The Santiam Pass is located in western central Oregon in the Cascade mountain range. It can be reached heading east on HWY 126 from Eugene in two hours, or in three hours south from Portland via HWY 20 east out of Salem.
Near the junction of those two highways lies a marked turnout for Sahalie Falls. During the warmer months there is a well established parking lot and in a short jaunt from your car you will find yourself at the impressively 100 feet tall, but generally low flowing, Sahalie Falls. This waterfall lies on part of the much longer McKenzie River Trail and if you follow it south it will lead you to the equally beautiful Koosah Falls.
While this is a wonderful pit stop along HWY 126 during the summer, in the winter months the entire area is transformed into an amazingly stark and beautiful wonderland full of deep snow drifts, tempestuous cornices, and beautiful hanging ice formations. The Mckenzie River, once trickling over the waterfalls is now surging with the snowmelt from the mountains above. The impressive height of Sahalie Falls under the seasonal addition of rushing glacial water provides a roaring opalescent spectacle that is wonderful to behold.
The parking lot is not accessible during the snowy season because the plows that operate on the HWY push snow up to block the entrance as they feverishly work to keep the HWY clear and safe. However, the waterfalls are still easy to locate as all the signage remains.
Start your trip by bringing lots of warm clothes, sturdy waterproof boots, thick socks, snow gear, a lunch, and don’t forget your camera! You can park along the north side of the highway and climb over the small snow bank created by the aforementioned plows. Once into the parking lot follow a well established path about 50 yards down to the Sahalie Falls viewing platform. It will look like there is a trail that leads down nearer to the base of the waterfall, but be careful! The Forest Service has closed this access and the spray from the massive falls has turned the entire area into a sheet of solid ice.
After spending an appropriate amount of time admiring the natural beauty of Sahalie Falls make your way down the McKenzie River Trail. The snow covered path is used often and it should be no problem finding your way. You may even see a few footprints leading to wonderful viewpoints along the way, but remember, be careful! The sub-freezing temperatures create a very slippery landscape and one wrong step could put you into the icy torrent.
After carefully making your way about a mile down the trail you will come to a viewpoint above Koosah Falls. There is a bench here that I recommend sitting on to take in the scene. The spray from this impressive sheet waterfall has covered the surrounding cliffs in dazzling ice formations.
From this viewpoint make your way further down the trail until you reach the lower viewing platform, however, for the best view of the waterfall continue on the lower path another 100 yards until you come to a small staircase off to your right, carefully follow the icy steps down to a small viewing platform that gives you a perfect uninterrupted shot of the entire waterfall.
To get back to your car just retrace your steps. I always love out-and-back hikes because you get to see the trail from an entirely new perspective on your return journey.
This is a great way to spend as few as 15 minutes or as long as an entire day. Either way it is easy to access and, if you are in the area, definitely not to be missed.
Enjoy the full gallery of Nathan’s adventure to the Sahalie and Koosah Falls below.