For the first 23 years of Scott Whitson’s life, hiking was not at the top of his list of fun things to do.
But then he met our daughter, Lucia, and fell in love. Now he’s a hiker, because she made it abundantly clear, early in their relationship, that she was more interested in exploring the outdoors than going to movies.
So it’s Sunday morning at a campground in the Oregon Coast Range, and Scott knows not to ask whether we will be driving to Alsea Falls and parking at the day-use area, or if we will be using foot power to get there, following a half-mile trail along the South Fork of the Alsea River.
“If you hang out with the Hadellas,” Scott has learned to say, “you will hike.”
Lucky for him, we are pretty easygoing about it, not the types who stretch ourselves to our physical and mental limits.
After Alsea Falls, we plan to hike another mile to a second waterfall, Green Peak Falls, a steeper trek, but not grueling. A roundtrip of three miles, most of it fairly level through a second-growth forest of Douglas fir and cedar. Good enough to get the blood flowing.
At Alsea Falls, my wife and I find seats among the river rocks, while Lucia and Scott take pictures of themselves in front of the rushing waters. This terraced waterfall drops from one ledge to another, creating an effect that seems almost too neat, too mannerly, to be natural.
It’s like something you might expect to see at the entrance to country club, a splashy eye-grabber designed by a landscape architect.
We are far from alone at this popular attraction about 30 miles southwest of Corvallis, along the South Fork Alsea River Access Road, a National Back Country Byway. Kids wade ankle-deep in the shallows at the river’s edge while their parents sunbathe.
A half-hour later, we reach Green Peak Falls on Peak Creek, just as some teenagers are leaving. The place is now ours to enjoy by ourselves.
This waterfall, like the other, is small and intimate, but more of a torrent, sliding straight down the face of bare rock. To use the terminology from the Northwest Waterfall Survey website, it’s an example of a Veiling Horsetail, while Alsea Falls belongs in the Gradual Cascade category.
According to the same website, the former drops 45 feet, the latter 30 feet.
The pool at the base of Green Peak Falls is too enticing to resist, so I remove my boots and socks, and get wet up to my knees. My wife watches from the sideline, as Lucia and Scott do their thing, striking poses at the side of the falls that will show up on their Facebook pages.
Charlotte and I haven’t warmed to this idea of using a phone to take pictures. Nor have we quite gotten used to not being the center of our daughter’s life anymore.
Yet Lucia still calls or texts her mother every day, always happy to report whenever she gets Scott to go on a hike with her. His family lives close to Portland, so waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge have become favorite destinations for their outings.
Our trip to Alsea and Green Peak Falls covers just a fraction of the trails within Alsea Falls Recreation Site. The trail system is open to hikers and mountain bikers, except for a few miles for hikers only.
“Was the hike worth it?” I ask Scott back at the campground where our morning began.
A smile spreads across his face. “Whenever there’s a waterfall at the end of it, the hike is definitely worth it,” he says.
His remark earns him an affectionate pat on the back from his girlfriend.
Note: Check Alsea Falls Recreation Site/BLM online before planning a trip. Some of the trails most popular with bikers have been closed on weekdays since May to ensure public safety during active timber operations.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.