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Cascadia State Park Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

In the South Santiam River, Cascadia State Park (bobcat)
Beginning of the Soda Creek Falls Trail (bobcat)
The site of the old soda spring, Cascadia State Park (bobcat)
The big swimming hole on the South Santiam (bobcat)
Lower Soda Falls in the summer, Cascadia State Park (bobcat)
Trails at Cascade State Park (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Cascadia TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Lower Soda Falls
  • Hike Type: Out and back and loop
  • Distance: 2.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 485 feet
  • High point: 1,285 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: In summer


Hike Description

In 1895, George Geisendorfer came to a small mineral spring on Soda Creek seeking relief from a bad case of pneumonia. Drinking the waters proved so restorative that George purchased the land, constructed a sawmill, and built The Geisendorfer, a resort hotel. For a few decades, visitors staying at the resort could partake of the strong-tasting waters, indulge in tennis and croquet, and enjoy the gardens. The buildings were in a state of decay when the state bought the property in 1940, so they were removed. The state added other acreage to the park in subsequent decades. Visitors still came to drink the mineral water but then the spring was capped. However, Cascadia remains a lovely, leafy spot on the banks of the South Santiam River, and a couple of short walks allow you to take in its natural attractions of big trees, a tall waterfall, and the South Santiam River.

From the picnic area, looking away from the river you’ll see three roads leading into the park. Take the road to the right, and walk down about 90 yards to a sign for Soda Creek Falls. A trail leads up to the left of Soda Creek under Douglas-fir, cedar, hemlock, alder, and big-leaf maple. Unfortunately, this creek bottom is also choked with blackberry. You’ll catch glimpses of the park’s campground to the left. Cross and recross the creek on footbridges, and keep right at a trail junction. Pass under mossy bowers of vine maple, hemlock, and Pacific yew. Some large Douglas-firs loom over the trail. Step over a tributary of Soda Creek, and pass more impressive Douglas-firs. The trail splits, with the branch to the right leading to the base of 134-foot, three-tiered Lower Soda Falls. Keep left to ascend to a large boulder and viewpoint to gaze at the falls splashing through rock crevices and spilling over a sheer face (Upper Soda Falls is half a mile north of Lower Soda Falls and outside the state park). The waterfall is rather slight most of the year, but plunges impressively in winter and spring.

Return to the picnic area where your vehicle is parked, and find the trail leading off across from the restrooms. There’s an interpretive sign here that explains the history of the Geisendorfer resort. A paved trail bordered by a pole-and-rail fence leads down across Soda Creek. A small rock patio now covers the area of the mineral spring. There’s a replica of a pump and a drinking fountain with regular, not mineral, water. You can see where the capped spring once was. Hike up to a picnic area. To your left is the spot where the hotel once stood. Keep right to pass a spot where faint wagon ruts mark the route that some early settlers took to avoid tolls on the Santiam Wagon Road across the river. You’ll arrive at a viewpoint over the pellucid pools of the South Santiam. A series of steps lead down to the river. Just upstream you can explore the channels and potholes carved in the bedrock. Downstream is the bridge that accesses the park. The 1994 structure is a replica of the original 1928 Howe Truss timber deck bridge, a construction usually reserved for covered bridges.

Return from the river, and keep walking east into the group camp area at a large meadow. Pass some restrooms, and take up the road track that enters a shady Douglas-fir/big-leaf maple forest. A spur switchbacks twice down to a lovely summer swimming hole. Another spur leads to a viewpoint over large mossy boulders and carved channels in the river. Keep right at the loop junction, and cross two footbridges. Tall old-growth Douglas-firs tower overhead, but blackberries also encroach in the undergrowth. There’s a last spur down to a gravel bar before the path turns left up a low bluff. A log across a trail junction blocks the path that leads out of the park through private timberland to Cascadia Cave, 0.8 miles away. You may visit this rock overhang with its ancient petroglyphs only on a guided tour led by the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest.

Make a left here. Follow a wide road track through the blackberry thickets to the beginning of the loop, and then keep right to retrace your steps to your vehicle.

Tour route to Cascadia Cave:

Currently, there are only two guided tours a year, in June and September. The cost is $10, and the entire tour will take about 6 ½ hours. Register ahead of time at Recreation.gov. The experience will begin in Cascadia State Park with an introduction to the lifestyles of the Kalapuya and Molalla.

From the junction at the east end of the state park, you’ll pass through a swale of Oregon ash. Duck under mossy cranapple bowers, and then reach a dense stand of young conifers. A spur left leads to a small rock formation. The path swings towards the river, and blackberries overhang the trail. Keep going until you come to another spur that leads left up to the rock overhang known as Cascadia Cave. The mysterious deeply cut petroglyphs in the soft rock face here date back perhaps 8,000 years. Even though they are federally protected, they are unfortunately marred by visitors’ initials. Many of the petroglyphs are abstract in form and their meaning is open to interpretation. Some of the etchings, including a prominent set of bear tracks, are highlighted by red pigment, also tactlessly slathered on by modern visitors to 'highlight' them more obviously. This is considered the premier petroglyph site on the west side of the Cascades in Oregon, but much has been lost because of looting, vandalism, and water damage since early settler days. Cascadia Cave is a site of spiritual significance for the Santiam Band of the Kalapuya and the Molalla; it lies along an ancient passageway into the mountains. Take the guided tour, which will be very illuminating, and be respectful: Touch nothing and leave nothing.


Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Picnic area, restrooms, off-leash pet area, campground (open May through September)

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Wild in the Willamette edited by Lorraine Anderson with Abby Phillips Metzger
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • Waterfall Lover’s Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • The Dog Lover’s Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson

More Links


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.

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