During my research, there were a handful of waterfalls whose pictures made me pause in admiration and think, “One day, I get to go there!” Paulina Creek Falls was one of those, and it did not disappoint.
A pair of 80′ waterfalls pour side by side from Paulina Lake to the rocky ground below. There are two viewing areas, and the lower one offers plenty of boulders over which to maneuver in hopes of capturing the best photo – or just for the fun of it.
There are multiple waterfalls downstream from here, but I could only find directions to two. We stopped first at McKay Crossing Falls, which is viewed from a campsite in the campground of the same name. Luckily, the campsite was not occupied, and we were able to explore the area freely.
Our next stop was Footbridge Falls. We took an access road from 10 Mile Sno-Park to the creek, so this part of the hike was not the greatest of trails. We did, however, see a deer on the road ahead of us on the way back, and the day was absolutely divine, which more than made up for any little faults of the trail. And the creek itself – perfectly picturesque. The footbridge area makes a wonderful place to stop for a lunch break.
Our chosen path led us to the top of the waterfall, which of course, does not offer the best of views. My husband climbed down the side, and as you can see in the photo, Footbridge Falls is beautiful from that vantage point.
We crossed the footbridge and headed down the Peter Skene Ogden trail a short distance and spotted what we thought was a second waterfall through the trees. I now believe we were looking at the second tier of Footbridge Falls.
To figure out the mystery of which waterfall that second drop belongs to, I asked for help on the Facebook group “Pacific NW Waterfalls.” (Which is a fantastic resource, by the way. If you’re not already in the group, you should check it out.) What I discovered is that many of the waterfalls along the creek are accessible from the Peter Skene Ogden trail. There’s even one which is a natural water slide. I also discovered that there doesn’t seem to be a definitive guide to the waterfalls on Paulina Creek and the Peter Skene Ogden trail yet. So…we have to go back! Usually when I write those words, it’s with a groan for having done shoddy research before our trip. This time, though, I’m excited to go back, because the experience is worth repeating. Next time, we will start at Paulina Creek Falls and hike downhill to McKay Crossing. We just need to find someone willing to drop us off at the top and pick us up at the bottom!
Paulina Creek Falls lies within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. There is a fee to enter the area, so go ahead and explore before beginning your hike down the trail. You absolutely must drive to the top of Paulina Peak. On a clear day, you can see five states at once from this point! The road to Paulina Peak is only open during the summer, and it is severely washboarded, so it is not a pleasant drive. But the view is unquestionably worth it. The Big Obsidian Flow is also worth a visit, but note that dogs are not allowed on the obsidian since it might cut their paws.
My rating: Must See/Favorite (4 stars)
Paulina Creek: Waterfall – 4 stars, Trail – n/a stars, Experience – 4 stars
Footbridge Falls: Waterfall – 2 stars, Trail – 2 stars, Experience – 3 stars
McKay Crossing Falls: Waterfall – 2 stars, Trail – n/a, Experience – 2 stars
Distance from Beaverton: About four hours southeast
Nearest town: La Pine
Nearest city: Bend
Length of round-trip hike: The Peter Skene Ogden Trail is about 6 miles from McKay Crossing Falls to Paulina Creek Falls. The route that we took to Footbridge Falls was just under 2 miles round trip, and the other two falls can be accessed without a hike.
Best season to visit: I highly recommend visiting in summer so that you can also drive up to Paulina Peak. Paulina Lake Road is closed in winter due to snow, but you can access the area by skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles.
Things to know: If you are a mountain biker, you may bike uphill and then take the access road back downhill.
Consider combining this trip with: Fall River Falls
Toilet / Amenities: Toilets, picnic tables, visitor centers, and campgrounds near the beginning and end of the trail; none on the trail itself.
How to get there:
- From Bend, take Highway 97 south about 23 miles.
- Turn left onto Paulina Lake Road.
- If you want to start at McKay Crossing, turn left after 3.2 miles onto a gravel road signed for the campground. Follow the road for another 2.3 miles to the campground. Cross the bridge to park in the day use area, and then walk back across the bridge and downstream to view the waterfall from site 9, 10, or 11.
- If you want to follow our route to Footbridge Falls, drive 10 miles on Paulina Lake Road (6.8 miles from the road to McKay Crossing) to 10 Mile Sno-Park. Hike along a trail for off-road vehicles that begins at the far end of the turnout. After .4 mile, bear left at a junction and walk .6 mile to a trail that leads to the creek and footbridge. The waterfall is downstream from the footbridge.
- If you want to start at Paulina Creek Falls, drive 12.5 miles on Paulina Lake Road to the day use area.