How to get there:
Leaving Salem, head west on HWY 22 towards the coast range. HWY 22 merges with HWY 18 and you’ll continue along till you reach the unincorporated community of Rose Lodge, about 53 miles west of Salem. Shortly after, look for the large brown park sign for Drift Creek Falls and turn left onto Forest Road 17(also known as Bear Creek Rd.). Drive 9 miles to the trailhead parking area. On the way, you will pass the Drift Creek covered bridge, built in 1914.
Distance and Elevation Gain:
This is a short, lovely little hike. Its only 3 miles round trip, 400 feet in elevation gain and open year round.
Fees and Permits:
Drift Creek Falls is in the Siuslaw National Forest so a federal Northwest Forest pass is required to park here, which you can purchase for $5 at the trailhead. Or plan ahead and get your annual pass for $30 at Bi-mart on Lancaster. If you hike a lot, which I hope you do, the annual pass is easier and cheaper. Just remember to keep it in your car’s “glove box”! Along with your maps and your gloves and safety kit that all responsible hikers have.
What to see and do:
From the parking lot, (which by the way has very nice bathrooms and picnic tables), the trail descends through a second-growth forest of Douglas fir, red alders, hemlock, big leaf maples and western red cedars. In 1957 the old growth was logged and replanted, so this forest is 55 years old. The undergrowth is lush with sword fern, deer fern, salal and Oregon grape and of course, the moss covered old growth stumps and logs. The trail switches back and forth down the canyon, crossing footbridges over creeks and passes a few benches that you might want to rest on during your return trip. You’ll come to a junction where you will have to decide on taking the “Main Trail” or the alternate “Northern Loop” which gets you to the same destination.
I have hiked to Drift Creek Falls many times, always staying on the main trail. On this particular trip I chose to take the Northern Loop, and I must say, I prefer it. It is not as well maintained and has a bit more elevation gain, but it also has some remaining old growth and is peaceful with no other travelers on a sunny Saturday.
The Northern Loop rejoins with the Main Trail along side a rapidly rushing creek and yet, another footbridge. Continuing on the main trail you’ll soon come to an amazing 240-foot long suspension bridge (the longest in Oregon) that hovers 100 feet above the swollen Drift Creek. In front of you is the horsetail type Drift Creek Falls, cascading 80 feet to the canyon below.
The suspension bridge was built in 1997 and dedicated to Scott Paul, the Forest Service Construction Foreman who lost his life on the project in a tragic rigging accident. The building materials for the suspension bridge were helicoptered in, the cables are anchored in bedrock and the entire structure seems out of place. It’s a bit scary as you cross to the other side, but you must in order to get down to the bottom of Drift Creek Falls. There is a picnic table and benches near the base of the falls built out of a giant log. Take some time to rest here and enjoy this awesome view. This is a family friendly hike and dogs are allowed on a leash. The return trip is back the way you came, taking either the main trail or the northern loop.
After returning to your car but prior to heading home, I recommend a side trip to the Otis Café. You should be hungry by now and it is only a few miles west on HWY 18. Otis Café is a family run establishment that specializes in comfort food. With freshly baked breads, pies and cinnamon rolls cooling on racks in the “bake room” and fresh, local seafood, it is a gem that shouldn’t be missed. And since the days are getting longer, you have plenty of time to linger.