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Spending the Morning at Drift Creek Falls

Updated: Apr 24


April 19, 2024—The weather was nice and expected to be in the low 70s, so I decided to visit Drift Creek Falls. I hadn’t been there since July 3, 2020. The 3.7-mile hike to the falls and back is relatively easy and suitable for families and all hiking abilities. However, the trail is dirt and not suited for strollers or wheelchairs. The trail isn’t technically challenging, but a good pair of hiking shoes is recommended, especially around the creek, as sections of the trail can be slippery. You could wear hiking boots, but that would be overkill. It’s downhill to the falls, so keep that in mind because the return to the parking lot is uphill, though the climb back up isn’t steep.


The road to Drift Creek Falls is off Hwy 18 on the way from McMinnville to Lincoln City. Turn left onto Bear Creek County Road from Hwy 18 and head three and a half miles to Forest Service Road 17. Turn right at the fork in the road and travel another seven miles to the trailhead. Most of the road to Drift Creek Falls is paved, but a small section near the end of Bear Creek County Road is gravel. I recommend using Google or Apple navigation to direct you to the parking lot. The reason being is that the sign at the fork in the road is small, faded, and easily missed. Missing the turn will put you on a gnarly and narrow, active logging road.


There is a $5 parking fee. Cash and checks are no longer accepted at the trailhead to pay for parking due to vandalism. You now either need to purchase the parking permit online or at the fee kiosk at the trailhead; the kiosk was covered over when I arrived at the parking lot. You are not required to purchase a parking permit if you are a recreation pass holder, but make sure you prominently display the pass on your vehicle’s dashboard to avoid a fine.


Two highlights draw visitors to Drift Creek Falls: a 240-foot cable suspension bridge 100-feet above the creek that spans the gorge and the 75-foot falls itself. The best views of the falls are seen after crossing the suspension bridge. Individuals with balance problems should avoid crossing the bridge without help because the bridge can be bouncy. On the hike down, a song sparrow serenaded me. The wood sorel was in bloom, its delicate white flowers popping up among the tasty leaves. Western red cedar, western hemlock, Douglas fir, sword ferns, deer ferns, and wood sorel are the dominant vegetation. Grab some wood sorel on the way out to throw in a salad; pick them sparingly and not from the same plant or location.


Once on the other side of the gorge, you can access the shore of the creek and dip your toes, and more, in the cold water of the creek, making Drift Creek Falls an ideal place to cool off on a hot summer day. Use caution getting down to the creek, especially if it recently rained. The small gravel can be slick. I know because I slipped and landed wrong on my right knee. Fortunately, the only thing really hurt was my pride. I did manage to protect the camera I was carrying in my right hand when I fell.


Summer weekends can get very busy, so plan to arrive early to ensure a parking space and avoid the crowds. Even in spring the trail and parking lot can get busy. My truck was the only vehicle in the parking lot when I arrived at 8:50 a.m. The trail started getting busy about an hour later, and by the time I got back to my truck around 10:40 a.m.


You’ll find a trail map here.



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