Experience the ultimate thrills of hiking in the breathtaking White River Falls. Discover nature's wonders and create unforgettable memories in this outdoor paradise.
Those of us who were born with wanderlust, carry a higher-than-normal degree of curiosity which will bring rewards if employed while traveling. We make it a habit of visiting with people while traveling and asking this one powerful question: “If there were only time to see one thing in this area, what would it be?”
Of course, you already know that Americans love to help travelers see the best of their region. You also know that 99% of the time you won’t get one destination. In most cases, people will openly argue in front of you to decide which location is the best destination. Write them all down as they all will be worth the time to go explore.
On one such trip to Shaniko Oregon, a ghost town located in Wasco County we bumped into some locals who strongly suggested we take time to visit an abandoned powerhouse located on the White River.
How to get there
Located off Highway 97 in Eastern Oregon, the White River is a tributary of the Deschutes River.
As you drop into the Tygh Valley on Highway 97 there is an obscure side road taking you to State Road 216. After a short drive, you arrive in an unassuming paved parking area that overlooks the White River Falls. Most visitors will stand at the overlook, gaze lazily upon the river and the falls, scratch their heads and leave after about 10 minutes.
White River Falls: An Overview
The White River, originating from the glacial peaks of Mount Hood, meanders through the terrain for about 50 miles before culminating in a dramatic 90-foot plunge over a volcanic basalt shelf. This is the magnificent spectacle known as White River Falls.
Here's a quick overview of what you can expect when you visit:
Location: 35 miles south of The Dalles, Central Oregon
Height: 90 feet
Accessibility: Year-round (main parking lot and restroom facilities are closed during winter)
Trail Difficulty: Moderate
Best Time to Visit: Spring
The Hiking Experience
Having obtained instructions from the locals, we locked our car, took our camera gear and some snacks and headed towards a trailhead at the east end of the parking lot. The trail is not for the timid or those with mobility challenges. It is a dirty jagged track filled with thorns, blackberry vines, and loose rocks. The summer sun will beat down on you making you question the validity of the instructions provided. About halfway down you will wonder if the person giving directions hated outsiders and wanted you to die on this lonely desolate hillside.
As you embark on your hiking journey, you will be welcomed by the thunderous roar of the waterfall, especially in the spring when the water flow is at its peak.
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This trail, though rough, offers an unparalleled view of the falls and the surrounding landscape. The trail winds down to the historic hydroelectric power plant at the base of the falls, and then to the Lower White River Falls.
While the allure of the waterfall and the river may be tempting, swimming is not recommended due to the unpredictable and potentially dangerous river currents.
The Hydroelectric Power Plant
One of the highlights of this hiking adventure is the historic hydroelectric power plant, one of Oregon's first, which supplied electricity to Wasco and Sherman Counties from 1910 to 1963. Today, the ghostly remnants of the power plant stand as a testament to the region's industrial past.
The heavily vandalized powerhouse contains the remnants of the generators, switches, and delivery systems typical of an old hydro electric plant. As you explore you may forget you are sitting at the base of a pristine 90-foot waterfall known as Celestial Falls. Many hike to this spot to photograph the falls and surrounding White River Valley
The Best Time to Visit
White River Falls State Park is open year-round, though the main parking lot and restroom facilities are closed during winter. Spring, with its thunderous water flow and vibrant green scenery, is the best time to visit.
Camping at White River Falls
The area encompasses 250 acres and includes a remote campsite located at the other end of the valley where the two rivers merge. White River BLM Campground offers campsites on the river with a daily cost of $8 per night. The area is ideal for boondocking and for those who like to be on the water.
While visiting White River Falls, consider exploring other nearby attractions such as Tygh Valley, Shaniko's Ghost Town, and the Lower Deschutes River, which is popular for fly-fishing.
If you're looking for a unique hiking experience that combines natural beauty, history, and adventure, White River Falls is a must-visit. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to explore one of Oregon's hidden gems.
Howard and Becky Turner