There’s a sleepy valley hidden in the Coast range with a place both in Oregon history, and on the maps of modern-day waterfall-lovers: Sweet Creek.
The place was settled in 1879 by the Oregon Trail pioneer family of Zarah T. Sweets.* But this section of the Oregon Coast has a far older story of volcanic flows and geological shifts. All the rock in the Sweet Creek Valley used to be part of the ocean floor, later lifted to mountain-level by a buckling of Pacific seafloor 30 million years ago from the pressure of the advancing North American continental plate. It’s a mind-blowing upheaval to contemplate, especially amid the serenity of today’s lush, woodland-coated slopes of the Siuslaw National Forest.
You can find Sweet Creek by driving along Highway 126 to the Siuslaw River Bridge in Mapleton (located 15 miles east of Florence or 46 miles west of Eugene). Across the bridge and through the town of Sweet Creek, turn west onto Sweet Creek Road and head straight for 10 miles. There’s a paved turnoff to the right at the 10.2 mile-mark, starting travelers off at the Homestead Trailhead.
Four Amazing Trails
You’ll find a total of four semi-connecting trails in the area, as well as evidence of the Oregon Trail pioneers, with deep wagon wheel scars incorporated into the flow of the trails. The trails are easy hikes, and if you’ve made it to the area I’d recommend knocking all four off your list, in part just to soak in the beauty of the area.
Start off along the gravel path of the Homestead Trail, which leads upstream along Sweet Creek and then opens up to a view of an impressive 10-foot waterfall. Enjoy the epic view and the cooling spray, then continue on as the trail hugs a cliff that bends around a canyon of punchbowl-shaped falls. It’s an amazing little spot to trek through, with big-leaf maples and Douglas firs hemming in the water displays.
Loop back and next take the signed Sweet Creek Ledge Trail, which spits off and heads upstream on a different route, leading out to a plunge pool at the base of Sweet Creek Falls. You can also head up a 150-foot switchback trail to a viewpoint of an upper waterfall pouring into a deep natural well.
There’s also the Wagon Road Trail, reachable by walking or driving another mile down Sweet Creek Road. This gives you the option to explore the upper reaches of the falls down a short trail to another viewpoint.
Or there’s the nearby Beaver Creek Falls, which yawns away from the Wagon Road Trail across a signed bridge. This trail is less than a mile, and wanders upstream to the base of another fan-shaped waterfall where Sweet Creek and Beaver Creek connect. This is a nice, quiet trail, and is a great place to sit and eat a picnic lunch with the sound of rushing water in your ears.
Note that a Northwest Forest Pass parking permit is required at the trailheads, at the cost of $5 per car per day, or $30 per year. The trails are family-friendly, but keep in mind that there are several plunging drops along the trail, so little hikers should stay under the supervision of parents/guardians.
*While it’s the Oregon Trail pioneers who have left artifacts in the valley, this land was where the Siuslaw people resided long before the 1800s. Just a little historical footnote to keep in mind while admiring the Sweet Creek Valley landscape.