No visit to Willamette National Forest is complete without a trip to Proxy Falls. After a short family and dog-friendly (must be on a leash) hike, you are treated to spectacular views of an amazing plunge water fall.
Proxy Falls, also known as Lower Proxy Falls, is a cascade and plunging water fall located in the Three Sisters Wilderness area of the Cascades Mountains. The 226-foot (69 meters) drop makes it one of the highest plunge waterfalls in Oregon. Be sure to time out the hike to see the Spring runoff. The water flow drops off significantly in the late summer months and fall but it still worth seeing. The reduced water flow means that you can get closer to the falls.
The trail head (#3532) is off of scenic, historic, and winding McKenzie Highway, also known as Oregon Highway 242, between Spring and McKenzie Bridge Oregon. The highway is only open and passible for a few months out of the year (usually mid-June to early November) because of the snowfall. When you set off to explore Proxy Falls, you just can’t be in a hurry. Plan to take your time on the leisurely 1.6-mile hike with an elevation gain of only about 150 feet. The falls are generally not crowded so you will have time to take in nature’s beauty. Proxy Falls is the very picture of Oregon. The falls have two tiers between the wide and tall valley walls that were carved out by glaciers 6,000 years ago. The dark, glossy rocks covered in verdant moss surrounding the falls contribute to the enchanted forest effect. It could very well be the prime natural attraction of the Three Sisters Wilderness area.
It seems the Forest Service wants everyone to hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction because only the trail entrance to left (facing the trailhead) is not signposted. The first .5 mile of the trail is a bit rocky because you are walking through a lava flow, but then it levels off and meanders through a conifer forest as you get closer to the falls. In the fall, you are treated to the changing colors of the leave. The walk to the falls is actually a loop. As you go down the trail., it comes to a junction. The counterclockwise loop leads off to Proxy Falls, whereas on the opposite direction it leads to Upper Proxy Falls; both are worth a visit if you have the time. For those of you in a hurry, you can go the opposite way from the railhead and save some time. It is a more direct route to the lower falls but where is the fun in that, right?
Next to the viewing point of the main falls is an easy-going trail (more like a scramble) that goes to the base of the falls. It looks like a trail that has been closed for a while as evidenced by fallen trees and lots of overgrowth near the base making access to the trail anything but a cakewalk. Getting to the base of the falls will require crossing the Proxy River but is well worth the extra effort. If you hike here in the late summer or fall there is minimal water, however, this allows you to get closer to the bottom of the waterfall. As with all waterfalls, watch for falling rocks and debris. If you are looking for an easier hike, you can still get a great view without taking this detour.
?At the bottom of Lower Proxy Falls, you will see a small trail leading away from the falls to the left. This is definitely the less used trail, but the trail loops back to the main trail, making it a convenient escape so that you don't have to climb back up the sloop and battle all of the people coming down to the falls.
If you are in the Three Sisters Wilderness area, be sure not to miss this easy hike for the whole family. Starting in 2020, a permit is now required for this hike. Visit the Forest Service website for more information about the permit.