Silver Falls State Park

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Silver Falls coolest spot in Oregon

Aug 25, 2001
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Pros:Largest Oregon state park with 10 waterfalls along a 7 mile trail.

Cons:Trail signs are lacking.

The Bottom Line: Silver Falls is Oregon's largest State Park. With 10 spectacular waterfalls to see from a 7+ mile loop, this park is worth the trip.


~=~ A Choice to Make ~=~

My husband's favorite thing to do in the whole wide world is hike. He especially enjoys hiking in Oregon's forests. His trips were less frequent with small children at home. Our youngest is now 4. So it was no surprise to us that when asked what he wanted to do for his birthday this year, my husband said, "Go for a family hike."


~=~ Oregon has many parks. Which one? ~=~

Four is old enough to hike. But it's also young enough to get bored. Knowing that, my husband chose Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. Only about an hour drive from our house, it's near Salem and south of Portland. He chose the park not just for the reasonable drive but also it's spectacular scenery.


~=~ Silver Falls State Park ~=~

Oregon is full of great scenery. Hollywood loves to film here. To get people's attention in Oregon, a park has to offer something special. After all, within a short drive, we have a choice of Mt. Hood and other Cascade peaks, the Pacific Ocean and the desert. And let's not forget the waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge, capped by Multnomah Falls. What's Silver Falls got to compete with all the other state wide beauty?

For starters, Silver Falls State Park is the largest state park in Oregon at 8700 acres. It has something for everyone. I became aware of it as a featured speaker at a conference. The conference was held at the center within the park. After I gave my presentation, I saw a little bit more of the park than the schedule allowed. The way I saw it, they wouldn't have had the meetings there if they didn't want us to enjoy the scenery, right? The conference center was more rustic than a Hilton but infinitely more interesting. There's a 3 mile jogging trail right outside the conference doors, calling to all those enduring yet another round of geek speak.

There are activities for most outdoor enthusiasts here. Biking? There's a 4 mile paved path. Horses? 14 miles of trails serve equestrian riders. Mountain bikes? There are 25 miles of multiple use trails.

Want a picnic or a swim? Near South Falls is a large picnic area and a beach for swimming. The water is pretty cold, even in August. If you want a refreshing dip in a natural setting, give it a try. Then heat back up on the sunny lawn with a bite to eat.

But the most famous feature of the park is the Silver Creek Canyon Trail. Referred in park documentation as 7 miles, 8.7 miles or somewhere in between depending on how many spurs you take, this is a hiker's heaven. If you start at South Falls, you are up above a deep canyon. As you descend on the trails, you end up in the remnants of the Oligocene period, about 26 million years ago. Oregon was mostly ocean then. When the waters receded 15 million years ago, lava flowed. Erosion has created lips and holes within this huge canyon, allowing some great hiking sights. Some places in the ceiling rock have tree chimneys where you can see bark impressions. The lava covered the trees and left these impressions behind.

The other impressive sight on this trail is the plethora of waterfalls. Not just a piddly trickle or two. But 10 absolutely stunning waterfalls. Some are visible by driving the park roads and stopping at the lookouts. But to get the true feel of the experience, you need to hike through remnants of old growth forest, peek through ferns, listen to the trickle of water build to the waterfall, then see it in all it's majesty. Of course, if someone in your party can't hike the steep, sometimes slick trails, viewing from the car parking lots is a good option. But bear in mind that some hiker snobs (yes, sadly, my husband is one) view able bodied car park viewers as slackers.

A short walk from the lodge in the main parking lot is South Falls. Dropping an impressive 177 feet, this falls allows you to see the back side of water (sorry Disneyland, I stole your schtick). The trail goes around South Falls, with the trail passing under the canyon lip just at the falls. This allows you to actually be behind the waterfall. It's a view you won't soon forget. Continuing on, you'll see Lower South Falls. It has a height of 93 feet. This is another fall you can see from the front and the back. Lower North Falls is slightly less impressive at a 30 foot fall but majestic in it's own way. We saw teens swimming at the base of this fall.

Double Falls is next. A very awe inspiring height of 178 feet tall, our children played in the pool at the base. Then comes the small Drake falls, named for photographer June Drake who helped get the park built. Middle North Falls is a tall 106 feet. Winter Falls was the last one we viewed today. A drop of 134 feet seems grand but it was fairly dry today. We've been having a drought. The literature says it's most spectacular in winter and spring.

We took a short cut back to the lodge, thinking 5 miles was enough for our guys today. The full loop takes you past Twin Falls at 31 feet, North Falls at 136 feet and Upper North Falls at 65 feet. North Falls is a former Native American Vision Quest ceremonial area. We were planning to do a drive by on these last 3 falls today. Unfortunately, events worthy of the "I Love Lucy" show prevented us from staying.


~=~ Why cut such a great trip short? ~=~

Today marked the first time since having children that both of them truly enjoyed the hike. It was a very pleasant day and we were having a great time. Until we passed Middle North Falls. My seven year old son was in the lead. Humming as he walked, he set a challenging but doable pace. All of a sudden, he screamed, dropped his 2-way radio and ran. In circles. With arms flapping. I ran to him, screamed and repeated his odd, chicken dance. I felt a burning sensation in my rear, upper thigh. It was followed by a buzzing sound from that same general area.

It turned out that we had been attacked by angry bees. We had a difficult 1 mile more to go before getting our ice packs on our stings. The attendant at the day use hut said bees are often aggressive in August. We were on the trail, doing what we were supposed to be doing. I know that stings happen. But it's no fun if it happens to you. Or especially if it happens to me. And walking up out of a canyon with a swollen bum is a sight that's fit for America's Funniest Video show. If you were in the park today and have a tape of it, please have them blur my face out of the shot! (and if "frick" is a cuss word, have them do a voice over my loud verbage)


~=~ Down sides? ~=~

With all this beauty, could there possibly be any down sides? I found the signs to be lacking. For instance, at Middle North Falls, there is the main trail and an additional short spur that takes you behind the falls. People were confused about which was which, as they aren't labeled. Also, just past Lower South Falls is a loop back to the South Falls lodge. The main trail that leads to more waterfalls is often confused for the short trail back to the lodge. For those short on time or not able to make long walks, this is a critical error. Instead of 1 mile back to the lodge, it could be a 4 mile trip with steep, slick trails. My husband informed me that macho hikers don't need signs. They use the trail map. So remember to keep your trail maps (given at the day use fee huts) handy.


~=~ Bottom Line ~=~

If you're in Oregon and want to see waterfalls, you can choose the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland. Or you can choose Silver Falls State Park, near Salem. While both are great choices, Silver Falls is the less traveled path. Fewer visitors, peace and quiet (at least there was, until I got stung), and unparalleled vistas are at your command. Cost? A measly $3 per car.


~=~ Details ~=~

Rules for Oregon State Parks: Stay on the trail. Shortcuts cause erosion & harm plants. Don't litter. Pack it all out. Take pictures & memories only. Don't carve or write on anything in the park. Dogs allowed on leashes only. Campfires only in designated fire circles.

$3 day use fee, call 1-800-551-6949 for permits or buy them at the park.

Horse rentals, 1-503-873-3890

Phone & website: 1-800-551-6949, www.oregonstateparks.org





Recommend this product? Yes


Best time to go: June-August
Recommended for: Familes
Review Topic: Hiking & Trails

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