White River Falls is the first step of the major falls of the White River, and was formerly considered to be a two-tiered fall. The falls drop 75 feet over a broad horseshoe-shaped ledge cut in the basalt bedrock, splitting into anywhere from three to six distinct segments during much of the year, but during the peak of spring runoff the entire ledge can be submerged, creating a thundering wall of water that can stretch to as much as 250 feet in width.
The falls feel oddly out of place in the gently undulating foothills on the east side of the Cascades near the town of Maupin. The White River originates on Mount Hood some 40 miles upstream, gathering lots of smaller tributaries as it rolls downhill towards its confluence with the Deschutes River. By the time it reaches the Tygh Valley its a fairly substantial river. Tygh Valley happens to be where the river intersects the plateau-like flood basalts that layer practically all of eastern Oregon and the resulting two-stepped waterfall serves as a harsh transition from peaceful farmlands on one side to a twisting, geologically storied canyon on the other.
The falls being situated in an agricultural area resulted in it being harnessed for both hydroelectric production and irrigation use in the past. Upstream from White River Falls is the remnants of the diversion structures, which continue to redirect the majority of the river toward the old intake system for the now defunct hydroelectric plant located near the base of the falls. This causes much of the river to spill over a portion of White River Falls in a way which it would not naturally, ensuring that more of the most visible part of the falls dries out during the summer.
- White River Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
- Known Alternate Names: Tygh Valley Falls
Until 2014, this waterfall had not been distinctly or officially recognized as separate from Celestial Falls found just 180 feet downstream. The two falls are easily viewable from the same locations throughout the canyon and are geologically and visually not distinct enough, in our opinion, to be considered separate waterfalls. However Celestial Falls, having long been a popular location for whitewater kayakers, has been colloquially referred to as such for several decades now, and in 2014 the Oregon Board of Geographic Names chose to officially adopt this name for the lower step of what was formerly considered part of White River Falls.
White River Falls are accessed within White River Falls State Park, located east of Tygh Valley between Maupin and The Dalles. Take Highway 197 south from The Dalles then turn east on Highway 216 (signed for White River Falls and Sherars Bridge). The park is found 4 miles from Highway 197. The trail leads downstream from the parking area to the bottom of the falls.