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November 16, 2011 / Greg Vaughn

Triple Play – three waterfalls in one day

Spirit Falls waterfall Cascade Mountains Oregon

Spirit Falls, Umpqua National Forest, Cascade Mountains, Oregon.

A very scenic drive on Forest Service roads in the Umpqua National Forest will take you to a trio of waterfalls between Cottage Grove and Oakridge, Oregon.  I found conditions for photography just about perfect the other day for waterfall photography, with soft light overcast light and good water flow in the creeks thanks to recent rains. To add to the attraction, there is still a bit of fall color left in the lower elevation areas on the west side of the Cascade Mountains.

Driving east from Cottage Grove, I skirted Dorena Lake and continued on Laying Creek Road, which becomes Forest Road 17,  and headed up into the mountains. First stop was Spirit Falls, pictured above. Alex Creek fans out over moss-covered basalt to form a beautiful veil, dropping 60 feet into a small, shallow pool surrounded by lush forest.

Pinard Falls Umpqua National Forest Cascade Mountains Oregon

Pinard Falls, Umpqua National Forest, Cascade Mountains, Oregon.

Just a few miles away, I found Pinard Falls, where the East Fork of Laying Creek drops 105 feet in a narrow gorge. The view right from the trail is pretty nice, and I tried using some bigleaf maple tree leaves to help frame the scene and add some color. This is one of those falls where if you get right down to the pool and look up, your photo will include a lot of white sky.

Moon Falls Umpqua National Forest Cascade Mountains, Oregon.

Moon Falls, Umpqua National Forest, Cascade Mountains, Oregon.

The third waterfall on this drive is Moon Falls, a few miles upstream from Spirit Falls on Alex Creek. The falls are a lacy 125-foot cascade that is quite beautiful, but difficult to get a good photo angle on due to the terrain. Rather than a full view, I opted to scramble up a talus slope to an upper pool area with a side view of a portion of the falls.

Each of these falls is reached by an easy 1-mile roundtrip hike. The surrounding forest is a mix of second growth and old growth, with ferns and mushrooms in the understory. Fall and late spring are the best times to photograph them; in summer the creek flow is very low and in early spring the falls are thundering torrents from the mountain snow melt. If you just want a pleasant hike, however, the trails are accessible year round. Visiting these falls makes a really nice day trip, and you can make it a loop trip by continuing on good gravel-surfaced forest roads to Oakridge and then west on Highway 58 to return to I-5.

Here’s a Google Map with Spirit Falls pinpointed to give you a general idea of the location:

The Umpqua National Forest and BLM teamed up for a website that has information and driving directions for a whole bunch of waterfalls in the area that lies east of I-5 between Eugene and Roseburg.

A really great resource for more information on these falls, and waterfalls all over the Pacific Northwest, is .

Tech stuff for the above images:  Nikon D300s, Nikon 12-24mm f/4 and 17-55mm f/2.8 lenses, ISO 100 and polarizer plus ND filter so I could get down to shutter speeds of 1-5 seconds and give the water that nice, silky look. On a tripod, of course (Gitzo legs & Really Right Stuff BH-40 head).

There are hundreds of beautiful waterfalls in western Oregon – where are your favorites?


One Comment

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  1. Savory Simple / Nov 16 2011 8:34 pm

    These are all stunningly beautiful.

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