Koosah Falls is the second of the three major waterfalls of the McKenzie River. Spreading out over a wide undercut basalt ledge, the river thunders 64 feet into a huge pool with several small springs feeding into the river adjacent. The volume of the river greatly changes the appearance of the falls. In modest flows during the summer, the falls appear as one or two segments, but during the peak of snowmelt, the river spreads across the whole ledge, becoming a 70 foot wide wall of ear-splitting roar. Even though the McKenzie River originates in Clear Lake, just a few miles upstream, the river sustains a very significant volume all year long thanks to the large drainage area to the northeast which consists largely of plains of lava flows. Water doesn't linger on the surface and seeps underground, forming one of the larger aquifers in Oregon, then it all emerges in springs around Clear Lake. The result is one of the most consistent rivers in the northwest.
The waterfalls of the McKenzie River have been very oddly cited regarding their height. Koosah Falls has been championed as dropping anywhere between 50 and 120 feet, a level of disconnect that is frankly a little hard to understand. Kayakers who have run the falls, who are generally pretty good about providing accurate measurements of how far they have fallen, cited the drop as 82 feet at one point, which was a believable figure until we trained our equipment on it. We measured the falls in 2010 to drop 64 feet, which makes it the second tallest of the three falls along the McKenzie.
- Koosah Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
- Known Alternate Names: Middle Falls
Koosah Falls was originally known as Middle Falls before the Clear Lake area was developed for recreation. Koosah is a Chinook Jargon word meaning "sky", a possible homage to the crystal blue color of the river.
Located south of Santiam Pass along Highway 126. From the junction of Highways 20 and 126 (approximately 70 miles east of I-5 in Albany via Highway 20, or 85 miles east of I-5 in Salem via Highway 22), follow Highway 126 south for about 5 miles and turn right at the sign for Koosah Falls and Icecap Campground. Head left at the junction, and park near the restrooms. Viewpoints are reached via a short walk.