Hiking to Shellburg Falls was, undoubtedly, one of the weirdest hikes I have ever trekked. The waterfall itself was absolutely breathtaking, as well as the area around it. But getting out there was not at all what I would ever expect from a hike listed in one of my trailbooks. For example, I never thought I’d have to gingerly step around sitting cows in the middle of a trail. Ever.
I only felt comfortable photographing the ones further away, lest one get angry at me for capturing its soul and charging me. I actually don’t know anything about how cows work. For a hiker, I’m ridiculously urbane.
I’ll start with the drive itself. Shellburg Falls is located in the Santiam State Forest outside of Salem. My trailbook (Pacific Northwest Hiking) led me to believe that Mehama, the town the hike is located, is so sparse you didn’t need road names, just vague markers to reach the trailhead (“Turn left at the blinking traffic light at the intersection.” There were actually several blinking traffic lights). After a series of confusing turns, I finally found the trailhead lot. There was only one other car there, belonging to two gentlemen whom were finishing their hike as I was starting mine. For the entirety of the hike I had the trail to myself. Myself and all the cows.
One thing that will become apparent if you didn’t already have a handy trailbook informing you, is that the land on both sides of the trail is privately owned land. This is obvious by the seemingly infinite number of “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs bolted to trees for the first 1.2 miles. This means you must remain on the trail, and only the trail (despite how inviting those meadows look), until you reach Shellburg Creek, lest the cows come charging after you with a bloodthirsty vengeance. For some reason, even though I knew it was a designated trail, I kept feeling like I shouldn’t have been there. Like any moment Farmer Bob was going to come running out and telling me to get off his land.
Once at the creek, everything about the trail begins to feel like a familiar waterfall hike. You’re greeted by Lower Shellburg Falls, a lovely little 40 ft. waterfall that rushes underneath you to the continuing creek below. After you turn left up a set of wooden stairs, the trail becomes a narrow dirt path which follows Shellburg Creek all the way to Shellburg Falls. I was delighted to find that you can walk behind the falls, much like my favorites at Silver Falls State Park and Tunnel Falls at Eagle Creek.
Eventually you’ll find yourself at an intersection near a camping area. Don’t go left, through the camp, unless you mean to. Instead turn right at the junction and continue down. The trail here will loop back to the cow trail, taking you back to the trailhead.
Treks Down: 43, Treks to Go: 9