Oregon is a state laden with beautiful waterfalls and Columbia County is no exception. While some of our county waterfalls are Instagram-famous roadside attractions like Bonnie and Beaver Creek, others take quite a trek and are known online as little more than approximate GPS points. Jon and I have decided to search out and document our county’s secret waterfalls starting with the magnificent Carcus Creek Falls.
A summer rainstorm accompanied our seven-mile journey along winding logging roads, including a few bushwhacks that left us dripping wet. Deer watched us make steady progress, and a surprising Western Terrestrial Garter Snake was just as soaked as we were.
After a few hours we reached the point where we had to jump off the road and descend an older stand of trees into the canyon.
An elk trail led us to the top of the falls but the view was not great and the cliffs gave no visible way down to the base. Emphasis: we do NOT recommend trying to access the waterfall from this direction.
We ventured downstream with hope that the basalt cliffs would yield a path. After a few hundred meters of side sloping we found a narrow stream draw that seemed to lead to the bottom. Unfortunately every possible spikey and spiny obstacle of coast range brush had to be dealt with as we descended.
Reaching the valley floor brought relief. A tranquil meandering creek provided a path back up the gorge to the waterfall. Pacific Jumping Mice bounced past our feet in the undergrowth.
After hopping over a few log jams we finally came upon Carcus Creek Falls. Water flow was low due to the time of year (this waterfall is much more powerful in winter), but the challenging hike was well worth one of the prettier waterfalls I have seen.
Of course we had to survey the waterfall for amphibians for our Columbia County Reptiles and Amphibians research project. Four species of salamander turned up near the waterfall’s base.
After failed attempts at the county’s other waterfalls (detailed in this post) it was here that we finally scored a Columbia Torrent salamander in a splash zone.
Few waterfalls are worth this distance, bushwacking, and moderately dangerous hike down, but Caucus Creek was one of them. The positive energy powered us for the long hike back as several more wet garter snakes (of all three local species!) bid us farewell. We reached our cars as dusk descended. Despite being soaked, scratched and tired, it was a good day.
We made a return trip in the Spring to see the falls with more water flow and weren’t disappointed. We made a video of this expedition on our Youtube channel;
Carcus Creek Falls at a glance
Usually at this point we would include specific instructions on how to reach the falls. However, the lack of a trail, the need to cross private timberlands including Weyerhaeuser (only walkable with a permit) and the somewhat dangerous descent leads us to omit specific directions for the time being. We may chose to include them at a later time.
Carcus Creek Falls is the type of beautiful wilderness that we wish to be preserved forever and enjoyed by many. A Columbia County plan that was last been updated in 2011 states that this is a possibility.
“There is no present public access to these areas. Consequently, their social value is limited. However, these scenic sites could potentially be made more accessible to the public in the future. For example, a trail system could be developed up Carcus Creek to Carcus Creek Falls and Lava Creek Falls, assuming an easement along the creeks can first be obtained from the landowners. Potential also exists to connect these scenic sites with a 280-acre tract of County-owned land situated within ½ mile of both falls. The falls are rare features whose value lies primarily in their aesthetic appearance. Allowing conflicting uses could have serious social and environmental consequences. However, negative economic consequences will be felt if current timber operations are severely restricted.”
We applaud the county for this sentiment but have one bone to pick. These falls don’t have mere aesthetic value – this system holds rarely found torrent salamanders, giant salamanders, western terrestrial garter snakes, and many unique northwest species. Anything that can be done to preserve these areas for both nature conservation and the enjoyment of our local public would be well worth the effort.