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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Note: Our Oregon photo tours do not explore the last three falls. With backpacks full of heavy camera gear and tripods, it's too much hiking for one day.
Silver Falls State Park is truly a scenic treasure filled with wonderful waterfalls, old-growth forests, and tremendous photo opportunities. We explore Silver Falls on all our Oregon photography tours and invite you to join us. You'll be glad you did.