Oregon's Silver Falls State Park

by Scott Setterberg April 30, 2020

Oregon's Silver Falls State Park

Located 25 miles east of Salem in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Silver Falls State Park is known as the crown jewel of the Oregon state parks system, and rightfully so.  The 9,200-acre property is the largest and most popular state park in Oregon and contains 10 spectacular waterfalls - five of which are more than one hundred feet tall.

Designated a Recreational Demonstration Area by President Roosevelt in 1934, the beautiful location is home to the magnificent Trail of Ten Falls.  There's varying information about the stats of the trail but the Silver Falls official map states that the moderate, well-developed, 7.2-mile loop hike can be reduced via two cutoff trails and gains 800 feet in elevation.  The path casually meanders through gorgeous Douglas fir, hemlock, and maple old-growth forests, above and below the ten incredible Oregon waterfalls, and through moss-covered rocky recesses behind four of the misty cascades.  

All the waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park spill over 15-million-year-old Columbia River basalt.  During that era, the Columbia River flowed through the region en route to the Pacific Ocean, and numerous lava flows pouring down the river channel progressively pushed the river northward.  As the lava flows slowly cooled and fractured, honeycomb columns were formed on cliff edges, and caverns were created by tree wells as the lava hardened around the searing trees. 

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
The Trail of Ten Falls has several starting points but most adventurers begin near the historic log-and-stone South Falls Lodge that was built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  After following the path for a few hundred yards, an overlook comes into view, and the towering 177-foot South Falls (pictured above) appears.  South Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall in the park, as well as the busiest, and the pathway into the canyon below leads to a fork where a rustic footbridge provides a grand vista of the giant plume.

Note: South Falls is an amazing natural wonder and you should explore the cave behind it and capture what images you can, but also move on relatively quickly to the less crowded, and in my opinion, much more interesting and photo-friendly waterfalls in the park.  

At the bottom of South Falls, the unpaved trail wanders along the quietly flowing creek to stunning Lower South Falls (pictured below), which is a sensational 93-foot spectacle, and personal favorite.  

Lower South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

There are several perspectives from which to shoot as the trail continues behind Lower South Falls and around to the other side before eventually arriving at another fork.

Note: If at this point you're feeling tired, the steep Maple Ridge Trail returns to the canyon rim, and creates a 2.8-mile round trip hike.

Lower North Falls - Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
For a longer journey, continue up the north fork of Silver Creek to Lower North Falls (pictured above), a unique, 30-foot slide waterfall with a couple good vantage points for photography.

Middle North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
At the picturesque footbridge (pictured below), be sure to take the 250-yard side trail to photograph the soaring, 178-foot Double Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in the park.  Return to the main trail and continue past Drake Falls and the jaw-dropping Middle North Falls (pictured above), to the Winter Falls trail junction and the 134-foot waterfall of the same name (pictured below).  

Note: Winter Falls is challenging to photograph because the only lookout is extremely close to the tall cascade but there's a nice bench to enjoy the view.  

Bridge at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon
After Winter Falls, stay on the path as it climbs to a parking area above, then keep right for the 1.6-mile return trail through the woods to complete the 5.1-mile loop to the South Falls Lodge area.  To experience the complete 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls loop, continue on to Twin Falls, North Falls, and Upper North Falls from the parking area above Winter Falls.  

Winter Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
On the north side of the park, two more waterfalls are equally impressive, and they are North Falls and Upper North Falls.  North Falls has the largest cave behind the falls where you can sit and appreciate the incredible vista.  Upper North Falls changes with the seasons and looks different throughout the year.  

Upper North Falls, North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, OregonSilver Falls State Park is truly a scenic treasure filled with wonderful waterfalls, old-growth forests, beautiful streams, and tremendous photo opportunities.  We explore Silver Falls on our Oregon photography tours and invite you to join us. You'll be glad you did.

Scott Setterberg
Scott Setterberg