Fall Hiking in Silver Falls State Park
September 20, 2021
As the summer winds down, we’ve got our sights set on cool mornings, fall colors, and brisk walks through the forest. Here in Portland, there is no shortage of wonderful places that we love to explore, but our absolute favorite place to play in the fall is the gorgeous, magical, absolutely enchanting, ever-amazing, Silver Falls State Park!
Located a little more than an hour south of Portland, Silver Falls State Park is Oregon’s largest state park, and while the waterfalls you’ll find there are significantly less talked about than their competitors in the Columbia River Gorge, we think they are just as impressive! Autumn is a great time to visit, when the weather is still pleasant and the summer crowds have dwindled. Saving this for late September into October and November will guarantee that you get some time on the trail all to yourself, and you’ll also see some epic fall foliage. Get your cameras ready! You’ll find plenty of photographic backdrops featuring lots of reds, oranges, and yellows to compliment the dazzling array of greens.
Park at the South Falls Day Use Area, which has quick and easy access to the Trail of Ten Falls (I mean, with a name like that, obviously this trail is pure magic, right?!?!). You’ll need to purchase a parking pass for $5 at one of the pay-stations and display your pass on your dashboard. From there, follow signs toward South Falls to begin your adventure!
At its longest, the Trail of Ten Falls is a 7.2-mile loop that, if you’re hiking clockwise, begins with the Canyon Trail and ends with the Rim Trail. Hiking the full length of the trail will take you past a total of (you guessed it!) 10 waterfalls, several of which you can actually walk behind. If you don’t have that much time (or energy), don’t fret! You can easily shorten things down to approximately 5 miles by hiking the Canyon Trail until you reach the junction with the Winter Trail. This will take you on a shortcut, taking you on a more direct route back to the South Falls parking lot. Make sure to grab a free map of the trail system (available at the parking lot/park entrance) and keep an eye out for signage along the trail.
There are so may great waterfalls to see, so you’ll definitely have your own opinions, but our absolute favorites are Lower South Falls and Upper North Falls, located in two completely different areas of the trail system. Both are a can’t-miss! If you are feeling ambitious and plan to hike the entire 7.2-mile loop, you will catch these two waterfalls along the way.
Regardless of which version you choose, you’ll have a chance to visit Lower South Falls. We love this waterfall because of its fairytale-like setting. The approach is a winding, twisting, stone staircase that, in the wet season, is dripping with moss and lichens and ferns. As you round the last corner of stairs, the waterfall comes into view, and it almost feels as though you are stumbling upon a well-kept secret! Upper North Falls, by contrast, can only be experienced if you opt for the full hike, but if the full loop is feeling a little daunting, have no fear! Stick to the shortened version of the trail and make sure to drive through the park on your way out, making a quick stop at the North Falls parking lot. From here, it is a short and sweet quarter-mile hike to reach the falls. We like to think of this as the grand finale to a day full of wonderful waterfalls!
If you’ve started in the morning, you should find yourself back where you began at the South Falls parking lot just in time for lunch. Before you head home, take a seat at one of the many picnic tables near to the trailhead and enjoy a well-deserved meal under a canopy of trees. If you forgot to bring something yummy along, head over to the small café located between the trailhead and the parking lot.
Wherever you find yourself enjoying the outdoors this fall, we hope you enjoy the crisp, cool air that makes this season one of our favorites in the Pacific Northwest! And if you do decide to chase some waterfalls in the next few months, put Silver Falls State Park on your list!