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Lava Canyon from Smith Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Lava Canyon (Steve Hart)
The Lava Canyon Bridge (Steve Hart)
Lava Canyon Falls (Steve Hart)

Contents

Hike Description

This hike is longer than the more commonly done Lava Canyon Loop Hike, but it offers views of additional lava formations. It has the benefit of starting at the bottom, so you'll get the climbing done earlier and you might even find a bit of solitude, if you're lucky.

From the Lower Smith Creek Trailhead, start out on the Lava Canyon Trail (#184). The first part of this hike looks a lot like the Ramona Falls Trail and for good reason. You're walking on a very similar mud flow of roughly the same age. After a short while you'll see the bridge abutments from a road that disappeared during the 1980 eruptive cycle. A bit farther up a section of the path has disappeared due to recent erosion, but there's an obvious reroute around the area. The trail works up the edge of the Muddy River. The trail passes over the Muddy River Bridge at mile 1.3. Just after this bridge, there's a junction with the Smith Creek Trail (#225). Turn left and continue upstream on the Lava Canyon Trail.

About a quarter mile from this junction, you'll come to another junction, this one fainter and unsigned. Take the left fork. The rail uses a short steel ladder to access The Ship, a free standing remnant of a 2000 year old lava flow. The trail is narrow here in spots and this short spur might not be the best for kids or dogs. There's a nice view of Lower Lava Canyon Falls from the end of the spur trail.

Return to the main trail and continue uphill. The trail dips into a small box canyon with no way out but up. Trail builders here resorted to another steel ladder to lift the trail out of the culdesac. The top of the ladder is near the top of Lower Lava Canyon Falls. A short distance further up the trail is Middle Lava Canyon Falls. Both of these waterfalls are a bit difficult to see from the trail, but take care if you look for better angles. Ten people have died in this canyon resulting from falls.

The biggest waterfall is about a quarter mile farther. Known simply as Lava Canyon Falls, this beasty is about 200 feet tall and quite easily seen from the trail. You can walk out on the rocks at the top for a dramatic view down the canyon. If you look upstream from here, you'll see Triplet Falls, a smaller three tiered affair. Look up in the sky to catch your first view of the big bridge.

There's a trail junction at mile 2.5 with the Lava Canyon Loop Trail. The Loop Trail crosses the Lava Canyon Suspension Bridge. This bridge was built in 1993, by Sahale, the same company that built the Drift Creek Suspension Bridge. I always advise people to cross the bridge now, just in case you wind up a bit spooked. This bridge rocks and rolls quite a bit and let's face it, it's quite a ways up. The walkway is made up of slats of wood that rest on cables with no side stiffening at all. At each step, the board under your feet sinks a couple of inches before it seems to solidify. This bridge spooks a lot of people that normally aren't afraid of heights.

After you cross the bridge the trail continues upstream. Upper Lava Canyon Falls is hidden from the trail, but the top of the falls is visible from the lava flows. This might be the best place to see the contrast between the 2500 year old black andesite lava on top and the much older reddish rhyolite that underlies it. There are numerous other places to note the natural history of the canyon. The Loop Trail soon crosses the Muddy on a small steel bridge and reunites with the Lava Canyon Trail.

Continue uphill on the now paved trail. You'll see a lot of people in this upper area, since you're very close to the upper trailhead. Look for bright pink fireweed in the spring and bright red maples in fall. There are bathrooms and picnic tables in the Lava Canyon Trailhead parking lot, so it makes a good place to have lunch. When you're done head back down the Lava Canyon Trail. You'll complete the loop by staying on the Lava Canyon Trail all the way back.

Maps

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Northwest Forest Pass required at the trailhead

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Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.