Silver Falls State Park
If Silver Falls State Park (22024 Silver Falls Hwy., Sublimity, 503/873-8681, ext. 31, www.oregonstateparks.org, $3 day use, $19–24 campsites, $39 cabins) were in California instead of the remote foothills east of the Willamette Valley, it would probably be designated a national park and be flooded with visitor facilities and people year-round.
Instead, one of Oregon’s largest and most spectacular state parks remains relatively quiet except during the summer. At that time, hordes seeking relief from the valley heat head up to this cool enclave of waterfalls 26 miles northeast of Salem.
They come to see 10 major waterfalls 30–178 feet in height cascading off canyon walls in a forest filled with gargantuan Douglas fir, ferns, and bigleaf and vine maple. There are also yew, chinquapin, and hemlock trees.
The best time to come is during fall foliage season when there are few visitors, just before icy roads and trail closures inhibit travel. Freezing east winds sometimes make the waterfalls appear like ice sculptures. In spring, the mid-April blooming of trilliums and yellow wood violets on the canyon bottom is another highlight.
Serious hikers will want to take on the seven-mile Trail of Ten Falls, which heads down into a fern-lined basalt gully going past all the waterfalls. The profusion of trees and moisture gives the air a special freshness, and when the sun hits some of the 10 waterfalls just right you can see rainbows. A two-car shuttle is recommended if you plan to hike the whole loop.
The highlights of this 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps trail are 177-foot South Falls and 136-foot North Falls. The opportunity to walk behind these waterfalls attracts a lot of visitors, who follow the trail through a basalt overhang in the cleft of each cliff. Bikers and horseback riders also enjoy specially designated trails in this 8,300-acre paradise.
North Falls and South Falls are easily reached from the North Falls parking lot and the day-use area, respectively, so you don’t have to hike the whole loop to see both. To get to the day-use area from the North Falls parking lot, drive several miles south up the hill (on Rte. 214), stopping after 1–2 miles to look back at a spectacular view of North Falls.
Note that while leashed dogs are permitted on some trails at Silver Falls, they are not allowed on much of the Trail of Ten Falls.
A museum near the day-use parking area features vintage photos from the area’s incarnation as a logging site founded by land speculator James “Silver” Smith (so named for his penchant for carrying around a sack of silver dollars), and wildlife exhibits provide a nice introduction. A short distance from the museum is a viewpoint and the trailhead to South Falls. Like the North Falls trail, this is a steep ascent of about 0.25 miles.
The park’s campground has 46 tent sites, 52 sites for trailers or motor homes up to 35 feet long, and 10 log cabins. Large groups (up to 75 people) can rent dormitory-style bunkhouses, called “ranches,” for $100 per night. Tent sites are open May–October; the RV campground and one of the “ranches” are open year-round. In addition to hiking, swimming, and biking, there are stables near the park’s entrance and a horse camp.
Getting to Silver Falls State Park
If you plan to visit Silver Falls State Park from Portland, leave I-5 at Woodburn and follow rural Route 214 south through Mount Angel and Silverton. From Salem, either drive east on Route 213 to Silverton or approach the park farther south by taking Route 22 east out of Salem and following the signs northeast to the park from Sublimity. Although it’s longer, the latter route enables you to do a loop from Salem to Silver Creek Falls on different roads, taking in more varied landscapes in the process.
The main drag in Silverton, Water Street (a.k.a. Route 214, the Silver Creek Falls Highway), heads south out of town toward the park. En route, stop at the chamber of commerce outdoor information kiosk (421 S. Water St., 503/873-5615) to pick up a Silverton directory map and a park folder. Traveling south and eventually east en route to the park on Route 214, the road climbs up into gently undulating hills past Christmas tree farms and nursery stock.
A dearth of signs and a distance that seems longer than the posted 15 miles from town will have you second-guessing these directions until you come to the North Falls parking lot. While North Falls is a few miles north of the visitor services and facilities of Silver Creek Falls State Park headquarters at the day-use area, you can park your car at the trailhead here and skip the admission kiosk and shopping-mall-sized parking lot down the road.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel