Soaring pine trees. A dramatic waterfall spilling over a craggy cliffside. A suspension bridge 100-feet above the forest floor below. The Drift Creek Falls Trail offers all these views, plus lush ferns, mossy trees, and all the Pacific Northwest vibes you can handle.
So if you’re looking for an incredible day hike near the Northern Oregon Coast, look no further- here’s everything you need to know about the Drift Creek Falls trail.
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Pssst… crazy about Oregon and all its gorgeous waterfalls (I know I am!)? Check out these other waterfall hikes within two and a half hours of the Drift Creek Falls trail:
- Abiqua Falls: Oregon’s Most Unique Waterfall
- Trail of Ten Falls: Hike Behind FOUR Stunning Waterfalls!
We’ve also got some information-packed content about the Oregon Coast:
- 11 Incredible Things to Do in Cannon Beach
- Cape Kiwanda: 10 Things to Do in Pacific City, Oregon
- 11 Stunning Hikes Near Cannon Beach: Oregon Coast’s Playground for Adults
About the Drift Creek Falls trail
Length: 3.2 miles
Elevation gain: 541 feet
Dog-friendly? Yes, but they must be on a leash.
How to get to the Drift Creek Falls trail
The trailhead is located here in the Siuslaw National Forest, about 40 minutes east of Lincoln City, Oregon or about an hour and 20 minutes west of Salem. Unlike some of the gnarly, pothole filled roads leading to trailheads in the Pacific Northwest (I’m looking at you Abiqua Falls and Skyline Divide), this road is well-maintained and mostly paved, so any ol’ passenger vehicle will do just fine for the vast majority of the year. That being said, make sure to drive slowly and carefully- the curvy road narrows to one lane in some sections.
The parking lot is large, but, given that this is a popular hike, I’d recommend showing up early to snag a spot, especially on busy summer weekends. You’ll also need to pick up a $5 per vehicle day-use pass at the trailhead and leave your proof of purchase on your dashboard, unless you’ve already got a federal interagency pass, like America the Beautiful, or a Northwest Forest Pass ready to go.
When to Hike the Drift Creek Falls trail
Due to its proximity to the coast and its temperate weather, Drift Creek Falls trail stays open and lovely to hike year round. However, each season has its pros and cons:
- Spring (March through May): Spring tends to be rainy, with a muddy trail to boot. On the plus side, the gorgeous forest you’ll hike through will be blooming and endlessly green- plus, between the rain and snowmelt, Drift Creek Falls will be at its very fullest!
- Summer (June through August): This season gives you the best chance for warm, sunny days- but it also tends to be the most crowded.
- Fall (September through October): Like every good millennial girl, I love me some autumn vibes, and I can confirm- Drift Creek Falls does fall right. Between the crisp, forest air and the colorful maple and cedar trees lining the forest, autumn is a spectacular time to visit. But the waterfall’s curtain may dry out a bit by the time of your visit. When my husband, Justin, and I visited in September, the waterfall was definitely not at its most flow-y self.
- Winter (November through February): You’ll have the best chance of getting the trail mostly to yourself during this period, but you also may run into rain and a muddy- or even icy- trail. Accordingly, I’d recommend throwing some crampons in your backpack for additional traction along the trail.
And during particularly cold periods, you may even encounter snow on the drive to the trailhead. Given the road will not be plowed, you should only try to venture here in snowy weather if you have an all-wheel drive vehicle at your disposal (and tire chains in your trunk for if you run across a particularly nasty layer of snow or ice along the road).
No matter what time of the year you come, I’d recommend wearing waterproof shoes that provide traction and support (like these hiking boots for women or these hiking boots for men)- this is the Pacific Northwest, after all, so rain and mud are no strangers around these parts. Plus, with all the enormous trees surrounding the trail, it’s not unusual to have to scramble over a fallen tree or two on your journey (that just makes the trail more fun, in my book!).
What to Expect Along the Drift Creek Falls trail
The path will start off leading you downhill, through an absolutely beautiful regrowth forest of Douglas firs and sitka spruces towering overhead and luscious undergrowth flourishing underneath. The trees in this forest are SO gorgeous- honestly, they’re one of my favorite parts of this hike.!
You’ll follow the trail down four switchbacks before you reach a junction approximately 0.7 miles in; if you turn left here, you’ll be on the North Loop trail, which loops a bit north before rejoining the main trail in 0.8 miles. This route is a bit longer (by 0.5 miles), has a little more elevation gain, and tends to be more overgrown.
You’ll also pass, though, beneath a cathedral of massive old-growth trees dripping with neon green moss and lichens- and LOADS of huckleberry bushes if you visit in the summertime! Otherwise, if old-growth forests and huckleberries aren’t your jam, continue, instead, straight on the main trail to wind deeper into the forest.
The path begins to follow the North Fork of Drift Creek, until 1.3 miles into the trail, when the creek suddenly drops over an enormous basalt cliff into a gorge below. Here, you’ll reach the aforementioned suspension bridge, floating 100 feet above the forest floor below. Stretching across the 240-foot canyon, this is reportedly the longest suspension bridge in the entire state of Oregon!
The bridge is sturdy and well-maintained (fun fact: it can support up to 165,000 pounds!), but it does sway a little while you’re walking across it- which adds to a bit of the fun, for those who aren’t particularly scared of heights. While you may feel like a little kid swaying and playing on the bridge as you cross, make sure to stop your shenanigans for a few moments and gaze to your right- from here, you’ll have one of the best views of the falls!
Continuing across the bridge and down the trail, you’ll reach the base of the falls after another 0.3 miles. You can either stay along the shoreline and admire the 66-foot falls from afar or alternatively, you can skip across shallower parts of the creek and scramble up the enormous boulders by the falls to get an up-close-and-personal look at the waterfall and the incredible 55 MILLION year old volcanic cliffside it cascades over.
Regardless of which option you pick here, a word of warning- the elevation gain along this trail is a bit “backwards” compared to most hikes- you’ll start by moseying your way down to the falls and end your hike by climbing back uphill the entire time.
I promise the elevation gain really isn’t too bad, but, when I did this hike, I heard a handful of people complaining that the trail kicked their butts (I strongly suspect this is, at least partially, due to the whole “backwards elevation” thing)- so keep that in mind throughout your trek and save some of your energy for your way back to the trailhead!
Tips for the Drift Creek Falls trail
- Bring bear spray. There are all kinds of furry animal friends living in this forest- from flying squirrels to giant pacific salamanders and black bears. Given how heavily-trafficked this trail is, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter one- plus even if you did, it’s fairly unlikely they’ll harm you.
That being said, mama bears have been known to attack to protect their young- and I ain’t taking no chances with the mama bears of the world. So I always take bear spray (which is used much like pepper spray to temporarily disorient, but not injure aggressive animals) with me whenever I go hiking in bear country. Although we thankfully have never had to use it, we each carry this one.
- Take plenty of water. No matter how short a trail is, you should always pack water with you, in case anything goes awry on your hike. Justin and I each have a giant Nalgene bottle that we take everywhere. It’s better for the planet than single use plastic and also easier on your wallet.
- Use this interpretive trail map: This map from the U.S. Forest Service includes tons of interesting information, some interesting stops along the way, and best of all, TREE PUNS!
Where to stay near the Drift Creek Falls trail
Planning a trip to the nearby Lincoln City? The Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places on the planet- I’d recommend staying and exploring the Northern Oregon Coast for a couple of days (Lincoln City is a great midway point between Newport and Pacific City)!
- Starfish Manor Oceanfront Hotel: As the name suggests, you’ll be right next to the beach, with suites that have jacuzzis overlooking the ocean, fireplaces, and oceanfront balconies. Plus, who can say no to a name like “Starfish Manor”?
- Lincoln Sands Oceanfront Resort: With oceanfront rooms, beach access, and a heated pool, this lovely resort is the perfect place to call home as you explore around Lincoln City. Plus you basically need to stay here to rest your aching muscles in the hot tub and sauna from that grueling Drift Creek Falls hike, right? *wink*
- Shearwater Inn: This charming inn is all about the little things. It’s dog-friendly; they deliver continental breakfast to your room (!!!); and offer a daily wine social.
No go forth, swing on that suspension bridge, and see an incredible waterfall. Do you have any questions about the Drift Creek Falls trail before you head out? Let me know in the comments below.