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Salt Creek Falls is the second-tallest waterfall in Oregon. Photo by Lee Juillerat

Salt Creek and Diamond Creek Falls are gems

Salt Creek Falls, Oregon's second-highest waterfall, is just a short detour from Highway 58 in the Cascade Mountains near Oakridge.

With its easy access — it's just 50 yards from the parking lot to a concrete viewing platform with a dizzying view of the 286-foot falls — it's a sight to see. There’s also a trail that nicely winds about a quarter-mile downhill, almost to the base of the falls. Be cautious, a rock slide has made the final descent treacherous.

By itself, Salt Creek Falls is a worthwhile trip. But consider adding another two hours of hiking for a less savored treat — a 3.5-mile loop hike that’s rewarded with up-close views of raucous Diamond Creek Falls. The undulating trail weaves its way through tall Douglas firs and cedars while offering several vantages of Salt Creek and Diamond Creek canyons. It also includes an easy detour to Too Much Bear Lake, passes through rhododendron thickets and, after winding down a steep and narrow side trail, reaches its climactic reward — brawling Diamond Creek Falls.

The fan-shaped, 120-foot falls is heard before it’s seen. Those first views are filtered and screened by tree limbs, an effect that makes the experience even more surreal and imposing. With its tumbling waters, Diamond Creek Falls roars as it pours, frantically plunging over a ragged basalt cliff. The final section of the trail to the falls crosses a large cedar footbridge, includes traversing a uniquely carved log stairway, and ends close enough to touch the water or literally get your feet wet.

Before reaching the falls, the trail passes near noisy but mostly unseen Lower Diamond Creek Falls. Actually a series of four falls, including one reputed to cascade 60-feet, Lower Diamond is a hidden mystery because viewing it requires descending into a formidable steep canyon and two challenging river crossings.

Why is it named Diamond Creek? The Diamond namesake doesn’t refer to the sparkling waters but to John Diamond, pioneer from nearby Coburg who was a member of a group of men who opened a road along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. Nearby Diamond Peak and Diamond Lake also honor Diamond. In 1852, he and William Macy made the first known ascent of what is now Diamond Peak while with a preliminary survey party that was planning what became known as the Free Emigrant Road.

If hiking to Diamond Creek Falls isn't enough, continue from the junction that leads back to the Salt Creek Falls parking lot and follow the trail south. The trail crosses Diamond Creek on a cement bridge, continues through the woods, crosses railroad tracks and enters the Diamond Peak Wilderness. From the railroad tracks it's another sometimes-steep mile-plus to a viewpoint for Fall Creek Falls, a tumbling 40-foot cascade. A second, better viewpoint is about a quarter-mile up the trail. It's another mile along Fall Creek to a junction for Vivian Lake. Along with being scenic, there's a possible reward: the fields around the lake are often brightened by bountiful fields of fresh-for-the-picking huckleberries in August and early September.

Whether it's the prime destination or part of a longer hike, Diamond Creek Falls is, fittingly, a gem of a hike.

Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He is also a regular contributor to the outdoor-travel website High On Adventure at www.highonadventure.com. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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