MAPLETON — Rylan Peters was having trouble keeping count.
The 8-year-old Salem adventurer was attempting to tally up the number of waterfalls he came across on Sweet Creek Trail.
Problem was, the creek dropped over so many cliffs, ledges and slides during its journey through the remote Coast Range canyon that keeping an accurate count was next to impossible.
“I counted 26 waterfalls,” Rylan said. “But it might have been 29 or 30. I’m not really sure, but it was a lot!”
Having too many waterfalls to count is, of course, a good problem to have. But as Rylan and his 6-year-old brother, Noah, made their way through temperate rainforest on a trail 10 miles southwest of Mapleton (or 25 miles east of Florence), the duo found more than just falling water to capture their attention.
Noah inspected the carpet of lichen and moss attached to every tree, branch and twig in a forest that gets about 71 inches of rain per year. Rylan, meanwhile, inspected the four-legged creatures swimming in the creek’s eddies and pools.
There’s no official list naming Oregon’s best hikes for children — how do you measure something like that? — but if one did exist, Sweet Creek Trail would be near the top.
The hike is 2.2 miles round-trip from Homestead Trailhead to Sweet Creek Falls, almost all of which is level. (Shorter hikes are possible by starting at alternate trailheads, see below for details).
What makes the trail unique is the lack of boring moments. Between catwalk-style bridges that wind atop the creek, plant life, wildlife and waterfalls, each step of the trail offers something new and interesting.
This, in my experience, is the key to kid-friendly hiking.
As for the number of waterfalls?
Well, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s description of the trail, there are actually 11 official waterfalls.
Even so, I prefer Rylan’s estimate. The creek crashes downstream with so much force, and the canyon is full of so much dropping water, that a count of 30 waterfalls does a much better job of capturing the essence of Sweet Creek Trial.
The Homestead Trailhead to Sweet Creek Falls hike is the best option in this trail system, but there are alternatives.
Begin at Sweet Creek Falls Trailhead — located past Homestead Trailhead on Sweet Creek Road — and the hike is just 0.4 miles one-way (or 0.8 miles round-trip).
Start at the Wagon Road Trailhead, just down the road, and the hike is 0.8 miles one-way (1.6 round-trip). Wagon Road Trailhead also accesses Beaver Creek Trail, which runs 0.6 miles (1.2 round-trip) north to the semi-impressive Beaver Creek Falls.
Finally, the shortest hike in the system takes you to Beaver Creek Trailhead up Forest Road 939 (although it’s unmarked). A very short 0.1 miles brings to you an overhead view of Beaver Creek Falls.
The only downside to visiting the Sweet Creek Trail system is the drive.
My solution is making the hike one stop on a multiday road trip that includes the central Oregon Coast.
After hiking Sweet Creek, a great place to spend the night is Jessie M. Honeyman State Park, home to 10 toasty warm yurts that make a far better place to spend the night with the family than any hotel.
Head north up the Oregon Coast the next day and enjoy coastal destinations such as Cape Perpetua, Seal Rock State Recreation Site and the town of Yachats — among many others — before returning to Salem.
It’s a two- to three-hour drive from Honeyman to the Capitol City, depending on your route. Split it up with enough cool stops, however, and it feels like far less.