the upper view point. It gives a great perspective of where you just were on the bridge and the middle terrace of the falls. Continue on the main trail where you will see an area to your right that is closed for hiking. Stay left and cross the bridge in front of you, then follow the trail up the hill to the highest point of the McDowell park falls trail system. There's a fallen tree half way up that's a good place to rest and drink some water. Follow the trail along the upper ridge looking down at the park, if you parked at the middle parking lot there is a good chance you'll be able to see your car. After a little way you come to another fork in the trail, stay left If you go right you will approach the next falls in a manner that isn't as impressive as the way I want you to go. Take the trail to the left, this will take you to Majestic Falls which is my favorite of the waterfalls in this park. The trail will take you down in elevation back to the road, look both ways and cross the street and cross the road bridge and pick up the trail again on the other side of the road. The creek should now be on your right side. The huge trees will give you lots of shade and you can eat the 3 clover sour grass (tastes like sour apples). As you wind up the trail you will see Crystal Pool Falls. This 14ft drop is a hard one to photograph. You'll have to bushwack your way up the creek to it but if you have time and the right gear it's worth it. You could also use a drone. Continue on the trail about 1/4 mile more to the wooden bridge and staircase system. This is Magestic Falls, a 39ft drop of beauty. Have fun exploring this waterfall from the bottom all the way to the top viewing area, that has you looking right over the edge. Once you're done exploring this area up and down you can decide if you want to go to the third and last parking lot and loop back around to the upper loop or go back down the trail system to the middle parking lot and continue on the lower section of the park. If you are pressed for time you could always jump in your car and drive to the lower parking lot to explore the McDowell Falls. If you decide to head back down you'll cross the road and link up with the trail system or walk down the road 100ft to the middle (2nd) parking lot.
If you decide to drive to lower (1st) parking lot you'll hear the water from lower McDowell falls, with a 10ft drop, when you get out of your car. Take the trail to the fork. If you go left you'll cross over a bridge that will take you back toward Royal Terrace falls and the long stone stair case. Take the trail to the right, past the picnic table area and the trail will drop you down to the creek. You can follow the trail to a large 5ft wide rock that lets you see the lower and upper section of the falls. But back up the trail you came from, you can see a small trail leading up the side of the creek. You have to duck down under a fallen growing tree to access the trail. It will take you to the pool of the upper section falls. This trail is worth some muddy hands when crawling under the tree.
- Hiking distance from McDowell Fall to Royal Terrace Fall 0.28 miles
- Hiking distance from Royal Terrace to Crystal Falls 0.46 miles
- Hiking distance from Crystal Falls to Majestic Falls 0.21 miles
- Hiking distance from Majestic Falls back to McDowell Falls 0.87 miles
- Hiking boots or a good shoe will be fine for this short hike.
- Hydroflask with Water
- Picnic lunch
- GoPro Camera
- Sony A7II
- Boardshorts if you want to swim
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Chillin, Hiking, Photography, Running
Are we missing something?Suggest an edit
ReviewsLeave a Review
10/2/16 Great Hike!
Absolutely beautiful during a misty/rainy day. It really brought out all of the colors. Makes the wooden bridges and dirt slippery at times but still very manageable (wear good shoes!). Started at the 1st lot and made the big loop around then wandered the trails around the picnic tables by the parking lot and found a place to hang the hammock! Crossing the road is a bit of a buzzkill but you barely notice it normally because it isn't very busy! Great waterfalls and a very well maintained park!
More Adventures Nearby
Hike to God's Thumb
Oregon / Roads End State Park Parking
From Road's End State Park, map your way to the end of NE Port Street and park on a pull off next to the described gate: on your right you'll see the gate with three skinny trees to the right of it.
Hike to Indian Point
Oregon / Herman Creek Trailhead
Park at the Herman Creek Trailhead in Cascade Locks 2 miles from the exit. Remember to bring your Northwest Forest pass or a $5 payment to park.