The Willamette Pass area has a number of great day hikes and this is arguably the best hike in Central Oregon for lovers of waterfalls. From the parking area it is only a few hundred feet on a paved path to the lookout across from the 286-foot Salt Creek Falls, the third tallest waterfall in Oregon behind Multnomah and Watson Falls. This impressive plunge waterfall with a deep pool at the bottom drops into the deep and broad Salt Creek Canyon. The view of the waterfall from the lookout is excellent and it is easy to photograph the entire cascade from the lookout.
From the Salt Creek Falls lookout it is a short hike (200 yards or so) upstream to the Salt Creek footbridge and the beginning of the 3.4 mile long loop hike to Diamond Creek Falls described in Sullivan’s guidebook. The footbridge is also the starting point for the longer hike (8.2 miles roundtrip) to Diamond Creek Falls, Fall Creek Falls, and Vivian Lake. This blog post describes the longer hike to Vivian Lake.
After crossing the Salt Creek Falls footbridge we hiked several hundred feet through a shady grove to a trail junction where we turned right, the more direct route to Diamond Creek Falls. The trail climbs gently for the first .2 miles until you reach a lookout with nice views of Salt Creek Canyon. The next half mile or so of the trail (after leaving Too Much Bear Lake) passes through a dense forest of fir trees and rhododendrons. The forest was lovely and we made a mental note to return in June to see the rhododendrons in bloom. At .7 miles from the footbridge the trail starts to climb and there are several pockets of huge old growth Douglas-fir. At 1.5 miles, there is a trail that drops down steeply to the right towards the base of Diamond Creek Falls. The trail is narrow, and was muddy when we visited, but we pressed on for .2 miles to the shady grove at the base of the falls. While not as impressive as the Salt Creek Falls, Diamond Creek Falls is very scenic and best photographed from its
After returning to the main trail, it is a short walk to a viewpoint above Diamond Creek Falls (note -the falls are partially obscured by trees and bushes). A few moments later there is an unmarked trail intersection. The trail straight ahead goes to Fall Creek Falls and Vivian Lake while the trail to the left returns to the carpark. Continuing straight the trail hugs Diamond Creek for a few hundred meters and then crosses Diamond Creek and climbs to some railroad tracks (the Southern Pacific line). This stretch of the trail is a bit overgrown and after crossing the railroad tracks be sure to take the overgrown path to the left of the old dirt road and not the road itself.
The climb to Fall Creek Falls and Vivian Lake is definitely a slog. The first part of the ascent is gentle but after ten minutes or so the path climbs very steeply. Fortunately the trail is loamy and rocky so the footing along this stretch wasn’t too terrible. Near the Fall Creek Falls the trail flattens out a bit and there are huge swaths of huckleberry that almost obscure the path.
After visiting Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls we found Fall Creek Falls to be underwhelming. It was hot and the air was filled with smoke from one of the numerous wildfires burning in the Willamette National Forest. We contemplated turning around at FallCreek Falls due to the smoke but decided to press on to Vivian Lake which is about 1 mile further along and 600 feet higher than the falls. We were roasting hot by the time we arrived at Vivian Lake and we reeked of wood smoke. Supposedly the views at Vivian Lake are very nice but we couldn’t even see Mt. Yoran which towers over the lake and decided to head back to the carpark.