Winter Hiking at Silver Falls State Park
At Silver Falls State Park, fourteen foamy white curtains whirl and ripple and tumble and shimmer at one of the most delightful park lands in Oregon.
Adam Bacher, an Oregon resident and noted landscape photographer, said 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.”
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 finds trail hiking 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.
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 State Park is blessed to be located in a temperate rain forest.
“They come in all shapes and sizes; we have a little over seven miles of canyon trail in this park, with three different access points and several different hiking loops,” said Bacher.”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 main stem, Silver Creek. So much beauty from long-ago devastation is worth a pause to consider!
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.”
Waterfall watching is certainly easy to come by at Silver Falls State Park and provides a good reason to stay active throughout the winter months. If you take the right precautions with the right equipment, it really is a pleasure to be outdoors all winter long, as we recently learned when I headed indoors to chat with an expert about winter hiking gadgets and gear.
Paul Coppinger, Assistant Store Manager at Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor, said that winter hiking demands more preparation – especially when it comes to footwear and he‘s partial to Oregon’s own Danner Boots. “Oregon tends to be a little moist in the winter, so Danner builds a boot that’s waterproof. That’s critical for hiking and it should also breathe. With the right socks, good hiking boots really enhance your hiking experiences.”
Undergarments are important insulators too – especially when the cold east winds howl across the landscape. “You want to look for fabrics that are lightweight, breathable, flexible and easy to move around in and retain body heat. There are many to choose from and remember to stay away from cotton fabric – it absorbs the wetness and feels cold and clammy against your skin.”
When it comes to rain gear, Coppinger said it’s important to try it on in the store with the clothing you plan to wear outdoors so to be certain it’s comfortable. “Gore-Tex” fabric is a time-tested waterproof material that is right at home in Oregon.
When it comes to seeing clearly, Oregon’s Leupold Binoculars can bring the great outdoors into focus. “Hikers, hunters, birders, fishermen – anyone with an outdoor pursuit that wants to see things up close and personal can use a good set of optics.”
There are many Oregon guide books to choose from, but one favorite that’s stood the test of time and costs less than 30 dollars is “Fishing in Oregon.” The book provides descriptions and directions to every lake and stream in the state.
For the mariner in your family, Coppinger added that there’s a wealth of free information at Boatoregon.com. He called it the best bargain in the boating world. “You will find all of the regulations and rules of the water and there’s a wealth of other publications with maps and charts – and it’s all free.”
You can also enjoy a bargain in the Oregon State Parks parking permit purchase this month. Oregon Parks offers a five-dollar discount on an annual parking pass purchase.
Another gift idea that’s sure to being a smile: purchase an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hunting or fishing license for a friend or family member. Simply visit any sporting goods store that sells license and provide a person’s basic information and you can buy the license for them as a gift. It’s a great idea and the sort of gift they’ll remember all year long.
Back on the Trail of Ten Falls, Adam Bacher said you will slow down at Silver Falls State Park because the trail, the scenery and the wonder of it all give you little choice: “I count my blessings that I have access to something this beautiful an hour and a half from Portland. It’s all pretty incredible.”
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.