Upper and Lower Proxy Falls are located 27.5 miles west of Sisters, Oregon on Hwy. 242 - on McKenzie Pass.
*RATED: EASY to Moderate / Kid- and Pet-friendly, recommend leash / No water / vault-toilets / 1-mile loop / Photo-op!
Proxy Falls - McKenzie Pass ~ Heading west on Hwy 242 out of Sisters, you climb in elevation to the summit of the pass at Dee Wright Observatory, which is worth a stop just to see the view from atop the historical rock structure. This Observatory identifies all the mountains in the near vicinity with a great view of the North and Middle Sister of the Cascades, along with the old Lava Flows. A paved walking-path winds through the lava flow. Toilets are just west of the observatory and parking lot.
View of the North and Middle Sister from the Observatory
Proceed west along Hwy 242, passing by a great viewpoint area of the back of the two Sisters, until you decend in an extremely winding fashion down in elevation to the bottom of the pass, past mile-marker 65. On your right will be Vault-toilet restrooms, (no water) and on your left will be the Proxy Falls Trailhead. $5 Day-Use fee. Although not posted, this seems to be a pet-friendly trail, with the exception that it is rocky in a few spots on the path, so you would be advised to keep pets on a leash and watch small children closely. Otherwise, I would say that the trail is family-friendly and a fairly easy hike.
Total trail is a one-mile loop, and we hiked it in little more than an hour, with stops. Left side of the road, go the the Posted Trailhead sign on the right.
The first .3 mile is a beautiful path that winds in and out of the trees, with tall pines covered in spanish moss towering over colorful vining maples—which are just now turning color!(end of September).
You will come to a sign indicating Proxy Falls TR and the trailhead. You can hear the rushing water here, take the right-hand trail a little ways to see the first falls, a beautiful rush of twin-falls down the side of the mountain.
This can be a great spot for a picnic lunch or time to pose in front of the falls for some great portrait shots. It's a little dark in the late afternoon, so be sure and turn on your flash....
Then go back to the sign and proceed up the trail about another .3 mile to another sign indicating falls and trailhead.
Take a right-hand path here also, to spiral a short distance to the base of the second falls. This one is more obscured from view by trees, but descends in a gorgeous rush into a shallow pool. This little, private glade is a wonderful area for pausing to refresh body, mind and spirit with pure air, sounds of forest and falls, and peaceful quiet.
The water from the falls and a little creek running into the pool disappears magically underground for a ways before reemerging farther down. Retrace your steps back to the second trailhead sign and continue in your loop another .3 mile, winding back to the road and the parking area. Great Photo-ops all the way!
The tall pines are so thick in places on this side of the McKenzie Pass that I would suggest making this a midday hike for extra sunlight. We went later in the afternoon, and I forgot my tripod, so when we actually arrived at the Falls, it was really too dark for a great shot. :-( I took some anyway, of course! My shots are for the most part grainy, because of the lateness of the day and my lack of pre-planning to get the tripod into the trunk of the car. We did bring our own water--which was well-planned, and some fruit snacks.
In summary, I would say that this hike is a wonderful, refreshing stop for all the senses. The photographically-inclined will love the diverse texture and color to be found in the flora and fauna. There are rhododendrons which would be blooming mid-summer, as well as wildflowers by the water. Fall colors are everywhere with vining maples. Lava rocks and moss complete the photo wonder. If you have time and inclination, you can get some great shots of vining maples amidst gnarled tree-trunks on the way back up the extremely winding McKenzie Pass. It is a great place to shoot fall colors.
On your way back through Sisters, stop by Sisters Coffee for the best coffee and fresh, real-butter cookies this side of the mountains!
PHOTO-OP Side-note. Another few great places for fall maples are 30+ miles west of Sisters on the Santiam Pass--Hwy 20. Stay on 20 (don't turn off to Salem), then take a left on Hwy 126 toward Eugene. At the junction Hwy 126 takes off from Hwy 20, on your left, there is a large lava field right past the ODOT Maintenance sheds. These fields continue on both sides of the hwy for quite a ways, and in the fall are full of vining maple bushes and trees.
In the midst of black lava rock, they are a startling, glorious array of colors; reds, yellows, greens and orange. They are just starting to turn color, usually around the last of September, depending on the beginning of frost in the mountains. If you drive a few miles down this hwy, on your left will be a spectacular bunch of vining maples, along with a dry creek and a pretty, white footbridge across it, visible from the road. This is especially nice for photographing in the fall, and you can also find elderberries here, which are really great in pancakes and waffles.
Proxy Falls, McKenzie Pass
~ Cascades Daytrip Hike & Photographers' Paradise
Photos Courtesy LandofStock.com