Silver Falls State Park is an absolute Must See for waterfall lovers in Oregon. There are 11 named falls in the park, even though the hiking trail is called “Trail of Ten Falls.” We visited in March, when there were innumerable seasonal falls as well, and I included 2 of those on my list for a total of 13 “official” (at least according to me!) waterfalls.
The full loop is 7.2 miles, but if you don’t want to hike that far, there are plenty of options for cutting it shorter.
Start by parking in the main day use area. South Falls is visible from here, so even those who are unable to go hiking at all can enjoy the view. And what a view! South Falls is an absolutely gorgeous waterfall, rated #70 on waterfallsnorthwest.com’s Top 100 list.
After viewing South Falls from the upper viewpoint, turn right and start heading down the trail. At the first switchback, however, keep going straight onto a spur trail that quickly leads to Frenchie Falls, the named waterfall that is not included as part of the “Ten Falls.” Frenchie is a piddly seasonal waterfall that dries up by May and is entirely unimpressive even on a rainy day in March.
Turn back to the main trail and follow it behind South Falls, through a large cavern, and around the other side. There is a bridge just beyond the base of South Falls for those who want to return to the parking lot at that point. Choosing this option creates a 1 mile hike.
Continuing along the Canyon Trail, however, leads to Lower South Falls after 1.2 miles. (My one complaint about this set of waterfalls is the lack of creative names!) Lower South, in my opinion, is the 3rd best in the park, and definitely worth making the extra trek. Once again, the trail leads behind the waterfall, which is always an added bonus.
A short distance downstream from Lower South, the Maple Ridge Trail meets up with the Canyon Trail, and those who wish to turn back may do so here. This option makes for a 2.6 mile hike.
From this point, the Canyon Trail begins following the North Fork of Silver Creek. It’s a mile from the trail junction to Lower North Falls and the spur trail to Double Falls. Somewhere along that mile is the first unnamed waterfall that I included on my list. It’s on the opposite side of the creek as the trail and isn’t particularly special, but I felt it was at least admirable enough to be recognized (especially compared to Frenchie!).
The trail crosses the creek downstream of Lower North Falls, which, at 30-feet high, appears to be wider than it is tall. It’s pretty, even though it’s blemished by a few downed trees.
Just past Lower North Falls is a short spur trail that leads to Double Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. It’s possible that this waterfall may run dry in late summer.
Returning to the Canyon Trail, you’ll reach Drake Falls in about .15 mile. Drake is the shortest waterfall in the park and doesn’t have a fantastic viewpoint.
Middle North Falls is found after another .15 mile (approximately). In my opinion, this is the 4th best waterfall in the park. It’s similar in appearance to Lower South, although the setting is quite different and great views are more limited. There is also a spur trail that leads behind the waterfall.
Between Middle North Falls and the junction with the Winter Trail is the second unnamed waterfall that I included on my list. The larger, more vertical drop is farther off the trail, barely visible in my picture. The sloping trickle over the moss-covered rocks in the foreground is what I found enchanting. My son tripped on his way up the side of the creek, so we thought it appropriate to name the spot after him: Asher Falls.
If you are ready to head back at this point, take the Winter Trail a half mile to base of Winter Falls. Winter Falls will run very low if not completely dry during summer, but it is worth seeing in the winter or spring. The trail climbs from the base of the falls to the top, where there is a limited amount of parking. If you are not interested in a long hike, this could be a starting point for you to see Winter (short distance but fairly steep) and Middle North (about 1.2 miles roundtrip). If you started at South Falls and followed the Canyon Trail to the Winter Trail, take the Rim Trail back to the day use area, making a 5 mile loop.
We took the 5 mile route with one exception: We passed the Winter Trail at first to see Twin Falls, which is .3 mile past the trail junction. Unfortunately, the trail does not offer any advantageous views of Twin Falls, so it ranks at the bottom of the “Ten Falls.” (It definitely outranks Frenchie, though!) The creek splits into two streams at the top of the falls, which is how it received its name.
It is 1.1 mile between Twin Falls and North Falls, but that is a section of the trail we did not cover. Instead, we parked at the North Falls Trailhead the next morning and hiked first to Upper North Falls, on the opposite side of the highway. The trail to Upper North is .3 mile, so it’s a .6 mile hike roundtrip.
Rain had poured down overnight, and there was a waterfall every 5 feet or so! The trail was charming, as was Upper North Falls. I would say Upper North is the 5th best waterfall in the park.
The 2nd best waterfall, unquestionably, is North Falls. The trail to North is steep in places, with plenty of stairs to help navigate the way down. In some spots, the cliff hangs over the trail, and we had moss and ferns dripping on our heads while we hiked. This was my favorite section of the entire trail.
And when you reach the bottom, you have arrived at North Falls. As waterfallsnorthwest.com says, “What North Falls holds over every other waterfall in Silver Falls State Park is drama. North Silver Creek is channeled through a narrow crack in the basaltic bedrock, from which it thunders 136 feet to the bottom of the canyon.” While the word to describe South Falls is “gorgeous,” the best word to describe North Falls is “awesome.” Once again, the trail goes behind the waterfall (yay!) and then continues on its way to the waterfalls already described. The distance to North Falls from the North Falls Trailhead and back is about .4 mile.
If you want to try hiking the entire loop at one time, I think you might want to park at North Falls and start there. Either way, you will have some stairs and uphill trail to climb after your last waterfall, but by ending at South Falls, you could rest in the lodge for a while and regain some energy before hiking the last leg of the loop back to North Falls.
My rating: Must see / favorite (4 stars)
(Trail and Experience ratings for all waterfalls – 4 stars each; 4-star waterfalls – South Falls, Lower South Falls, & North Falls; 3-star waterfalls – Middle North Falls & Upper North Falls; 2-star waterfalls – Lower North, Double, Drake, & Winter; 1-star waterfalls – Frenchie, Unnamed #1, Unnamed #2, & Twin Falls)
Distance from Beaverton: About 1.5 hours drive south/southeast
Nearest town: Sublimity
Nearest city: Salem
Length of round-trip hike: 0-7.2 miles
Best season to visit: The best falls will be worth visiting anytime of year, but to see them all, visit in the winter or spring.
Things to know:
- Dogs are not allowed on the Canyon Trail, although they are allowed in other areas of the park.
- There is a $5 parking fee.
- Oregon State Parks claims the full loop is 7.2 miles, but OregonHikers.org claims it to be 8.7, and EveryTrail.com claims it is 10.2. I do not know which is accurate, so I have gone with the official 7.2.
Consider combining this trip with: This trip needs no combining. However, if you want to visit other waterfalls in the area, Abiqua and Shellburg are the closest. The Oregon Garden is another nearby attraction.
Toilet / Amenities: The day use area has lots of amenities, including a restaurant. There are no other toilets along the trails, however.
How to get there:
- From Silverton, travel southeast on Highway 214 for around 17 miles. The highway passes through the middle of the park.
- http://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4932 (This is the link to South Falls. To view the listings for the other falls, click the links on the bottom left of the page.)