One of our year-round day-use parks that we have long considered a “hidden gem” is McDowell Creek Park in Lebanon, just about 16 miles east of Lebanon. There’s no parking fee or day-use fee here.
If you’re able to go out there while it’s still fall, it’s a great time of year for beautiful fall color along the creek. Plus, a lot of water flowing over the falls makes it a dramatic and scenic landscape that is easy to get to.
One of the enjoyable things about the park is that its trails are nested in a way that makes for a combination of short hikes that can be combined into a larger hike if you want more time on the trails. Between three and four miles of trails are nested in loops that walk alongside three major waterfalls and two smaller ones.
Majestic Falls and Royal Terrace Falls are the two largest falls, and both have scenic views that are accessible from the bridges, decks and staircases that the park has become known for. We’re always surprised by the number of people in the area who either don’t know about this beautiful park or who have never visited.
Sunset magazine covered the park once, and their description summed up one of the reasons it’s an overlooked “hidden gem.” Sunset said, “If it wasn’t for Silver Falls State Park everybody would know about it.” Silver Creek overshadows McDowell Creek, but McDowell Creek is just as worthy of a visit.
Access the trail system through one of three free parking lots–a lower, middle and an upper lot. The bottom park connects to Lower McDowell Creek Falls easily, and Royal Terrace with a little more effort. Access to Royal Terrace is the longest hike. Majestic Falls is accessible from the upper parking lot through a steep staircase to get to the top of the falls. You can, of course, start in the lower lot and hike your way all the way up.
Lower McDowell Creek Falls and Royal Terrace Falls are close to the confluence of Falls Creek and McDowell Creek. Crystal Falls and Majestic Falls are in the other direction. Both Majestic Falls and Royal Terrace have significant stairs and viewing platforms. Careful! Sometimes the wooden and stone stairs and platforms can be slippery when it starts to rain.
Majestic falls 35 feet, and Royal Terrace falls from its upper level into a small pool, and then falls again for a total of 119 feet. McDowell Creek, and the falls that bears its name, was named for Jack McDowell, an early settler in the area. Royal Terrace Falls takes its name from the fact that its falls have a unique terraced appearance like what you might see in a royal palace.
The park is 110 acres in size, leaving plenty of room for exploration. To get there from the west, head to Lebanon and take a left. Go about 5 miles east of Lebanon towards Sweet Home on Highway 20, then turn left on Fairview Road. After about 5 miles, that will take you out to McDowell Creek Road and right to the park.