Some back roads are a joy to drive. Others can be the bane of a waterfall lover’s existence. They are often infested with potholes, littered with debris, and play host to the occasional logging truck operating on the very brink of control. But they also aid in our quest to visit the most remote and scenic places in the Northwest. The 4.4 mile, 800 foot elevation gain hike that leads to Kentucky, Lower Kentucky, and North Fork Falls requires miles of sketchy paved and gravel road driving. But the hike and the falls are scenic enough to install a smile on your face for the entire drive back to civilization.
From Eugene, take Highway 126 west for 33 miles and make a left at a sign for the Whittaker Creek Recreation Area. Drive 1.6 miles and make a right, crossing a bridge. Drive another 1.5 miles and veer left onto Dunn Ridge Road. Continue 7 miles to a junction and make a left onto unpaved Knowles Creek Road. Drive 2.6 more miles and make a right onto road 23. Go 1.6 miles and turn right on paved road 919. Now drive the final 2.7 miles to the parking area on the right.
The trail begins across the road from the parking area and begins a slow, steady descent through attractive old-growth. After .6 mile the trail reaches the top of Upper Kentucky Falls and follows a steep set of switchbacks to its base. There are a handful of good angles to photograph the falls from, but the best are at the bottom.
From here the trail continues an easy amble of 1 mile to a set of descending switchbacks. When the switchbacks end at a junction, stay right and walk around the corner to a viewing platform of North Fork Falls on the left, and Lower Kentucky Falls on the right. There’s some scrambling and rock hopping to be done here if you’d like a better look at North Fork Falls, and you might as well. It’s possible to get a shot of both cascades in the same frame if you can get out there far enough. Return the way you came.
For more of Adam's writing, reviews, and photography, visit AdamSawyer.com or follow him on Facebook. His forthcoming guidebook, Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon, published by Falcon Guides, will be available spring 2014.