Part of the allure of RVing is discovering those out of the way, little known places located throughout the Northwest.

White River Falls is the official name but it has also been called Tygh Valley Falls, Middle White River Falls and Celestial Falls. Whatever the name, it is one of Oregon’s best-kept secrets.

The falls are in White River Falls State Park, which also includes an old gristmill and an abandoned hydroelectric plant. The park is open from early spring to early fall.

The White River originates 40 miles upstream on the south flank of Mount Hood as melt water from the White River Glacier. The falls occur shortly before the White River enters the Deschutes River. The falls consist of three distinct tiers over rocky basalt ledges. The first drop is the largest and widest—at times forming two or three individual falls next to each other. After a short stretch of white water, the river enters a narrowed channel where the second falls occur, dropping into a bowl worn into the basalt. The final drop is a small cascade just below the second fall. Total drop of the falls is about 90 feet.


The White River Falls

Since this area of north central Oregon is agricultural, the first use of the falls occurred when a gristmill was constructed at the site in about 1902. Today only the foundations, millpond and some ruins of the gristmill remain.

Within a few years, the Wasco Warehouse Milling Company built a hydroelectric facility at the site to power its large mills in the Dalles, about 40 miles to the north. In 1910, Wasco sold the powerhouse to the Pacific Power and Light Company (PP&L), which operated it until the early 1960’s. The initial owners of PP&L were speculators from the East who were buying up little power companies in the Northwest with the intention of hooking them together into one large grid. PP&L was the lone source of power for The Dalles, Dufer and surrounding areas until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built and the Bonneville Power Administration was created.


Old Penstock at the Power House

In 1963, the entire hydroelectric site was abandoned by PP&L. Some of the equipment was dismantled and salvaged, but a large amount of the equipment, including the Pelton wheels that powered the generators, were left behind. While the plant was in operation, four homes were located above the powerhouse for PP&L employees. There is no trace of the homes today.


The Old Power House

The entire site was donated by PP&L to the state of Oregon and in 1974 was turned into an out-of-the-way state park called the Tygh Valley State Wayside, which was little more than a gravel parking lot. Since then, it has been renamed the White River Falls State Park with many improvements added within the past 10 years. The upper area now contains a grassy park with a fenced viewing area, picnic tables, restrooms and a seasonal park host.

The upper section of the park offers outstanding views of the upper falls. A rough half-mile trail allows hikers to traverse an old spillway, travel along forgotten penstocks and hike down into the canyon to the historic hydroelectric power plant. Viewpoints of the middle falls are found on the way down. A great place to photograph the lowest cascade and middle falls can be found next to the power plant. The trail also provides access to the lower section of the river for fishing. Swimming is not recommended due to strong river currents.


The Falls as Seen From the Day Use Area

When you go:

White River Falls State Park is open from 7AM to dusk daily Mar 15 - Oct 31. There is no user fee. If you like raging waterfalls, visit during the spring when snowmelt swells the river and the falls. The parking area is limited for parking and turning around large RVs. The park recommends no vehicles longer than 24ft.

The park is located due north of Maupin, Oregon accessed via Hwy 216. You will find the entrance to the park at N45° 14.747 W121° 05.836

Camping:

The closest developed campgrounds are:

Hunt Park, located on the Wasco County Fairgrounds. The park offers 120 RV hook ups with power, water, high speed internet, restrooms with showers and a dump station.

81849 Fairgrounds Road
Tygh Valley, OR 97063
541-483-2288

Maupin City Park, located on the eastern bank of the Deschutes River in Maupin, Oregon and offers 25 RV sites, 22 tent sites and 3 group sites. On-site amenities include restrooms with showers, full hook-ups for RV sites and free wi-fi internet. Click here to make reservations.

208 Bakeoven County Road
Maupin, OR. 97037
Phone: (541) 395-225

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave Helgeson
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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