A few weekends back we headed to Silver Falls State Park for our first camping trip of the season. The park is a short 90 minute drive from Portland and is home to the Trail of Ten Falls – a seven mile trail that connects 10 waterfalls. The forest and falls are absolutely stunning.
It was our second time – we camped there in late September when all was on the dry side. We still enjoyed hiking around and checking out the falls, but Isaac and I agreed we had to return in the Spring to catch the falls at their fullest. April weather can be unpredictable and we weren’t sure what the rain would be doing – a little rain isn’t a big deal, but lots of it could be a bummer. I mean, after a few days of camping, wet kids can smell as bad as wet dog. All that to say, we played it safe and reserved a state cabin instead of a campsite. The cabin set up was great for our little family. More about that in a minute. Let’s talk waterfalls first.
As the name suggests, the Trail of Ten Falls provides access to all ten waterfalls in Silver Falls. Here’s a map. I cannot wait for the day that our family can hike the trail in its entirely, but our young hikers (3y and 4y) aren’t quite there yet. Instead, we break the trail up into bite size chunks, which for our kids is approximately 2 miles at a time. The Trail of Ten Falls has a few different trail heads/access points, so you don’t have to tackle the whole 7 miles at once. We’ve hiked from three of the trail heads and were able to see six of the waterfalls. Here’s what we did…
From the South Falls Trail Head:
This area has a huge parking lot, bathrooms, play ground and waterfront area. It’s also the most crowded of the trail heads, so we hit it early in the day. When we visited in September, the kids played in the river while we lounged with friends in the sun. Perfecto. If you don’t have a camping permit, you will have to buy a day use permit for $5.
South Falls is the first waterfall you come to on the trail. It’s 177 feet tall. You can take a short loop that walks behind the falls, to the bottom and back up. If you are short on time or are still testing the waters with small hikers, this would be a good starting point.
If you continue on the trail at the bottom of South Falls (Canyon Trail), you can hike to Lower South Falls. It’s nearly a mile from South Falls to Lower South Falls and includes a significant amount of stairs once you arrive at Lower South Falls. But, it’s worth it. You can also walk behind Lower South Falls, which is 93 feet tall.
This is where our kids maxed out. So we turned around and hiked back to the South Falls Trail Head the way we came on Canyon Trail. But, as you can see from the map you could also return via Maple Ridge (5 miles RT) or continue on to Lower North Falls.
From the Winter Falls Trail Head:
Winter Falls Trail Head has limited parking and no restroom. So, heads up. You may end up squatting in the bushes with your 3 year old before hitting the trail. It’s all good.
Winter Falls is a super short walk down the trail. When we visited in September, the 134 foot waterfall was totally dry. But, just as we hoped, Spring brought out the best in her. Continue down the very mellow trail to the bridge. Make a left onto Canyon Trail and walk to Middle North Falls. Middle North Falls is 106 feet tall and a real beauty. You can walk behind her too.
This is as far as we went from the Winter Falls Trail Head. If we planned better, we would have hit Twin Falls before returning to the Trail Head, but it was nearly 7pm when we got to the bridge and the bonfire/wine was calling. The hike from Winter Falls Trail Head to Middle North Falls and back is just under 2 miles.
From the North Falls Trail Head:
This trail head includes a small parking lot (free) and restroom. From the parking lot it is a short distance to the top of North Falls. But, I highly encourage you to take the stairs and continue on the trail behind the 136 feet falls. This one blows me away. The cave behind the falls is huge. It makes me think hobbit thoughts. The happy kind.
You can continue down the trail another mile to Twin Falls, but we didn’t. Instead we hiked back to the trail head and then continued under the bridge to Upper North Falls. And these falls might be the winner in my book. Maybe it’s the head on vantage point you get as you approach the falls. They’re 65 feet, and so pretty. And the hike from the parking lot is an easy 1/2 mile, making them really accessible.
And that was it. One weekend, six falls. One day we will add the remaining four (Twin, Drake, Double and Lower North Falls) to our list.
Back to camping. We’ve stayed at both a campsite (site #71) and cabin (cabin #9). The campsites are nice and have bathroom/shower facilities and cost $19 per night. This is my preferred style for the Summer months. The cabin sites include a fire pit, picnic table and shower/restroom facilities just like the campsites. Each cabin has a set of bunkbeds, a double sized bed and a futon. The cabins have electric outlets, heaters and lights. They are $40 per night. It is a perfect off-season solution for us.
Before we headed back to Portland, we checked out the North Falls Day-Use area. The coolest part was the Nature Play Area. We spent a few minutes playing around and would have otherwise stayed longer but for a bum ankle, thanks to a little incident involving a three year old and a bunk bed ladder.
If you’re looking for a fun weekend adventure or day trip from Portland, Silver Falls is a great option. I see many return trips in our family’s future. Maybe even a winter’s stay in one of the cozy cabins. I bet the Trail of Ten Falls is just majestic when it’s covered in snow.