Chasing Waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park

The drive from Crater Lake home to Seattle would have been a long one. Too long. So I elected we make a short but sweet stop at Silver Falls State Park near Salem to break up the drive home. It’s considered the crown jewel of Oregon State Parks–and I’d soon learn why. 

Read the sign, punk!

When we pulled into the park gate, we saw right off the bat big yellow signs warning of the most recent cougar and black bear sightings. I instantly got nervous–sure, no one in Oregon has ever died from a cougar or bear attack, but I am not eager to become the first! We set up camp and explored the campground a bit, but I was itching for the falls. We knew we wouldn’t have enough time before dark to do the entire 7-8 mile Trail of Ten Falls loop, sadly. As the trail map has multiple options for shorter options (including the Maple Ridge Loop for 2.6 miles or the Winter Falls Loop for 5 miles), clearly I’m not the only victim of a time crunch. So we set off from camp to squeeze in as much as we dared–which ended up being mostly the Maple Ridge Loop, which allows for only two of the ten falls, but wow!

 

We walked the half-mile from the campground to get to the nearest trailhead and see the closest of the falls, South Falls. If you are not camping and just doing the day hike, there is a parking area here called Stone Circle as well as the option to start at the Winter Falls trailhead or the North Falls trailhead (North Falls is good for the full loop only). All day use fees are $5.

The approach to South Falls. Note the caves behind the falls!

A large sign greets you at Stone Circle informing you of information and rules. Sadly, the pools underneath the South (and Lower South) Falls are closed to public access–we would have loved getting to swim under the falls (especially in that heat), but I bet especially from 177 feet up, that water *hurts!* You do get to walk behind some of the ten falls though (four of them), which was so thrilling to me I’m struggling to not post 18 pictures of the same waterfall. South Falls is one of these four falls you get to walk behind, and you will be viewing it from any of the loop options. Admittedly, we thought we’d be feeling a bit more mist from the falls, but erosion definitely is a good reason to be a bit further back from the walls when you’re walking on land.

 

I literally tried to stay ’till the sun came down.

It’s not hard to let your imagination run wild while walking behind the South Falls. Were the caves always here? Who enjoyed seeing the falls in those previous years? What significance did this land hold to those here hundreds or thousands of years ago? I just kept marveling so long that my boyfriend decided to head back to camp to set up dinner, leaving me and my imagination to try to squeeze in as much more as I dared with only a small pocket flashlight.

 

I told myself I’d do the Maple Loop trail, and set off. Those yellow cougar and bear sighting signs quickly invaded by brain as I tried to remain calm. I quickly caught up to a family hiking together, who tired to let me by. I wasn’t ballsy enough to say I’m scared and don’t want to go alone, so I continued, trying to make noise by singing (I am so off key, surely I’d drive an animal away?) and moving fast. As I continued along a stream, I could not believe the beauty of this park. As I was trying to figure out the logistics of quitting my job and becoming a park ranger here full-time, the roar of falls got closer–these would be the Lower South Falls.

Switchbacks *and* stairs? No fair.

After my time in Crater Lake and Bend, it was a bit comforting to be surrounded by lush greenery again, but the intense heat followed me back north. I was sweaty and gross and again held out hope I’d get to feel some mist from these falls. I rounded a corner and realized I had a long way down to go–and it involved stairs. However, the roar of the next falls had ignited my curiosity onward, and no amount of elevation change could stop me. I also took comfort in knowing that soon the family I had passed could see me, and worst-case scenario maybe at least recover my body if attacked. I had my head on a swivel looking out for danger, but could also see that the Lower South Falls were in a bit of a canyon, and I’d be climbing back up to get out as well.

 

The approach to Lower South Falls.

However, I soon got a spring in my step going down the stairs–Lower South Falls was another of the four you got to walk behind! And this time I’d have no boyfriend telling me to get a move on–but I also had no boyfriend to take pictures. Lower South Falls was still 100% worth the extra mile-and-back though, even at a less-impressive 93 feet, because this fall you could get actually close enough to feel the mist–perfect as I was drenched in sweat and ready to cool off. I was the sole person I could see (that family was close though) and it was so peaceful to be alone behind a waterfall. I was shocked on a Friday the trail would be so empty, I can only imagine in peak weather what it would be like navigating the crowds (I soon learned the ‘crowds’ were all in the campground and apparently consuming caffeine by the IV bag).

As I lingered behind the falls, I consulted my map. I had a ways to continue forward on the trail before joining the Maple Ridge Loop back, or I could go back the way I came and see the South falls again. It was a no-brainer. I’m sure with a name like “Maple Ridge” that in the fall this could be stunning, but I had to go behind those falls again. I sang and dashed along the trail, mercifully stopping whenever I heard other people that Mr. Cougar would hopefully find more appealing than me. I loved every second of my time along this trail and am too happy about being behind two waterfalls to get angry at time and darkness for preventing me from seeing the other eight falls that day. I know one day soon I’ll be back and will conquer all ten of these falls (and this time the campground will be quieter too).

4 Replies to “Chasing Waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park”

  1. I especially love those caves! If you ever do a PNW hike that seems doable with a toddler let me know! I miss hiking after having a kid, but I don’t know of any off-hand that would be easy enough with a little one in-tow.

    1. I think lake hikes are far safer compared to any ‘peak’ or ‘mountain’ hikes for children. Talapus and Olallie Lakes (along I-90, see post) were pretty easy and (to my untrained eyes of an aunt but not mother) seemed like only one area where a toddler could wander off and fall along the way up to the lakes. Heather Lake and Lake 22 up along the Mountain Loop highway have multiple areas during the hike where you might want to be holding on, but once at the top are safe to run around (as long as you don’t think they’ll take a tumble into the water–it is very cold!)

  2. At the top of the trail near the campground is semi-natural swimming hole. It would be great to jump in at the end of a long hike when it’s so hot out! …but not when it’s dark.

    1. I wish I had more time to explore that whole park–especially on a weekday in the off-peak season!

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