Thursday, May 14, 2015

Notes From Behind the Water: Silver Falls

South Falls
Oregon raindrops fall abundantly in the Cascade Mountains above the friendly town known as Silverton. They join one another in several small tributaries which come together as Silver Creek, a crystal-clear stream that plunges over a series of famous falls before hurrying into the Willamette Valley.

Lower South Falls
This is one of the most-visited places in Oregon, and for good reason. A nine-mile hike leads to no fewer than ten waterfalls, some of them over one hundred feet high. Connecting trails make shorter hikes easy to plan; one of the most popular is less than a mile, dropping into a canyon and passing behind (yes, behind) 177-foot South Falls. In fact, trails lead behind four of these impressive falls.

View from behind Middle North Falls
Longer hikes follow the canyon, a lush and rugged place crowded with Douglas fir and hemlock trees. Rampant Oregon underbrush crowds the trails, peppered here and there with wildflowers. The roar of falling water hints at photo opportunities around the next bend of the trail.

These trails are for hikers only (not even pets are allowed), but twenty-five miles of multi-use trails are open to bikes, pets, and horses. A horse camp offers a home base for multi-day rides.

Drake Falls
This park is definitely a destination, not a stop on your way, as it is at least half an hour from anywhere. It is worth the leisurely drive, though. The park is open year-round due to its low elevation. A broad lawn in the day-use area offers picnic tables, barbecues, and swimming. A venerable lodge, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is worth a visit, as is the nearby gift shop. There is a playground and even an off-leash area for the family dog.

North Falls from North Falls Viewpoint
A popular campground offers back-in RV sites that are spread out for an unusually uncrowded camping experience. There are also charming cabins (often booked well ahead), as well as tent sites during the summer months. A woodland trail leads from the campground into the day use area.

Accessibility is limited by the terrain. The campground has accessible sites, and some of the trails are paved. There is a short, easy trail from the lodge to the top of South Falls, and it is reputedly possible to push a wheelchair on the South Falls Loop, but it is a steep trail, make no mistake. North Falls is visible at a distance from the North Falls Viewpoint parking area. The paved bike paths invite wheelchairs and strollers, as well.

If You Go
Double Falls
Silver Falls State Park is located on OR 214, the rather optimistically-named Silver Creek Falls Highway. This narrow and winding country road can be accessed from the north at Silverton (take Water Street). From the south, take Highway 22 east out of Salem to 214. Watch out for wandering animals, large farm equipment, and confused tourists.

It is a good idea to print this map; on our last visit, maps were hard to come by, and they are indispensable here. The Friends of Silver Falls State Park have an excellent, informative website if you want more detailed information.

Expect to pay a day-use fee unless you are camping. The Reserve America website has camping information, but plan ahead, especially for weekend visits; this beautiful park is no secret!

Lower North Falls
To avoid crowds (and keep them out of your stunning photos), try to go midweek, especially during the busy summer season. There is no off-season here; spring offers wildflowers, winter brings high water flows, and fall presents colorful vine maple foliage. Whenever you can make the drive, the falls are waiting for you.
Behind South Falls

Winter Falls
Middle North Falls

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