TRAVEL THERE: MY FAVORITE FALLS EVER!
Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. This past summer my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today we’re going to one of my absolute favorite places in Oregon, White River Falls.
How I Found White River Falls
Some of the things I enjoyed most about our Oregon vacation were the ones I found on my own, without a guidebook pointing me towards them. Places like Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens which is almost ignored by all the sources I used, Starvation Creek which I happened upon as I drove along and Maryhill Museum of Art which was actually in Washington, but certainly deserved to be part of my Columbia River experience. White River Falls is the same sort of thing.
As I plotted my route through Oregon, I knew the furthest point east I wanted to visit
was The Dalles and my next destination would be Timberline Lodge. Had I depended solely on the usual resources, I would have missed Maryhill Museum altogether (which would have been a great loss) and I would have never found White River Falls.
With one finger on The Dalles and another on Mount Hood, I scanned the map in my National Geographic/ The American Road Atlas to figure out if there was anything worth seeing along the way. I saw lots of icons for ski areas, but that wouldn’t do me much good in June. The travel magazines pointed me towards The Fruit Loop, south of Hood River and I’m sure that’s an interesting tour, but I didn’t get those vibes that said, “This is it!”
Squinting my eyes and holding my nose close to the map I saw “White River Falls” and decided to google it. “One of Oregon’s secret hideaways is located just east of Tygh Valley along Highway 216,” said oregonstateparks.org. That sounded pretty good, so I clicked back to images and fell in love. I had that This Is It Vibe. (Since my visit there’s been a tragic drowning there at the falls, so the google experience has been dampened. Don’t let that discourage you from visiting.)
My Visit to White River Falls
So on the day I visited the falls we woke up in The Dalles and spent the greater part of the day
enjoying Maryhill Museum. Then we headed south on US 197. The day turned warm and we commented on how Texas-ish the 80 degree weather was. At OR216 we turned left, obeying a sign promising to lead us to the falls. The only other place I’ve been that felt so completely out in the middle of nowhere was on my way to Monument Valley in Arizona. As promised we found the very modest entrance to White River Falls State Park.
There were a few picnic tables sprinkled around the edge of a small parking lot and a pathway led to an overlook of the falls. I can imagine anyone saying, “Ooooh aaaah,” at this point and heading back to the car, but I’d seen the pictures on the internet. I was anxious to find the right vantage point and that meant climbing down the hill.
Today, this stretch of White River is just a pretty place to visit, but
until the 1960’s (according to a visitor I met) it was an hydroelectric plant. You could see the dammed-up spillway on your way down and at the bottom of the hill was an abandoned building full of equipment. The roof has fallen away and the doors and windows have long since quit trying to keeping anyone out. We found the old water works to be almost as interesting as the falls were beautiful.
As we reached the bottom of the hill we heard sounds of laughter and splashing water. Following the sound we discovered a family having a picnic down by the river. I admired them for carrying their stuff all the way down the hill and they said they did it frequently throughout the summer. But they were impressed a Texas girl found her way to the park, much less climbed all the way down to the bottom of the falls. That’s where I learned the history of the location.
When you get to the bottom of the hill, you still haven’t gotten to the best vantage point. You have to squeeze in between the side of a rocky waterside slope and the abandoned building, use a large pipe as a balance beam and then start climbing again. From the bottom it looks like you’ll have to climb one of the rocky towers to get the best view, but once you get over the pipe, you find fairly level ground. A well-worn path will take you to the best vantage point. That’s where I planted myself for as long as I could get away with it.
If you get anywhere near White River Falls you’ve got to visit. I’ve been a lot of places in my life and I still think this is one of the prettiest I found. If they’d move it to Texas, I’d buy it from the state and build a house where I could sit on the front porch and stare at the falls.
These pictures are just a small sample of what Bill took, but eventually he ran out of angles and aperture
settings, so he was ready to go. I really didn’t want to, but I had paid-for reservations at Timberline Lodge, so I knew we had to. I reluctantly dusted off my jeans and headed up. Beach-side the family offered us liquid refreshment for which we were grateful.
As we went back up the hill I wished I’d asked the visiting historian when the dam was built. Serendipitously I glanced down the slope and there before me was the answer. At the top of the hill we explored the upper reaches of the falls, but not for long. There was road we needed to get behind us.
So go! Please go! You’ve GOT to go to White River Falls. You’ll feel as if you’ve found a magical place. And if you are fortunate enough to go, please let me know what you think.