Taking a trip to Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls in the winter requires a bit more planning and skill than summer visits, but it is well worth the effort. The trails are not maintained for winter travel. The snowpack may turn the summer trail surface into icy slopes, and there might not be many clues for navigating the steep cliffs along the McKenzie River. But if you're up for the challenge, this short loop will introduce you to the power and magnificence of these waterfalls in winter.
During the summer, the McKenzie River Trail is a popular mountain biking and hiking destination. But this trail takes on a whole new character under the blanket of snow. You'll walk through a dark, lovely old-growth forest as you make your way along both banks of the McKenzie River. The water flows over several small cascades in addition to the two namesake waterfalls. It swirls into bright green and aqua pools. Periodic viewpoints of the rushing river will make you stop in your tracks to take in the beautiful scenery.
You're likely to see as many animal tracks as people tracks while you're out here, so look for signs of deer, rabbits, birds and other woodland creatures.
Please keep in mind that there is no winter parking area at Sahalie Falls. Start your hike at Ice Cap Campground or Carmen Reservoir. Cross the river on the road and look for a trail heading along the west side of the McKenzie River. Travel 1.3 miles north, enjoying several viewpoints above the river, before reaching a footbridge. Cross the river and travel south toward Sahalie Falls. There are a few viewpoints of the falls from this side. Continue to Koosah Falls and visit the viewpoints here before finishing the loop towards your car.
The west side of the river can build up high-angle snow banks with steep drop-offs to the river. Choose your route wisely. Bring traction devices for your feet and poles to help keep your balance. You can also do this trip as an out-and-back, just walking to the two falls and back to your car. But the whole loop connecting east and west sides of the river is a great adventure if you're up for it. You can also connect this trip with a snowshoe to Clear Lake.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.