EVEN BEFORE arriving at Triple Falls, waterfalls are plentiful.
Oneonta Creek flows through a land that time forgot. Lush vegetation struggles with raw basaltic rock for growing room. Rich winter rains give birth to dozens of small streams meandering beneath a canopy of western cedar and vine maple.
One guidebook won’t cover all of the wildflowers growing beside the trail; there are just too many. Calypso orchids peek out from under chocolate lilies, the background softened by the white blossoms of Solomon plume. Fresh new buds of tiger lilies prepare for a new season — towering over the dying petals of a white trillium.
Oneonta Creek is just as unique as is the plant life it helps feed. Although it has a humble beginning at a spring high on the northwest flank of Larch Mountain, it doesn’t take long for it to become a rough-and-tumble powerhouse.
In its short journey to the Columbia River the creek plunges over at least four spectacular waterfalls and carves the world famous Oneonta Gorge. This gorge is a U.S. Forest Department botanical area and is host to a wonderful variety of plants, some that are now found in rock gardens all over the world.
Our destination for this hike is Triple Falls, one of the more interesting falls in Oregon. Oneonta Creek splits into three separate waterfalls as it dives over a large basalt outcropping.
To visit this marvelous area, take the Old Scenic Highway at the Ainsworth Park Exit 35 and drive .25 miles beyond the Horsetail Falls Parking Lot. This is a moderate hike, just a little over 3.5 miles in total length with about a 500 ft. elevation gain.
The first part of the hike consists of two long traverses that climb beneath the branches of a Douglas fir forest. At the end of the first traverse is a side trail that will take you to Multnomah Falls. If you look straight up the mountain at this intersection you will see the remnants of an old moss-covered wall just above you. My best guess is this was an early attempt at flood control. If you have a better idea, let me know.
Just beyond the second traverse you will encounter another trail going to the left. This side trail drops quickly to a bridge that crosses Oneonta Creek and the upper part of Oneonta Gorge. From the bridge you will see the top of Oneonta Falls and north into the gorge.
The trail that continues on to Triple Falls follows the west wall of the canyon — here is a good place to start watching for wildflowers.
About a half-mile after the intersection, the trail takes several quick switchbacks, gaining elevation rapidly. Be careful here. In more than one place there is nothing-but-air from the side of the trail to the creek bed far below.
After a long traverse to the south you will reach Triple Falls. The best camera angle is from a rocky point that is at eye level with the top of the falls.
Continue following the trail to the old log bridge that crosses the creek to the east. Here are several spots for a serene lunch —the sight and sound of rushing water is completely mesmerizing.
Downstream is the roar of Triple Falls, upstream is Oneonta Creek and the forest primeval — truly a land that time forgot.