Trails, Waterfalls, and Dunes: An adventure to Kentucky Falls and Florence, OR

Upper Kentucky Falls

Upper Kentucky Falls in April

A dear friend of mine was looking for a fun northwest adventure to impress her visiting friend from Los Angeles. It had been over 90 degrees for more days than we could count and beating the heat would be a necessity. My first thought was Kentucky Falls. This is an easy hike with one of the most beautiful pay-offs the Pacific-Northwest has to offer. After a nice hike and swim, I planned to take them to Florence to eat a delicious dinner and to see the astounding sand dunes and quiet, empty beaches of the Oregon Coast. We started on our journey from Eugene around noon and didn’t return home from our day of fun and exploration until 9:30pm.

Upper Kentucky Falls in July

Upper Kentucky Falls in July

After following the loosely marked dirt and paved roads into the coastal range we arrived at the Kentucky Falls trailhead. The journey in was an adventure of its own, full of winding turns, potholes, and lovely views. I would estimate that it took us an hour and a half from South Eugene to get to the trailhead. My two friends and I were pleased to find there was a bathroom next to the parking area after the drive. Out and back, the trail covers about 4.4 miles with an elevation loss of 800 feet that we all were looking forward to on our hike back up. The first thing to hit our senses, as our eyes adjusted to the shaded, soft path, was the smell: that sweet and tangy smell of dirt, trees, moisture, and clean air. The trail was well maintained and comfortable to traverse. I have hiked this trail in mid April and in early July, both lovely sunny days, and didn’t come across any downed trees, slides, or other trail issues, but in the winter and early spring, I would be more cautious.

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Lower Kentucky Falls

The first lovely waterfall we came to was about 0.8 miles down the trail. The first glimpse we caught of Upper Kentucky Falls was through the trees, but the trail descended to a nice view from the base of the falls. We stopped here to wet our feet and let my dog get a drink. The trail continued it’s descent as we trekked the last 1.2 miles to Lower Kentucky Falls. When we made it to the viewpoint we were awed by not just one waterfall, but two beautiful waterfalls: the first being Lower Kentucky Falls and the second being North Fork Falls. We continued down the stairs and made our way to get a view of the North Fork waterfall and found a bench and fire pit area along the river. Not being able to help ourselves on such a beautiful July day, we got into our bathing suits and climbed over the slippery rocks and logs towards North Fork Falls to find a pool to swim in. Motivated by our forward momentum, we made it all the way to the pool at the base of the falls. Our precarious scramble paid off; the pool was beautiful and power of the water falling so close to us was exhilarating (I wouldn’t attempt this if the waterfalls were more active as they are in the winter and spring).

It wasn’t an easy place to leave and the thought of our 800-foot ascent back into the summer heat didn’t make it any easier. It was hunger that finally convinced us to make our way out of this small paradise we had found. There were plenty of huckleberries to eat on our way up to keep us motivated for the climb. We reached the car with hungry bellies

Swimming at the bast of North Fork waterfall

Swimming at the base of North Fork waterfall

and full hearts, not believing that we had even more adventure to look forward too.

We got to the coast around 6:30pm and the lower temperatures were as welcome as they were shocking. Even when the Willamette Valley is over 90 degrees, the Oregon Coast can still be barely above 60. We dawned our pants and sweatshirts for dinner on the patio of Florence’s local restaurant, Homegrown Public House. This place is full of local charm, fresh Oregon ingredients, and, of course, Oregon brewed craft beer. The menu ranges depending on the time of day and the time of year, but is always full of delicious options for those in the mood for some local seafood, meat, and/or vegetables. From fish and chips to burgers to a scrumptious veggie sandwich, all eaters are sure to find something yummy here.

Soaking in the blessed view

Soaking in the blessed view

Feeling satisfied from our savory, pleasant meal, we moved on to Florence’s famous sand dunes. Continuing south on the 101, we turned left on S. Jetty Road. This park requires a $5 day fee or an annual Northwest Forest Pass to visit. We climbed the daunting dunes to be astonished by the site at the crest of the hill, the expansive and clean beaches that we are blessed with in Oregon. We watched the sunset, compared the rocks and shells we found, played fetch with the dog, and sat to discuss our beautiful day together. Not surprisingly, we all felt a sense of contentment and satisfaction having spent the day in awe of the earth’s natural wonders that seem to concentrate a bit more heavily in Oregon than in most places. We left the beach feeling a sense of gratitude for the earth, for the National Forest Service, and for the local parks that keep these resources clean, accessible, and open to the public.

Vast, empty Oregon Beaches

Vast, empty Oregon Beaches

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