Silver Falls State Park, about 20 miles east of Salem, deserves all the superlatives. Covering more than 9,000 acres of misty forests, tumbling creeks and 10 gorgeous waterfalls, this is Oregon’s largest state park and certainly one of its most beautiful. Any time is a good time to visit, from the rush of spring to the flamboyant colors of fall, but you’ll want to plan ahead — it’s also one of Oregon’s most popular state parks.
Silver Falls has big plans underway that will change the way the park looks and feels. Here are some tips on what’s new and what not to miss on your trip to this waterfall wonderland.
Hike or Bike in the Forests of Silver Falls
More than 35 miles of backcountry trails run through the park, a landscape of forested ridges and canyons carved into 26-million-year-old rock. The park’s flagship route, the Trail of Ten Falls, comes exactly as billed with a 7.2-mile loop that takes hikers past cascading stunners like the 178-foot-tall Double Falls — the tallest in the park — and the majestic, free-falling South Falls, which plunges 177 feet. In spring 2023, a pair of peregrine falcons nested in the area; watch for them circling in the sky above — and please obey the rules on drones.
To find more solitude, try hiking a section of the 7-mile-long Perimeter Trail or the 8.2-mile-long Buck Mountain Loop, both of which also allow mountain bikes. There’s also a 4-mile-long, mostly paved bike path out of the South Falls Day-Use Area. More remote trails don’t have waterfalls, but they climb and descend through century-old fir trees and offer a deep sense of place. “It’s a great Northwest trail experience,” says Chris Gilliand, who lives in the park as the park manager. “That’s the area I generally go to.”
Sorry, furry friends can’t come on popular hikes like the Canyon Trail and others. Check the rules for specific spots before you arrive. In the South Falls Day-Use Area, there is an off-leash section, but otherwise plan to keep your dog on-leash.
New Trail to North Falls
In the north part of the park, you’ll see some changes starting in summer 2023. A $12 million, multiyear project gets underway to expand camping, build a new visitor center and create a new day-use area named North Canyon. A new trail, the North Rim Trail, opens in June 2023. It’s a 0.6-mile path that leads to a dramatic view of the wispy 136-foot North Falls. The route’s gentle slope — about 5 degrees — and predictable, compacted-gravel surface are meant to broaden its use.
“We are trying to make it as accessible as possible,” Gilliand says, emphasizing it could appeal to people using wheelchairs, walkers, strollers and canes.
Where to Eat and Sleep
If you’re planning a day trip, be sure to stop for a coffee or burger and craft brew at the South Falls Cafe before heading home. The cafe is located in a historic lodge constructed of hand-cut stone and locally sourced timber.
If you’re staying on — highly recommended — there are excellent places to spend the night inside the park.
The park’s main campground, south of the Silver Falls Day-Use Area, has 48 electrical sites, 43 tent sites and 14 cabins, all of which can be reserved up to six months in advance. During the summer, as soon as school is out, look for daily nature programming in the campground and “discovery tables” in the day-use areas where you can learn about daily topics, be it beavers, pileated woodpeckers or more.
For lodgings with a roof over your head, Smith Creek Village has heated cottages with hot showers, many of which are pet-friendly, too. Check out the adorable tiny cabins that sleep up to three. When you’re hungry, The Big Leaf Coffeehouse and Grill does everything from house-made pastries for breakfast to steaks paired with Willamette Valley wines in the evening.