Sunday, March 1, 2015

Shellburg Falls - An Unexpected Treasure

Sabbath Rest with the Fam
President's Day was GORGEOUS here.  Somehow Oregon has missed the memo that it is supposed to be winter.  We've had a very sunny, dry and warm winter which could lead to drought-like conditions this summer.  I'm choosing to enjoy every ray of sunshine and praying that we get the snow we need for a fire-free summer.

The kids and Curt were off from school and work so we took the dogs and drove to the Shellburg Falls trailhead in the Santiam State Forest.  These days of Sabbath Rest are so important for our family now that Curt is in grad school.  We need them to keep functioning at such a full-throttle pace.  This hike exceeded our entire family's expectations for a whole list of reasons.

1.  EASY TRAILHEAD ACCESS.  We took I5 south to Salem.  Exited onto the Santiam Highway.  Drove for 23 miles.  Turned left onto Fern Ridge Road.  1.2 miles later and we were at the trailhead parking lot.  No gravel roads or car-swallowing pot holes - this route was straightforward and easy to get to.

2.  CLOSE.  Most of the hikes in our guidebooks involve driving an average of 1.5 hours from Newberg to get to the trailhead.  Because we didn't encounter any traffic we were able to get to the trailhead in an hour.  The kids actually asked in disbelief, "We're here already? Awesome!"

3.  EASY.  This hike is easy-peasy.  The hardest part about it is the length.  At 5.7 miles round trip, it might be a bit too far for really little legs.  The route is a balloon - out and back on the gravel road with a loop through the forest.  The parts of the trail that gained elevation did it gradually.  None of the kids complained about the ascending and we all loved coming back down from the highest point.

4.  SCENIC.  This hike was so pretty.  The first 1.3 miles are on a wide, gravel road through private farmland featuring one rolling meadow after another. It was like something out of a fairy tale - idyllic and peaceful with baby cows and momma cows playing in the meadows.
Paige, Grant and Dusty
Paige, Curt and Alli
The old growth forest was everything I love about Oregon.  Ridiculously tall trees covered in moss and every shade of green imaginable.  The warm sunlight filtered through them, dancing on the ground in front of us and casting beautiful shadows on the trail.
light and shadows
the trail
every shade of green
We viewed three waterfalls in 5.7 miles.  Lower Shellburg Falls, Shellburg Falls, and Stassel Falls.  Lower Shellburg Falls is at the junction of the private road and a trail into the forest.  We stood on a bridge above the falls and looked down, down, down as the water dropped over the edge to the creek bottom below.
Looking over the top of Lower Shellburg Falls
Kids and dogs by Lower Shellburg Falls.  The water goes under the bridge they're sitting on and tumbles over the edge on the other side.
The trail through the woods took us to a viewing station at the base of Shellburg Falls.  The kids stood on the water's edge and let the spray from the waterfall gently kiss their faces.
Katie getting kissed by the water at the lower viewpoint of Shellburg Falls.
From the viewing station we hiked up and then behind Shellburg Falls.  This was the only part as the trail that felt a little dangerous.  It was muddy and there was no guard rail on the edge of the trail.  It would be easy to lose your footing and slip over the edge if you weren't being careful.  Take caution in this small section of the trail.
Shellburg Falls 
The family behind the falls
Standing in the cave behind the waterfall shooting out
We climbed up a flight of stairs and followed the trail up into the forest above the waterfall coming out at a remote and darling campground.  We picnicked and filled our water bottles at the campground.  It would be a great place to come back to stay for a weekend.
stairs going up
these cute bridges were spread out on the trail
Kimber and Dusty - the best of friends - at our picnic spot.
There were several trails stemming from the campground, but we took the suggestion in our hiking book and followed the Vine Maple Trail back into the woods.  It looped us back toward the water  and then up again into more forest where we began our descent back down.
At the highest point before we started back down.
An unmarked trail feeds off the route we were on.  We followed it and it took us to the top of Stassel Falls.  Hidden in the woods on the edge of the Santiam State Forest, Stassel Falls was beautiful, but hard to get a clear view of from the spot in the forest that we were viewing it.  I loved standing on the rocks above the falls though and watching the water dive over the edge to the creek bottom below.  
the unmarked trail junction
Stable Falls dropping off the edge...
the top of Stassel Falls
5.  NOT CROWDED.  The Shellburg Falls hike was a total gem.  Unlike nearby Silver Falls State Park that is ALWAYS crowded,  Shellburg Falls was virtually untouched by humans.  We only passed  a handful of groups out hiking on a beautiful, holiday day.  That alone will draw me back.

Overall it was a banner day.  The kids never complained once.  The dogs loved hiking with us and had several opportunities to get a drink in the creek.  The weather was gorgeous.  The trails well marked.  The waterfalls beautiful.  We came home feeling like we'd enjoyed the day without being overly exhausted from too much exertion hiking.

If you're looking for a scenic hike that's not too strenuous and that is close to Newberg, I highly recommend Shellburg Falls.  Happy hiking!

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