WILLAMINA, Ore. – Just the words, Niagara Falls, provoke an immediate response.
Whether you live in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest or South, the iconic waterfalls straddling the New York and Ontario border are so ingrained in popular culture that most can visualize it without ever visiting.
Which is why people react with a double take when you speak of a little-known destination in the Oregon Coast Range called Niagara Falls.
Despite the famous name, and despite its close location to Salem, few people have even heard of this spectacular hideaway in Siuslaw National Forest.
Two waterfalls eclipsing 100 feet thunder into a secluded box canyon, throwing mist into a fern-and-moss-covered forest best explored during winter or early spring.
And unlike the more celebrated Niagara, which lures 12 million tourists each year, chances are you’ll be enjoying Oregon’s version in solitude.
“That you can hike this trail and not see another person is pretty special,” said J.W. Cleveland, Hebo Ranger District trails manager. “It’s a true hidden gem.”
That the Niagara Falls Trail exists in such anonymity, considering its beauty, does seem strange on the surface.
A hike of two miles round trip, the trail showcases waterfalls, wildflowers and coastal forest.
But Niagara has strikes against it. Stuck in a remote no-man’s land between Mount Hebo and Willamina, reaching the trailhead requires navigating a series of sometimes-confusing Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service roads.
It’s a common problem in the Coast Range, where intimidating access has a way of keeping people from visiting spectacular places such as Valley of the Giants and Kentucky Falls.
The trail drops downhill at a steady grade and before you know it, the waterfalls come into view, splashing and roaring like next-door neighbors in this misty, tight canyon.
It’s a beautiful place any time of the year, but especially in late winter and spring when the waterfalls are roaring at full bore.
The first waterfall on the trail tests whether you brought a rain jacket. Pheasant Creek Falls drops 122 feet down a thick basalt outcropping, spraying a heavy mist over the bridge crossing below it.
Just around a bend is a small picnic area and Niagara Falls.
Unlike its famous counterpart, there is no Maid of the Mist boat tours here, no businesses exploiting the waterfall’s beauty or gladiatorial combat between tourists for the best views.
Where does the name “Niagara” come from?
Oregon’s Niagara Falls wasn’t named in honor of the famous waterfalls on the East Coast – it was named for a local landmark.
Officials at Siuslaw National Forest say the name “Niagara” comes from Niagara Creek, the watershed that Pheasant Creek flows into downstream.