Proxy Falls in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Central Oregon is among Oregon’s most frequently photographed waterfalls. With its multi-tiered horsetail appearance, it is one of the most photogenic waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest and has been featured in many calendars and postcards over the years. Proxy Falls has a height of 226 feet and is fed by springs on a shoulder of North Sister. The falls get their name from Proxy Creek which tumbles over a moss covered basalt column of rock face. The best flows are year round. The magnitude and beauty of Proxy Falls is unbelievable – especially when you’re standing right next to it. Considering that you can scramble right up to the falls, this is one of the most enjoyable waterfall experiences in Oregon.
Proxy Falls is just one of many highlights of the Three Sisters Wilderness. Popular recreational activities in the Three Sisters Wilderness include camping, hiking, mountain climbing, and fishing. Covering 281,190 total acres, there are approximately 260 miles of hiking trail within the wilderness boundaries, making it the second largest wilderness area in Oregon. The well-known Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses 40 miles of the wilderness. The wilderness is home to some of the most famous and majestic mountains in the Cascades, with major peaks of the North, Middle, and South Sisters (all above 10,000 feet), along with Broken Top. There are 14 glaciers offering one of the best examples of the effects of glaciation in the Pacific Northwest. Collier Glacier, between North and Middle Sister, is the largest glacier in Oregon. The forests range from dense cover to true old growth and include douglas fir, western hemlock, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and subalpine fir. One of the most popular hiking trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness is Green Lakes starting at the Soda Creek Trailhead. The Green Lakes Trail offers hikers an awe-inspiring trek through the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, touring many miles of waterfalls, acres of alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, and the beautiful Green Lakes themselves, which offer breathtaking views of South Sister, Broken Top, and Mt. Bachelor.
The hike to Upper and Lower Proxy Falls is a family-friendly hike on the well-defined dirt and lava-rock trail among old growth forest. The hike is more of a walk and is just a 1.5 mile loop with 200 feet in elevation gain. The trail is well-maintained and suitable for hikers of almost any level. The hike features two different waterfall views; there are distinct sections of Proxy Falls, Upper and Lower. Beginning at Proxy Falls Trailhead, Proxy Falls Trail #3532 starts by heading west and immediately entering the highly scenic Three Sisters Wilderness. The trail continues south over an old lava flow, then enters a mixed conifer forest. This loop trail meets two other trail junctions before returning back to the Proxy Falls Trailhead. The trail at the western junction follows a short ridge to a viewpoint of Lower Proxy Falls. The trail at the eastern junction follows a creek bed uphill to the Upper Proxy Falls. Be sure to visit both Upper and Lower Proxy Falls since both are entirely different in appearance and equally beautiful. Many consider Lower Proxy Falls more stunning of the two waterfalls because it is larger and has a classic wispy fan-shape appearance. However, equally beautiful is Upper Proxy Falls due to the water cascading over a pile of moss covered logs and a darker pool-like atmosphere at the base of the falls. There are scramble trails to access the base of the falls from the developed viewpoint. In the spring, the hike is decorated with rhododendrons in bloom. In the fall, vine maple trees provide vibrant autumn colors of yellow, orange, and red.
For those wishing to visit Proxy Falls in the winter, it is possible, but not by car since Highway 242 typically closes in November due to snow. However, you can reach Proxy Falls either by a slushy hike or a full winter snowshoe depending on the season’s snow depth. It all depends on where the snowline is, which varies each year. Because Proxy Falls sits at the 3,100 to 3,200 foot range, it is too low for consistent snowfall. However, on a good snow year, the trek is worth it to view the falls in a manner that many never have. While driving on Highway 242 you will reach the snow gate which marks the road closure. There is a small parking area on the side of the road. The snow line will either be down to the gate or up higher and you can gauge your proper equipment. From the gate, the route follows the highway for 2.6 miles before you arrive at the Proxy Falls Trailhead, marked by signs and a restroom.
While the trip to Proxy Falls is certainly an in-and-out less than half day excursion, there is nearby camping at Alder Springs or Scott Lake. Or you can continue on the highly scenic drive along Highway 242 to the lava fields at Dee Wright Observatory. Proxy Falls is also close to the Mt. Washington Wilderness for additional hiking and photography options. Considering the beauty of the Three Sisters Wilderness, Proxy Falls is a rewarding waterfall excursion through old growth forest and ultimately to an impressively tall and beautifully fanned waterfall with moss-covered rocks, fallen timber, and cool reflective pools. Proxy Falls and the surrounding Three Sisters Wilderness are a top destination in Oregon for hiking and photography.
To see more of the Three Sisters Wilderness and Oregon waterfalls, visit http://www.photographyoregon.com.
To Get There:
From McKenzie Bridge, OR, travel east on Highway 126 to Highway 242. Travel east on Highway 242 for 9 miles to Proxy Falls Trailhead. This is a Day Use Fee Area ($5 per vehicle) or Recreation Pass required. Highway 242 typically in November – June is closed due to snow.
Oregon Photo Guide™ features the landscape photography of Michael Skourtes, Portland Oregon photographer and avid outdoorsman. I venture throughout the state searching for the top destinations for Oregon hiking, backpacking, camping, and photography. I share my experiences and photography of Oregon on my guide. I encourage you to explore Oregon and make your own outdoor adventure.
For picture galleries featuring Oregon photography, or to contact me, visit www.photographyoregon.com.