Despite the fact that ski resorts are still open and operating for Memorial Day, the weather in the valley is still mild enough to take a ride. If you want to head towards the mountains without hitting snow, but still take in some sensational views, head east on Highway 34 past Lebanon to McDowell Creek Falls.
McDowell Creek Falls is about 11 miles outside of Lebanon, Ore. There are trails to hike on, mostly following the creek. The rocks are crawling with lichens, the moss thick on the trees from the amount of moisture in the air. The smell of the wet forest hangs in the air as you walk along the soft, pine needle laden path through the trees.
There are three parking lots; lower, middle and upper. The lower and middle lots are both on the right side of the road, but the upper lot is at the top of a hill just before you take a sharp right turn. This lot is a little more private and is a good place to start the loop of the trail system. This is also where you will find the bigger and more powerful waterfall.
There is a wooden observation deck at the top where you can watch the falls and take pictures from the top. If you follow the path down, you will encounter the wooden walkways that lead you down to the lower level, just about the creek. There is another observation deck there as well. From here, you can see how high the waterfall is, plus see all the greenery on the walls of the cliffs surrounding the falls.
The walkway continues on over the creek, offering a few photographic opportunities then ends on the other side of the creek where wooden walkway ends, and dirt trail begins. This trail leads you along the path of the creek to the road. The road is slow enough usually that crossing is not too big of an issue. Once on the other side, following the path will take you to a footbridge. Once across the bridge, there is another set of falls a little ways up the path.
This set of falls has stone steps that lead to the top of it. This one is a little bit of a climb and about halfway up you really start feeling the weight of the armor in your riding jacket.
Once at the top, there is a beautiful view looking down through the forest. From this point, you can either turn around to go back the way you came, or if you continue along the trail, it will lead you through a dense forest of native trees and shrubs, and then back to the upper parking lot.
There are picnic spots at all three parking lots and bathroom facilities at the middle and lower parking lots.
If you are looking for a quick getaway for the day, or for a nice back country tour in the Willamette Valley, McDowell Creek Falls makes for a great place to have lunch and take a little down time exploring. Make sure to bring a camera, and your rain gear.