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Sweet times along Sweet Creek

Most sweet things are fattening. But the hike along Sweet Creek to Sweet Creek Falls is a beautiful way to burn calories.

The hike to the falls is, well, incredibly and deliciously tasty. Although Sweet Creek Falls — near the Oregon Coast town of Mapleton — is the goal, during the 1.1 miles along the river, the trail actually passes nearly a dozen other waterfalls.

The treats come quickly. Shortly after beginning from the Homestead Trailhead, the path passes a split, 10-foot waterfall. In another short distance, the trail enters a canyon with several punchbowl-shaped falls. The trail is mostly easy with some rocky and slippery sections, but making the walking easier are a series of metal, canyon wall-hugging catwalks.

The sights, and the falls, keep coming. Tantalizing on the opposite side of the trail is a semi-wide cascading waterfall that plunges over a ledge flanked by moss-covered rocks and sprays Sweet Creek with misty foam.

The creek and its falls are the lure, but the scenery is equally appetizing. Much of the trail is shaded under a canopy of towering Douglas firs, alders and bigleaf maples, with trailside ferns, mosses and lichen blanketing rocks, trees and downed logs. We were too early to see displays of columbines, woodland iris, fawn lilies and other wildflowers said to be especially prolific in April and May.

About three-quarters of a mile from the Homestead Trailhead, a second path from the Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead joins the main trail. Continuing south, the trail passes alongside a plunge pool, a deep basin carved at the foot of a waterfall by the incessantly falling water. It’s an impressive sight, spanning the river. And just behind the plunge pool is Sweet Creek Falls.

Sweet Creek Falls is actually four falls in one. At the Homestead Trail’s end, the viewpoint exposes a pair of 15-foot falls that tumble into a large pond at the head of the plunge pool. It’s a sweet spot, but because of bends in the canyon gorge, even better eye-candy views are seen from a spur trail that winds about 150 yards uphill. The reward is a partial view of a ferocious 10-foot punchbowl falls that, in turn, thunders into a 30-foot tall horsetail falls before dropping the final 15 feet.

It’s said that the best views of Sweet Creek Falls are from the river’s other side. A lesser used and reportedly lesser maintained trail goes about three-quarters of a mile west from the Wagon Road Trailhead and rewards hikers with a full-on display of the multilayered falls. From the same trailhead, the eastward path reaches Beaver Creek Falls, a fan-shaped fall, in slightly more than a half-mile.

Although the scenery is sweetly ambrosial, Sweet Creek’s name doesn’t stem from its visual appeal. Although there are conflicting explanations, according to “Oregon Geographic Names,” Bureau of Land Management records show that both Cecil C. Sweet and Zara T. Sweet took up homesteads in the nearby area in the early 1800s.

“The name of the stream came from these people and was not applied because of any excellence of the water,” is the semi-sweet explanation in “Geographic Names.”

By any name, Sweet Creek and the trail to Sweet Creek Falls is a sweetheart of a hike.

To reach the Homestead Trailhead, drive Highway 126 to the Siuslaw River Bridge near Mapleton, 15 miles east of Florence or 46 miles west of Eugene. Cross the bridge and immediately turn west on Sweet Creek Road for 10.2 paved miles to the well-signed Homestead Trailhead, which has vault toilets and limited parking. Alternative trailheads — Sweet Creek Falls and Wagon Road — are located short distances up the road.

For information, call the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Visitor Center at 541-750-7000 or 541-2713611, or see www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/siuslaw/specialplaces.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Sweet Creek Falls from the trail viewpoint.Photo by Lee Juillerat
The 1.1-mile hike along Sweet Creek near Mapleton reveals a seemingly endless series of waterfalls.Photo by Lee Juillerat