Drift Away to this Popular Central Coast Trail

By Gretchen Ammerman | Monday, January 6, 2020

I live very close to one of Oregon’s most popular outdoor destinations, Drift Creek Falls. And as often happens when something is in your backyard, I am quite blasé about it  the fact that I can visit whenever I want to means I rarely visit at all.

But every time I do, (roughly once a year) I wonder why I don’t visit more. Perhaps it’s the fact that it takes longer for me to drive to the trailhead than it takes me to complete the roughly 3-mile round trip hike to the falls.

Getting from my driveway to the trail's designated parking area takes only three left turns, but that third turn gets me to the bottom of Forest Road 17. From there it is a steep 10-mile drive to the trailhead. Coming back down that hill isn’t something the brakes on my camping-ready mini van, that turns 12 this year, should be subjected to on a regular basis.

It’s truly a beautiful hike though, so I keep coming back. The forest is filled with giant trees that stamp their personalities on the paths: some drop needles that, once dead, turn a lovely brownish red – a striking contrast to the bright green of most of the rest of the surroundings. Others survive though they have large and small buttress roots exposed and are vulnerable on many sections of the route; some roots are so large it takes a scramble to get over them.

The falls are the main attraction for attempting this moderate but still-not-easy hike, and late winter and early spring are the best seasons during which to experience their full glory. Scout, my four-legged hiking buddy, and I headed there recently when temperatures were in the high 40s and the rain was relentless. Nevertheless, we were not alone. To give you some idea of how popular this trail is, two groups were on the trail with us and another pulled into the parking lot as we were leaving. We heard the roar of the falls well before we saw them, and we are still in the early part of the rainy season.

The suspension bridge is another thing that makes people love to come here. About 100 feet above the lowest point below it and 240-feet long, the bridge is an engineering marvel that I just learned has a tragic incident in its creation story. ...

Scout crossing the iconic Drift Creek Falls bridge in rain gear

The man who championed the building of the bridge in the late 1990s was an engineer named Scott Paul. While helping with the initial construction, a rigging accident caused Paul to fall to his death. When you are about to cross the bridge or after you are heading back, take a moment to look at the plaque dedicated to the man who created a thing of beauty for future generations even if he never got to see his dream bridge completed.

The plaque dedicated to Scott Paul, who didn't live to see the bridge completed

Drift Creek Falls is within the Siuslaw National Forest, so if you have a Northwest Forest Pass, which I highly recommend, parking is free. Otherwise a day-use pass is $5. The Northwest Forest Pass covers not only a large number of hiking trails in Oregon, it works in Washington, too, and covers 17 national forests and two national volcanic monuments among other attractions.

Because of the roots on the trail and the not-insignificant elevation change, the trail isn't an easy trip for wheelchairs or non-off-road strollers. Large puddles also tend to stick around during the rainy season.

Though you can normally reach the trailhead from two directions: the access point from Oregon Highway 18 is not recommended until March because of road work. Until then or any other time of year you can take Drift Creek Road, just south of Lincoln City, turn right on Anderson Creek Road and look for the signs to Forest Road 17. (Just be careful not to end up in my driveway!)

For other things to do on the Central Coast, check out our Daytime Events calendar. For evening entertainment, our Nightlife page steers you to the top happenings on the Central Coast.

About the Author Gretchen Ammerman
Gretchen Ammerman received an Environmental Science degree from Humboldt State University and was soon running a state environmental agency in Hawaii. She gave it up for the glamorous life of the freelance writer. This led to steady employment as a newspaper editor in Lincoln City, OR, where she knew she was doing well when the paper was threatened with a lawsuit within a week. Though the work was rewarding, she returned to freelance writing to have more freedom to explore the beautiful state of Oregon with her adopted dog, Scout.