So big news comin’ from the Clean Spirit HQ – I am an official owner of a lean, mean adventure MACHINE! For the past few weeks, I’ve been preoccupied with vehicle shopping – holy moly is it exhausting and time consuming!! – so my focus temporarily strayed away from hiking and maintaining the site. But the point is, I am back and ready to rock.
While Colin was away this weekend, it was glorious to still have the option of heading out of the city for some trail time. Inspired by Oregon State Parks’ announcement of free admission to celebrate #OptOutside this Black Friday, I had my eyes set on Silver Falls State Park. It seemed like the perfect choice because 1) I will be stuck inside an office on Black Friday, all by myself, and won’t be able to partake in #OptOutside and enjoy the perks of no day-use fees, 2) I’m a little rusty after my time off, but this is a fairly flat trail, and 3) SO MANY WATERFALLS! So yes, I sucked up the $5 fee – hey, it’s a little painful following the big car purchase. 🙂
Being the first rain-free day in weeks, I expected the park to be packed to the gills and to my surprise, it wasn’t. I found that most visitors drive as close to each waterfall as they can, avoid the ones they can’t, and as a result, the Trail of Ten Falls isn’t bustling with people. That’s not to say I was entirely alone, but I had decent stretches of ultimate solitude.
The official loop begins at South Falls Lodge but you can really pick it up anywhere you please, e.g. North Falls or Winter Falls.
You start off following signs to North Falls Viewpoint and the Rim Trail. It gets a tad confusing once you cross over a paved road and you’re presented with two trails. Thanks to a fellow hiker who noticed my confusion, I was informed one is a bike path and the other for hikers. It’s easy to jumble the two, even though the bike path is paved, because both were hidden under layers of leaves and pine needles. It should be noted that if you want to do the Trail of Ten Falls, stick to the hiking path (bikes aren’t allowed on the full loop).
The first waterfall you hit is Winter Falls – accessible on a little side path that cuts across and back onto the loop on the other side. It’s a good alternative route if you want to do a shorter trip and are ok with missing North Falls. OregonHikers.org suggests hitting up Winter on your way back around, but I didn’t read that far ahead and after seeing the very top of the falls, I needed to satisfy my curiosity. Winter Falls, best seen during this time of year following heavy rainfall, did not disappoint and was a great start to the ten-strong series.
Next on the list was Upper North Falls – not as impressive as the other falls, but that makes it less desirable to other visitors. If you’re seeking a little seclusion, head here. If you’re pressed for time, you’re fine to skip this one.
The aforementioned hiker informed me that he does the modified shorter loop (once a week!) because he didn’t think North Falls is anything to write home about, which left my expectations pretty low. I wondered if maybe I should have not bothered, but I’m glad I did… North Falls was epic despite being only the third tallest waterfall in the park at 136 feet. There’s a enormous undercut cliff behind the falls, allowing you to walk behind it, even take a seat, and enjoy the show.
I can see this being a really great rainy day hike – take shelter for lunch in these cave-like grottos, the precipitation will make the waterfalls especially powerful, and the weather will scare away the crowds.
Continuing on, you pass Twin Falls, which, to be honest, is sort of a dud following North Falls.
Middle North Falls was another favorite of mine – mostly because again, you can go behind it. North Falls’ streams were more concentrated while Middle North Falls’ were broader. Being behind Middle North felt like you were in a room with waterfall walls. I could have stood there for ever.
Drake Falls and Double Falls followed, but weren’t as intense as the others.
At this point, I managed to mess up my route as I tend to do and went left at Maple Ridge Junction, versus going straight towards Lower South Falls. Maple Ridge Trail kicks off with a few switchbacks and the steepness felt extreme compared to all the flat ground I had traveled on all day. I realized, as I huffed and puffed, that I took the wrong turn but I already put so much work into this trail that I kept going, knowing that it eventually lead to my car.
I assumed my goof-up meant not seeing what is essentially deemed the crown jewels of Silver Falls – South Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon (following Multnomah and Punchbowl)… Which is just another way of saying this place is where the crowds gather!
However, I came to this unexpected opening and there it was! South Falls! There were lots of people crossing behind the waterfall, which also has a trail running on its other side. So in retrospect, I’m happy about my little oops. I got some prime viewing from above, without dealing with the crowds, and despite the easy terrain, I managed to get at least a little bit of a workout.
I definitely see myself coming back, probably with friends who don’t hike a whole bunch. It’s an unchallenging and laid back trail with a lot of attractions. It would also make a great introductory route for trail runners. I’m also putting this down as a go-to for one of the unavoidable rainy Portland weekends ahead!
– Sometimes directional mishaps can result in a better hike!