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Silver Falls - The Trail of Ten Falls

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on April 17, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM

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"Rain, rain, go away, come again another day."

Have you ever found yourself humming this well-known ditty on a gray April afternoon?


Yeah, right!

Fact is, endless spring showers that are splintered only by occasional slices of sunshine is the way of life in the northwest corner of the West from March through May.


And if you're new to this country, here's my best advice: "Get used to it!"

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Since there's little to do about it, why not find the beauty--no, make that the delight--in the Oregon outdoors when the rain seems to fall from above in buckets.

I suggest you scoot into the hills near Silverton to a state park guaranteed to deliver huge, powerful, surging natural events that captivate your eyes, your ears, and perhaps your soul.

At Silver Falls State Park, fourteen foamy white curtains whirl and ripple and tumble and shimmer at one of the most delightful parklands in Oregon.

Adam Bacher, an Oregon resident and noted landscape photographer, says he's lucky enough to capture the falls from every angle.

"To me, Silver Falls State Park is like a miniature Columbia River Gorge," noted Bacher.

The two of us paused just yards away from the full force of the majestic and loud South Falls. "In one afternoon, on foot, you can see three major waterfalls and several smaller ones in less than a mile and a half of easy hiking."

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We held tight to the steel guardrail alongside the ten-foot-wide trail and were just about to duck behind the famous whopper waterfall that's on the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park.

Bacher's a pro who finds the walking is pure pleasure inside Oregon's largest state parkland. In fact, across more than 9,000 acres, you will find many waterfalls that boom and seem to shout for your attention.

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As we hiked, Bacher explained that mountain snowmelt accompanying the annual spring rains builds the south and north forks of Silver Creek to swollen threads of whitewater that race down canyon drainages all across the vast forest parkland.

Thundering and roaring from recent downpours, the many cascading falls inside the park are immense spectacles to behold. Nestled in the lower elevation of Oregon's Cascade Mountains, Silver Falls is blessed to be located in a temperate rain forest.

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"They come in all shapes and sizes, Grant-- we have a little over seven miles of canyon trail in this park, with three different access points and several different hiking loops. You can choose how far you want to go and which falls to visit, so if you're looking for waterfalls, you can get the whole package right here--and we owe it all to prehistoric volcanoes."

The geologic history behind so many falls in one location is impressive! It seems millions of years ago, successive and destructive lava flows covered the entire western region of Oregon.

But over time within this parkland, the wind, rain, and ice eroded or cut through the lava to create tributary creeks and their falls--plus the mainstem Silver Creek. So much beauty from long-ago devastation is worth pausing to consider!

Down the Trail of Ten Falls, Bacher offered a photo tip: let each waterfall guide you to their larger scenes: "Each item in nature is in it's own unique context and so the more of that kind of foreground that I can show, I think the more it enhances the photo...I mean those cracks are literally layers of lava and who knows, a million years apart, a couple hundred thousand years apart...the geology here is just fascinating."

"The park's recent history is fascinating too," explained Silver Falls State Park Ranger, Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser. She said that the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed South Falls Lodge in the 1930s.

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"The lodge is gorgeous and I think it's one of the highlights," said Kwaiser.
"You can see all the stonework - all the places where they drilled the stone in order to split it apart. Look at the beams up above and you see the hand-hewed marks. It's gorgeous."

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Deemed a "recreation demonstration site," and guarding the pathway entrance to South Falls, the rustic lodge is a scaled-down version of Mount Hood's Timberline Lodge.

It stands large in the park, complete with rugged rock and timber construction. Following a recent remodel, it is now an interpretive center, equipped with a food vendor and a very welcome fireplace.

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"There's a fire going and it has that wonderful woodsy smell; just feels like a lodge, like you're in a wilderness feeling; like you're in nature."

Campers who come for a longer stay can enjoy campsites that are open year round.

At Silver Falls, you will find unique group camping areas like the Old and New Ranch buildings, the Silver Creek Youth Camp, the North Falls trailer and tent areas, and RV, cabin, and tent camping in the overnight campground (fifty-four electrical sites, fifty-one tent sites, and showers, closed October 31 to April 15; fourteen rental cabins open year-round).

Additional cabin rentals and complete group accommodations can be found at the Silver Falls Conference Center. Guided daytime horse trail rides for people of all abilities are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day for a fee.

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Back on the trail, Adam pointed out the slow but certain descent along the trail to reach each falls. "That's important to keep in mind for the return trip, which is all uphill," he offered as we came to an intersection with a pathway leading to Frenchie Falls. This falls is tiny and hidden in comparison to most of the obviously gigantic falls in the park, but its seclusion is at the heart of its charm.

The next, Lower South Falls, also offers a hike behind a wall-of-water feature that gives you a unique perspective for enjoying the ninety-three-foot free fall.

Lower North Falls requires a 1.5-mile hike to reach; it's more akin to a thirty-foot block or wedge of water, rather than the more typical long, cascading drop characteristic of most of the park's falls.

Nearby Winter Falls is just the opposite: long and delicate at 140 feet from its base to its top.

Middle North Falls is next in the lineup along the Canyon Trail; it's distinguished by another walk behind the falls, although it's on a side route that dead-ends just beyond the falls.

Soon you'll come face to face with Drake Falls, which is the smallest of the entire park at just twenty-seven feet; here's a great photo opportunity because of the contrast between surging whitewater and black bedrock and river rock just visible under the surface.

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It's 2.4 miles from South Falls to Double Falls, which is the only two-tiered falls in the park. One mile farther is Twin Falls, which takes a sharp ninety-degree turn on a bend in the creek and then splits into two falls around a protruding rock face.

It's nearly another mile to powerful and hypnotic North Falls, which explodes out of a small slice in the bedrock and falls 180 feet into the canyon below; it's so loud that it's difficult to hold a conversation here with your travel companions! You can also walk behind North Falls.

Upper North Falls (about a half mile beyond North Falls) is a sixty-five-foot drop that offers a wide curtain-like affair that drops into a beautiful pool below.

Adam Bacher insists that you will slow down at Silver Falls State Park - the trails, the scenery, the wonder of it all - gives you little choice.

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"I count my blessings that I have access to something this beautiful an hour and a half from Portland. It's all pretty incredible!"

Another "incredible" way to enjoy this part of Oregon is the Silver Falls Tour Route. Consider it an old fashioned Sunday drive through this corner of the Willamette Valley and make it a day-long affair.