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Breitenbush Cascades Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The lowest tier of Breitenbush Cascades reachable by trail. (Matt Reeder)
Looking over the brink of the third tier towards lower tiers of the falls. The falls continues at least another 100 ft. down and possibly as much as another 500-600 ft. down. (Matt Reeder)
Mt. Jefferson is visible through the trees just above the first tier of the falls. (Matt Reeder)
  • Start point: Breitenbush Cascades TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Breitenbush Cascades
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 0.4 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet loss (must be gained on the way back up)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Summer and early Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

Once a signed trail listed on topographic maps, the Breitenbush Cascades Trail northeast of Detroit has fallen into disuse and obscurity, which is an absolute shame as the trail packs a mighty wallop. With fantastic views of Mount Jefferson and one of Oregon's tallest and greatest waterfalls flowing beside the trail, this might be the best short trail in the Central Oregon Cascades.

The trail begins at a small pullout off of FR4220, the rocky and narrow access road to Breitenbush Lake. Look for a sign that reads "Charlie's Falls" marking the trailhead. Ignore the trail branching off to the left; it leads down to the North Fork of the North Fork of the Breitenbush River above the falls. Instead take the trail leading out of the parking lot south towards the sound of rushing water, very audible from the small parking lot. The well-defined trail contours straight ahead and then hooks a left and switchbacks down to the first tier of Breitenbush Cascades, a 30-40 foot drop visible through the trees to the left. You can walk right up to the water as it churns past several large boulders. Around this point back on the trail look through the trees for an outstanding view of Mount Jefferson, some seven miles or so to the south. Beyond this point the trail switchbacks again down to the second tier of the falls, another 30 foot drop into a narrow rock bowl. This is the lowest part of the falls that is reachable by trail, and approaching this tier requires a degree of caution. The trail becomes rocky and narrow with a steep section just before reaching the tier, and reaching the water requires scrambling over some large boulders. Here the trail ends at the base of the second tier of the falls. Looking over the brink will give you an idea of just how far down the cascades continue; you can see another tier, followed by another, followed by another. While the official height of the falls is unknown, a look down the brink of the falls would suggest that 250-300 ft is reasonable; however, a look at satellite photos and topographic maps suggest that Breitenbush Cascades could top 1,000 ft tall, making it the tallest waterfall in Oregon. More information is needed.

Return the way you came, but be sure to take your time; for such a short trail, there is much to see, and views reveal themselves on the way back that you may have missed on the way down. It is theoretically possible to bushwhack further down to gain a better view of the falls, but remember-you are bushwhacking down a very steep slope (the bottom of the canyon is roughly 1,500 feet downstream), and the elevation gain must thus be made on the way back. Exercise caution.


Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

The only restriction you'll find is the terrible condition of the access road. It is passable for passenger cars if you drive slowly and pay close attention for rocks and trees in the road.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • None known

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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.