Known by many as the "crown jewel" of the Oregon States Parks, Silver Falls makes a spectacular day out
The first time I experienced Silver Falls State Park it was a bright and breezy day in early November, it had rained heavily the days prior, so it was muddy and there were some deep puddles and I was running in a half-marathon. But I was stunned, amid my pain and discomfort by the beauty of the place.
The park is located a few miles from the small, and the very cute town of Silverton, Oregon, close to the State Capital of Salem. Probably the best time to visit would be a warm, clear spring day when the rivers feeding the falls are at their most dynamic but it is a great place to visit any time of the year. This time when we visited it was in the fall after a dry summer so the falls were at their least active, nonetheless it was a great experience and we had the benefit of the emerging fall colours to compensate for the lack of gushing water.
Most people start their walk at the South Falls Lodge Trailhead where there is ample parking (although it can get busy) and plenty of nice green areas to relax and access to several trails. Most people from here take the canyon trail, which follows the river canyon and where you will find the falls. For safety reasons (the trail is narrow in part) pets are not allowed on the Canyon Trail.
After a short downhill descent, the first falls you will come across is the most famous, the South Falls, a 177-foot drop, what the trail takes you behind so you can look out through a curtain of water. Most famous because this as far as a lot of people get.
From here you carry on along the trail, which forms a part of a 7.2-mile loop (there are places you can cut back and shorten the hike). This a part of a trail that will take you past a total of 10 falls. A little further on is another smaller waterfall which you can also walk behind. Here again, you take a path that climbs out of the canyon (it is a bit of a climb up!).
If you wish you can carry on along the canyon hiking trail, passing a series of breathtaking waterfalls along a rocky canyon, and descending to a winding creek at the forest floor. It is truly breathtaking and each falls you pass are quite different and spectacular in their own way. Once you are down at the bottom of the gorge the walking is relatively easy, there is no huge elevation gain, but there are rocks and tree roots to navigate so you need to watch where you place your feet. This is not a place for people who are not relatively steady on their feet!
Getting back, whether you do the loop following the Rim Trail or simply turnaround and come back the way you came then there will be a climb out of the gorge of a few hundred feet, which can be strenuous – and a hot day will get you sweaty (as with all hikes taking water with you is important).
Once you get back if you need a rest take a short detour into the South Falls Trail Lodge – which has more information about the area but there is also a snack bar to buy some earned refreshments.
As you might have worked out I love this State Park – it is one of my favourites in the whole country, not just Oregon. So, if you are a resident of the State or passing through then carve out a few hours to explore this magical place.
In Summary …
- Silver Falls is a great place to visit, either from staying locally or as a day trip from most of the Oregon cities
- Access is limited for disabled folks. There are quite a few stairs and steepish climbs. After the upper and lower falls the trails get narrow and bumpy.
- Once you start the trails there are not many places to do a loop without walking quite a distance. If you want a shorter hike it will have to be an in and out trip on the same trail.
Planning your trip
From Interstate 5 exit 253 in Salem, drive 10 miles east on North Santiam Highway 22, turn left at a sign for Silver Falls Park, and follow Highway 214 for 16 miles to the park entrance sign at South Falls.
Best time to visit Silver Falls State Park
Anytime between April and October would be good to visit. It really depends on the experience you are looking for. Schools in Oregon get out in mid-June, so May – mid-June are less crowded during the week. July and August can be warm and a bit humid.
Where to stay?
1. SILVER FALLS STATE CAMPGROUND
- 48 electrical sites with water (18+ sites open year-round)
- 43 tent sites with water nearby (seasonal May–Oct.)
- 2 Group tent sites GROUP CAMP
- 14 cabins (7 pet-friendly, open year-round)
- Flush toilets and showers
- Universal Access: Campsites B2 and B4, four cabins, and campground restrooms/showers are accessible.
- Dump station
2. OREGON GARDEN RESORT
Nestled in historic Silverton, Oregon, you will find the Oregon Garden Resort. It’s tranquil here. Quiet and relaxing. Yet near Salem and less than one hour from Portland. Framed by rustic architecture and stunning views of the adjacent Oregon Garden and rolling hills of the Willamette Valley, the 103-room hotel is a place to awaken the spirit and soothe the soul.
The Oregon Garden Resort offers an array of diversions, including a seasonal outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, the Moonstone Spa, locally inspired cuisine at the Garden View Restaurant and nightly Happy Hour and live music in the Fireside Lounge.
3. SILVERTON INN & SUITES
Located less than 5 minutes’ walk from shopping, dining and art galleries in the downtown historic district of Silverton, this hotel features free Wi-Fi and an on-site restaurant, “310 Water.”
Each uniquely-decorated room at The Silverton Inn & Suites offers wood and wrought iron furniture. A cable TV is also provided.
The Silverton Inn and Suites is 5 minutes’ drive from the Oregon Garden. Salem is 25 minutes’ drive from the property and Silver Falls State Park is 30 minutes’ drive away from Silverton Inn & Suites.