Sahalie and Koosah Falls

Sahalie Falls

  • Easy
  • 2.6-mile loop
  • 400 feet elevation gain
  • Open May through November
  • Use: hikers, bicycles
  • Map: Clear Lake (USGS)

Here’s a quick way to impress out-of-state friends with Oregon’s roaring rivers, waterfalls, and old-growth forests: Take them on the waterfall loop around the McKenzie River’s two grandest cascades. The hike starts at 100-foot-tall Sahalie Falls, a raging cataract that pounds the river into rainbowed mist. Then the loop descends past 70-foot Koosah Falls and returns on the river’s far shore through forests of 6-foot-thick Douglas fir and droopy-limbed red cedar.

Drive 19 miles east of McKenzie Bridge on Highway 126 (or 5.2 miles south of the Highway 20 junction). Near milepost 5, pull into a large, well-marked Sahalie Falls parking area and walk 100 yards down to the railed viewpoint of the falls. In Chinook jargon, the old trade language of Northwest Indians, sahalie meant “top,” “upper,” “sky,” and “heaven.” Sahalie Tyee (heaven chief) was the pioneer missionaries’ translation for God. Natives pronounced the word saghalie, accenting the first syllable and using a guttural gh.

Start the loop by heading left from the viewpoint, following a “Waterfall Trail” pointer downstream. The river churns through continuous whitewater for half a mile before leaping off another cliff at Koosah Falls. The word koosah also meant sky or heaven in Chinook. Notice the massive springs emerging from the lava cliff near the base of the falls. Over the past 6000 years, half a dozen basalt flows from the High Cascades have tortured the McKenzie River, damming it at Clear Lake, squeezing it into a gorge here, and burying it altogether on the dry riverbed above Tamolitch Pool.

Keep right at all junctions after Koosah Falls. In another 0.4 mile you’ll meet a gravel road beside Carmen Reservoir. Follow the road right 150 yards to a trail sign, take the path into the woods 100 yards, and turn right on the McKenzie River Trail. This route heads upstream past even better viewpoints of Koosah and Sahalie Falls. After 1.3 miles, cross the river on a footbridge and turn right for 0.4 mile to your car.

Other Options

For a longer hike, continue upstream on the McKenzie River Trail 0.6 mile to the Clear Lake loop, or else head downstream for 3.4 quiet miles along a dry riverbed to a dry waterfall at Tamolitch Pool.

This chapter is an excerpt from 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades.

Koosah Falls