The Kentucky Falls Natural Area contains three of the best waterfalls in Oregon's Coast Range, all accessible via the same well graded trail system. Lower Kentucky Falls is found at the trail's end where a viewing deck overlooks Kentucky Creek leaping a nearly sheer 117 feet into a gorgeous grotto, framed by lofty Big Leaf Maple trees. The fall impacts a small ledge about three-quarters of the way down, which causes it to veil outwards considerably. During periods of lower flow this veiling action makes the falls look as if it has a distinct second tier, but when the creek is even moderately full it simply is a slight interruption to the uniformity of the drop.
Visitors to Lower Kentucky Falls will undoubtedly notice neighboring North Fork Falls as well (see the link below for more). Both Lower Kentucky Falls and North Fork Falls spill over the same cliff band, but along their respectively independent streams. There are many vantages one can achieve where both falls can be clearly viewed from the same location. In the late winter and spring months when both streams are swollen with rain and snow melt, the powerful side-by-side falls make for quite a sight.
- Lower Kentucky Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
There are multiple routes to the Kentucky Falls trailhead depending on the direction you come from; we will be describing the two most direct and most likely to be utilized. If approaching from the south, take Highway 101 to Reedsport and continue north out of town on Highway 101 across the Smith River bridge, then turn right onto Lower Smith River Road. Continue on Smith River Road for 11 miles, then immediately before a bridge across the North Fork Smith River, turn left onto Road 48. Now on Road 48 (both a county an Forest Service road), continue for just over 10-1/2 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 23, where a sign will be seen pointing to Kentucky Falls.
If approaching from the north, take Highway 36 to the town of Mapleton, then head east on Highway 126. Immediately after crossing the Umpqua river, turn right onto Sweet Creek Road, which eventually becomes Forest Service Road 48. Continue for 14.3 miles to where the pavement ends at the Goodwin summit, and then proceed another 6.2 winding miles down the hill to the same junction with Forest Service Road 23 described above.
From either direction, now along Forest Service Road 23, follow Road 23 (which is paved) for another 12.4 miles to the Kentucky Falls trailhead - there are several signs marking the Kentucky Falls Natural Area before the trailhead to allow you to anticipate it. The trail begins across the road from the parking area. The first three-quarters of a mile are easy and level, leading to the top of Upper Kentucky Falls. From the top of the falls the grade increases a bit and several exposed sections of unguarded cliff are passed. Once past Upper Kentucky Falls the grade eases again and the trail continues at a more gentle pace until it passes the top of Lower Kentucky Falls, at which time several switchbacks descend to the viewing deck at the base of the falls, a total of 2 miles from the trailhead.