Oregon Outdoor Family: Sweet Creek Trail
Lane County’s Premier Waterfall Experience
INTRODUCING OREGON OUTDOOR FAMILY – This Lane County family loves the outdoors. The Hicks not only have children of their own but work in foster care. For them, whether an outing is enjoyable often depends on preparedness: foreknowledge about their destination. Is the hike too long for a toddler? Is there an easily navigable pathway down which to push a stroller? Are there bathrooms nearby? Should they bring their own snacks and water?
Oregon Outdoor Family mother and blogger is Heather Hicks. Shannon Hicks is the father figure on the crew and often the videographer on their excursions. Heather and Shannon’s daughter, Camille, is the burgeoning photographer. Many of the photographs you see on the Oregon Outdoor Family website have been framed by her keen eyes and taken by her hands.
Expect to see articles from this bunch appear periodically in the Sentinel, especially during the summer months. To read about additional adventures, as taken and told by the Hicks family, visit www.oregonoutdoorfamily.com.
No adjectives quite live up to describing Sweet Creek Trail, located near Mapleton, OR (which is about 20 minutes east of Florence or one hour west of Eugene). Eleven waterfalls line a one-mile trail in the forest. Eleven. E. L. E. V. E. N. Try taking photos of all of them, I dare you. One waterfall flows into the next, and it’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail. Our family was enthralled by the experience.
The ages of our children on this trip: 2, 2, 5, 6, 8, and 13 years.
There are several trailheads by which you can access Sweet Creek Trail. Among them, Homestead Trailhead and the Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead are quite popular. Homestead offers the full 1.1-mile Sweet Creek Trail hike (or 2.2 miles out-and-back) and features 11 waterfalls. A picnic table and a vault toilet are located on-site in its parking lot.
The parking lot happened to be full during our visit, so people took to parking their vehicles up and down the side of the road as well. As for us, we managed to find a vacant spot right next to the bathroom (hooray!).
If you are short on time or only want to see the star of the show, go past Homestead Trailhead and park further up the road at Sweet Creek falls Trailhead. Starting from this location, hikers have a 0.4-mile trek ahead of them (or 0.8 miles out-and-back).
TIPS BEFORE YOU GO: This trail is not stroller-friendly, so if you are taking young ones along with you, make sure to pack a baby carrier! Also, there are metal grate catwalks along part of the trail that have been known to make some dogs uncomfortable.
Hiking the Sweet Creek Trail
We’d heard over and over from other outdoor enthusiasts that Sweet Creek Trail is a hike you cannot miss. Oddly enough, in my 20 years of living here (and for my husband, his entire life), we’d never hiked it. We had pretty high expectations, and to be honest, the experience does live up to the hype. Every word is true: Sweet Creek Trail is spectacular. As soon as our family arrived, there were things to see. The first bridge was mere steps away from the parking lot. And of course, we had great fun clomping across it.
Then there were the waterfalls. I’ll admit, we all each had a moment where we almost tripped a few times; we were so wrapped up in watching the creek and the falls that we occasionally forgot to look at the trail. Even the creek is lovely, the colors moving from white water to pale seafoam, from effervescent foam to deep pools that appeared like glowing aqua.
The sun was bright but low in the sky on the day of our outing. This did not offer the best conditions for photography, but as words somewhat fail to prepare you for the majesty of these falls, photographs are bound to fail as well.
Sweet Creek Trail’s 11 waterfalls can all be enjoyed while traversing a one-mile stretch of trail. They are spaced quite regularly, too. This makes it a great trail for kids of all ages because there is always something to capture their attention; just as you pass one waterfall, the next is in view. That said, it should be noted that the water flow of the creek can be variable. Our family visited Sweet Creek Trail in March when the water flow was high. During the summer months, when the water flow is lower, some of the waterfalls shrink to a trickle. At any rate, each of the falls was uniquely beautiful, and to see many of them – just by themselves – would have made for a worthy trip.
This 35-foot-tall waterfall deserves a special introduction: it is different from any of the other falls on the trail. In fact, Annice Falls introduces itself with a metal- and wood-constructed catwalk that hovers over the creek, secured to the rocky cliffside running beside it. At the pinnacle of the catwalk is the falls itself, and the more you see of it, the more impressed you’ll be. It is the namesake of Annice Marie Ellingson Johnson, who was born and raised on a ranch near the recreation area and who worked as a secretary at Mapleton Elementary for more than 30 years.
The site is located somewhere in the 11-waterfall progression near the middle of the pack (near waterfall #6, by our rough count). Besides Sweet Creek Falls, it is the only other waterfall with a formal name. TIPS BEFORE YOU GO: Any people or dogs who get the heebie-jeebies while dealing with heights may not love this portion of the trail, but if you can keep going, it’s worth it.
Sweet Creek Falls
You will know it when you have arrived at Sweet Creek Falls. This 70-foot-tall waterfall has four interestingly shaped tiers down which cascading white water flows. You will find a great place here as well, where you and your family can sit while you take in the scenery.
And Even More Waterfalls
The fun isn’t over yet; keep hiking! There are a few more waterfalls to view before you get to the end of Sweet Creek Trail.
AMENITIES & DIRECTIONS
● From the Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead: 0.4 miles or 0.8 miles out-and-back
● From the Homestead Trailhead: 1.1 miles or 2.2 miles out-and-back
● A picnic table and a vault toilet is available at Homestead Trailhead (it has no lock on the door, so be prepared to guard the door, or make sure to knock before you enter)
● No parking fee or access fee
● Not a trail that is accessible for wheelchairs or strollers (trail contains narrow spots, stairs, and protruding roots)
● For additional information, a map of the trail, or driving directions, visit the Sweet Creek Falls Trail #1319 webpage posted by the United States Forest Service at www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recreation/recarea/?recid=42667.