Sweet Water Falls Gorge, located 10.2 miles from Mapleton Oregon , is a non-technical hiking canyon through Oregon’s dense temperate rain forest. The gorge follows the river through a primitive canyon on a well maintained trail. It is pretty when the sun shines but really comes into its own on those rainy cloudy days Oregon is famous for. The boulders are covered with green moss; the trees are dripping with goat’s beard and a dozen waterfalls cascade from the hillsides and on the river. For people from outside the area, it is a fantastically beautiful hike and on rainy day hikes to the falls will have you think you’ll see Gandalf or Frodo around every turn. It is a perfect example of Oregon’s rain forest and well worth the short drive from Eugene or a diversion from touring the coast.
The hike is popular even though it’s a little bit of a drive from either Florence or Eugene. It’s listed as one of the best easy hikes in Oregon on numerous websites and is reasonably simple to find. You can expect small crowds on sunny days but the colder and rainier, the more likely you’ll have the entire trail to yourself.
The hike is an out and back which starts from either of two trailheads. The Gorge (Homestead) trailhead is the longer and prettier hike. Starting from the trailhead, the trail follows Sweet creek with a 350 foot elevation gains past 11 waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls are small, no more than 20 feet high, but are pretty none the less. The trail is well marked and well maintained for the entire length and suitable for casual hikers and non-hikers. The trail gently climbs for the entire 1.1 mile of trails until it reaches an observation platform next to Sweet Water Falls.
The main attractions, other than the gorge’s stunning beauty are the 11 waterfalls. The two biggest are Annice and the area’s namesake, Sweet Water Falls. Sweet Water Falls is a four tier fall and is 70 feet top to bottom. There is a rustic observation point for the artistic and photographic next to the falls. Of the remaining falls, they are much smaller but greatly add to the area’s beauty. During salmon spawning season, you can see the large fish fighting their way up the river and jumping up the waterfalls…pretty spectacular.
Weathermen in the area have the easiest job on the planet; all they have to do is predict rain and they’ll be right over 2/3rds of the time. The area doesn’t usually get serious snow in the winter or get very hot (over 80) in the summer. First time visitors to Oregon, however, may find themselves chilled to the bone because of the damp even though the thermometer never falls below 45. Don’t let the moderate climate fool you…bring a light jacket even in the summer. The locals tend to look washed out and pale due to little sunshine and few opportunities to tan. Overall, the climate is very similar to the Rhineland in Germany.
The countryside is Douglas fir, Western Red Cedar, and Hemlock forest broken up by small farms (an acre or so) along the road. In the canyon itself, the sheer walls along the gorge are lined with moss covered rocks. This is raincoat, Sasquatch, and logger land. The area receives 71 inches of rain every year and, as a result, the undergrowth is a lush mixture of Maidenhead ferns, wildflowers, and blackberries.
Distance: 2.2 round trip
Elevation Gain TH to Falls 350 feet
Sweet Water Falls Gorge is about 55 miles from Eugene (to the East), 24 miles from Florence (to the West) and located 10 miles from Mapleton Oregon.
From Eugene, take highway 126 west for ~45 miles until you see Mile Marker 15 next to the Mapleton Siuslaw Bridge. This a pretty drive in and of itself on a twisty, windy road. Look for a sign just before the bridge for Sweet Creek Road (located at 44.032675,-123.856301). Follow Sweet Creek Road for 10 miles through the country side. The gorge trailhead, called Homestead Trailhead is the first one you’ll see and is the best hike. The Homestead Trailhead has parking for around 8 vehicles, a picnic table and an outhouse. The trail is marked and starts with a small foot bridge.
From Florence, take highway 126 east through Mapleton (around 14 miles). Just after crossing the Mapleton bridge, go down Sweet Creek Road for 10 miles to the trailhead
Some websites say the area requires a Recreation Fee Pass (Northwest Forest Pass) parking permit, costing $5 per car per day or $30 per season but others say it’s a no fee area. I didn’t see a sign either way and didn’t get a ticket. In any event, there is no charge for hiking. No motor vehicles are allowed on the hiking trails. No picking wildflowers, hunting or collecting rocks/souvenirs is allowed.
The area is open all year, 24 hours a day.