- Trip Name: Tamolitch Falls (aka Blue Pool), McKenzie River
- Trip Length: 8.2 miles out and back
- Trip Time: 3-4 hours
- Best time to visit: Year round
- Difficulty rating: 3 (length but mostly flat)
- Views: 6
- Wilderness experience: 5
- Recommended activities: Day hike, running, mountain biking
- Best for: Hikers, runners, families, dogs
- Restroom: Yes, at Ice Cap Campground and near Carmen Reservoir
- Permit: None
- Recommended map: USGS Tamolitch Falls Quad, USGS Clear Lake Quad
- Click here to download our FREE topo trail map
- Click here to download this Trail Guide as a PDF
- Click here to purchase the GPS file for this hike ($3)
- Click here to check out our photos from this hike
Trip Technical Data
- Trailhead: Koosah Falls or Carmen Reservoir
- Trailhead Elevation: Koosah Falls, 2,733 Feet; Carmen Reservoir, 2,650 Feet
- Elevation of Tamolitch Falls Pool: 2,400 Feet
Travel Time: 1.25 hours
Head west on Highway 20 through Sisters, Oregon. Once through downtown Sisters continue to follow Highway 20 West for 25.5 miles over Santiam Pass to Santiam Junction, where Route 22 splits from Route 20. Continue to Follow Route 20 by taking a left at this junction. In 3.2 miles take another left, leaving Highway 20, and join Highway 126. Follow Highway 126 for 5.5 miles to Koosah Falls / Ice Cap Campground on your right. Once off the highway follow the sign to the right for Koosah Falls to the parking area and trailhead.
This trail follows the course of the McKenzie River and is a quiet section of forest with no water in sight. Just after the Carmen reservoir the McKenzie River disappears and flows underground for about 3 miles until it reappears at this hikes destination, dry Tamolitch falls. This is where the river flows up into the Blue Pool and once again above ground for the remainder of its course. After a beautiful walk through the lush woods, on a hot day, you will be ready for a quick cold dip in the Blue Pool. The water here is about 40 degrees.
There are two potential starting points for this hike and I recommend starting at the Koosah Falls parking area so you don't miss the view of the falls.
The Waterfalls Trail starts just beyond the informational sign in the parking area and heads down towards Koosah Falls. As you make your way down the gravel path there are a couple of trail intersections where you will need to stay to the left. There are great views of the falls as you navigate this first section of trail. Once past the view points, the trail starts to descend quickly to the McKenzie River. After a few hundred yards down the hill there is a trail on the left that heads back uphill to the Ice Cap Campground. Continue to follow the trail downhill to the Carmen Reservoir. Once at the reservoir, turn right to cross the river on the gravel road, and head towards the end of the parking area. There is a vault toilet here and the trail leads into the woods to the right. In about 500 feet the Waterfalls Trail merges with the McKenzie River trail. At the trail sign turn left to head south along this trial. The trail follows the hillside above Carmen Reservoir for a third of a mile to the outfall of the reservoir and the point where the McKenzie River begins its underground flow.
For the next 3 miles the trail wanders its way through the forest. There a several "river crossings" over the dry riverbed across sturdy log foot bridges. Take your time and explore the many types of trees and flowers along the trail. After an hour or so you will arrive at Tamolitch Falls. The view of the dry falls and the Blue Pool are spectacular from where the trail meets the pool.
From this spot you can see the swimming access across the pool (you can make it out in the picture above). To get to the swimming access, you will have to make a difficult scramble across the dry river bed at the top of the falls and down a steep embankment on the other side. Small children may have a difficult time with this. If you do choose to go for a swim be warned that the water here is COLD! The water is flowing out of the ground at about 40 degrees year round. From the ledge at the swimming access the water is quite deep but always be very careful when jumping or diving into unfamiliar water. We jumped in twice before we were actually too cold to do it again, then spent time basking in the sun on the rocks before making our way back up the side of the pool and onto the trail.
After cooling off and enjoying the amazing blueness of the water simply follow the McKenzie River Trail back the way you came to finish off this 8.2 mile out and back hike.
Please let us know how your hike went and share some of your photos on our Facebook page!