In September of 2012 a lightning strike set off a forest fire that burned 40 square miles near Sisters, Oregon. The whole town was swathed in a thick grey coat of smoke for weeks. Daytime became night in a bizarre apocalyptic western-themed inferno. The Pole Creek Fire burned at a high intensity, historically uncommon, fueled by insect killed lodgepole pines. The effects were immediately devastating and yet, as time progresses, reveals a forest that will recover.
The (newly routed) hike to Whychus Falls takes you directly though The Pole Creek Burn to a lush canyon filled with 9 waterfalls! The creek (formed from Broken Top’s glacial melt) was miraculously spared in the fire. The contrast of scorched black earth against lime green moss is other worldly. The trees are dead but the ground is alive!
Only one of the waterfalls is deemed accessible by The Forest Service, Lower Chush Falls. Formerly ‘Squaw Creek Falls’, the name was changed in 2006 after State legislature banned the use of ‘Squaw’ for Oregon name places. The trail officially ends at a viewpoint along the rim here. There is, of course, an unofficial trail to the bottom of the falls, but watch out- it’s steep.
Heading up the creek is another unmaintained trail that leads to the middle falls and then onto Upper Chush Falls. The middle falls are yet unnamed and is the confluence of Whychus and Park Creeks. The trail is heavy with blowdown but still quite passible.
Upper Chush Falls is a magnificent 224 foot waterfall, visible for almost a quarter mile before you reach the end of the trail. The first time I came here I felt as if I had discovered a hidden and remote waterfall all my own. The thrill of discovering a towering cascade of water is exhilarating! This waterfall is twice as tall as Tumalo Falls and yet practically a total secret in Central Oregon.
I am thankful to have hiked this trail both before and after the Pole Creek Fire. The increased mileage due to the reroute has also added a sincere lesson in life after fire. The lodgepoles have burned but the Ponderosa’s have taken root. Birds, frogs, and deer have returned to the forest. The forest is rebuilding itself, from the ground up, a phoenix in The High Desert.
From Sisters Drive 7.2 miles out Three Creek Lake Road. Turn right onto Forest Road 1514 where a sign directs you to Whychus Creek. About 5.1 miles later turn left on Road 600. The entire 600 Road is temporarily blocked at the 1514 Road near the Whychus Creek Bridge, necessitating another 1.5 miles of walking each way just to reach the new trailhead. This closure will continue until hazardous trees have been removed along the route.