Silver Falls State Park is probably one of the country’s most secretly awesome state parks. Well, secretly awesome to those who aren’t in the know. If you aren’t, get ready to fall in love! Tucked away within the lush temperate rainforest of the park, you’ll find no less than 15 stunning waterfalls, each more gorgeous than the last. And if you’re up for the challenge, you can hike a 7.2ish mile mega-loop that winds past 10 of the prettiest. It’s no surprise that the park has been considered for National Park status not once, but twice… honestly, it’s more shocking that it isn’t a National Park.
The history of Silver Falls
But before it was a park, it was the site of a logging community, which was founded in 1888. The town was called “Silver Falls”, hence the name of the park (despite the fact that there’s no waterfall called “Silver Falls”.) As the forest around was cleared out and the town settled in, more and more waterfalls were uncovered and made easier to access. Since this is America, it wasn’t long before a local was charging admission to South Falls, and was offering some pretty ridiculous stunts to draw in visitors. Like, pushing cars off the waterfall, or sending a daredevil over the 177-foot cliff of the falls in a canoe. In 1900, a local photographer named June D. Drake launched a campaign to get the area declared a park. In 1926, an NPS inspector actually came out to visit the region… and didn’t recommend it for National Park status because the tree stumps from the logging was considered unsightly.
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Silver Falls a Recreational Demonstration Area, and the CCC came in to develop the park with the South Falls Lodge and a youth camp, both of which still stand today.
The Trail of Ten Falls
The main attraction in the park is the Trail of Ten Falls. This 7.2-mile hike takes you past ten of the more popular waterfalls in the park, and even lets you walk behind four of them. How cool is that? Start at the lodge, parking at the South Falls parking lot, and hike the trail clockwise. It can be done in a loop, which is super convenient.
The first waterfall you’ll hit is South Falls, which stands at an imposing 177 feet tall. This is one of the four that you can actually walk behind, and there are several other great viewpoints of it along the way as well– from the top, from the base, and from the footbridge. South Falls is noticeably smaller in the late summer, but it should still be cascading down nicely. There’s a spur trail near South Falls that leads to Frenchie Falls, which isn’t one of the Ten– if you’re here in the spring, just after a rain, it’s worth the short walk to the falls; otherwise, it won’t look like much. Your next stop should be the 93-foot-tall Lower South Falls. Again, you can walk right behind the cascade. About 1.3 miles from that will be Lower North Falls, a 30-foot slide waterfall. Though it’s smaller and rather remote, it’s less crowded.
Then you can visit Double Falls, the tallest of the park’s waterfalls, standing at an impressive 178 feet tall. This is one waterfall that dries up significantly (although rarely all the way) in the summer. Next on the trail is Drake Falls. While it’s only 27 feet tall (the shortest of the ten falls on the trail), it features a nice viewing platform next to Canyon Trail, and it’s a lovely tribute to June D. Drake. Stroll behind the 100-foot-tall sheet of water plunging down Middle North Falls after that (be prepared to get wet!) The next waterfall on the trail is Twin Falls. It’s a small-but-mighty 31-foot-tall cascade, and a large rock splits the water into two distinctive channels when the flow is heavy, hence the name. North Falls is about 8/10s of a mile away from Twin Falls. The 136-foot-tall plunge is the last of the waterfalls you can walk behind– the cave behind the waterfall is so deep, trees grow there!
The last two waterfalls are Upper North Falls (which is 36 feet tall) and Winter Falls (134 feet tall); these are lesser visited since they’re a bit out of the way along the loop. Winter Falls is pretty tall, but it’s the waterfall that’s probably most prone to drying up in the summer. It’s not often it dries up completely, but it can get down to a trickle when it’s hot out… it’s best viewed in the winter, hence the name.
Hacking your hike on the Trail of Ten Falls
For a shorter hike, skip Upper North Falls and Winter Falls; these are off of spur trails that are more out of the way than the other waterfalls. And if you’ve only got time for one waterfall, it’s only 1.1 miles total to and from South Falls, which is the second-tallest in the park (it’s shorter than Double Falls by a mere foot.) You need only walk 0.2 miles from the South Falls parking area to even get the first glimpse of the waterfall.
There are parking areas at South Falls and Winter Falls. As for the Winter Falls parking area, it’s about a mile one way to reach Lower North Falls, passing a few bonus waterfalls along the way. There’s also a parking lot for North Falls that’s about 0.3 miles from the waterfall.
More fun in the Great Outdoors…