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White River Falls Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

White River Falls and Devils Halfacre, White River Falls State Park (bobcat)
Generators in the power plant, White River Falls State Park (bobcat)
Looking to the mouth of the canyon, White River Falls State Park (bobcat)
View to the falls, White River Falls State Park (bobcat)
Trails (mostly quite rough) at White River Falls (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: White River Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Lower White River Falls
  • Hike type: In and out
  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • High point: 1,045 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year, but best in spring
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

White River Falls is central Oregon’s mini-Niagara although water levels diminish considerably as you go into the summer. In fact, it is a two-tiered waterfall with each tier having its own name (the lower tier is Celestial Falls). Despite its remote location, White River Falls has been severely compromised by the hand of man: the Pacific Power and Light Company built a power plant and penstock here and supplied electricity to Wasco and Sherman Counties from 1901 to 1963. Since then, there have been various attempts by local government agencies to revive the hydroelectric scheme, but none have fared successfully. Much remains of the old hydroelectric operation: part of the penstock, a diversion dam, collection pond, settling pond, and the old power plant complete with rusting generators can all be observed. The park is rustic and, while the distances are short, the trails are uneven: take care as you descend into the canyon and explore downriver to 15-foot Lower White River Falls. Also, despite the fact that this location appears in a couple of canine travel guides, you should think twice about taking a dog down into the lower canyon. Note that poison ivy is a presence here as well.

A railed viewing area overlooks the 90-foot White River Falls, which thunders in the spring and becomes series of individual trickles late in summer. Across the river, you can see the mesas of the Devils Halfacre. You can walk a little way to the right to overlook the collection pond for the penstock (large rocks and logs were removed here) and a diversion dam across the river at an oxbow meander. Looking east, you get a view down the canyon to the old power plant building.

Find the trail leading down the slope. Cross a wide wooden catwalk in front of a settling pond on a shallow gully: the pond was used to "settle" smaller rocks and other debris so they didn't travel down the penstock and into the power plant turbines. Down below see a broken cornerstone citing the date of construction of this feature: 1910. Look for California ground squirrels in this area. The main trail keeps to the left down a series of railroad tie steps. A scramble trail leads right for you to get a view of Celestial Falls, the 45-foot lower tier of White River Falls. Celestial Falls was formally named in 2014 although it had been called that by kayakers for many years: it was a well-known ‘run’ until Oregon State Parks banned the practice recently. It’s a very steep scramble down from here past a rusting boiler to the old power plant, so it’s better to return to the main trail, which proceeds down the uneven steps to the building. There are a couple of openings in the power plant itself, so you can peek inside to see the line of turbines. Around the back, you get a good view of Celestial Falls and the penstock leading down from above.

To continue downstream, follow a user trail through sagebrush to the wide basalt ledge above 15-foot Lower White River Falls (known to kayakers as Rooster Falls). The pool here is a good spot for a dip on a hot summer’s day, and pungent desert parsley adorns the rock ledge in spring. The trail continues up above a precipice on a balsamroot slope and then takes a plunge down a slippery chute to reach river level again. It’s best to turn around here, but rough user paths can be followed on state land and then Bureau of Land Management land to the confluence with the Deschutes River.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Dogs on leash
  • Information kiosk, restrooms, picnic area
  • Park open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., early spring into fall

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Extraordinary Oregon! by Matt Reeder
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Off the Beaten Trail by Matt Reeder
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Waterfall Lover's Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • The Dog Lover's Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

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.

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.