Silver Falls State Park: A User's Guide

WATER, WATER: Half of the park's falls cascade more than 100 feet. (Photo: Tim Sperry/Citizen Image).
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One waterfall is typically enough of an attraction for a state park. Silver Falls State Park — a 9,000-acre chunk of temperate rainforest near Salem, Ore. — boasts 10 waterfalls, five of them cascading more than 100 feet. Away from the waterfalls are cool, deep green Douglas firs and hemlock, ferns and wildflowers — an old growth forest wild enough to harbor mountain lions.

In addition to trails for hiking and mountain biking, there are 20 miles of equestrian trails and Howard Creek Horse Camp, which can accommodate 64 people and 32 horses at five primitive campsites with adjacent stalls and corrals.


While an effort to have the area made into a national park failed in the 1920s, the state of Oregon acquired acreage and dedicated Silver Falls State Park on July 23, 1933. The federal government deeded almost 6,000 acres to the state in 1948 and 1949. The Civilian Conservation Corps worked in the park from 1935 until 1942, building the South Fork lodge and other structures still standing today. The CCC also built the trail system that provides access to the park’s many waterfalls.

Things to do

A hike of nearly nine miles takes you to the park’s 10 waterfalls. The appropriately named “Trail of Ten Falls” is designated as a National Recreational Trail, a designation by the Secretary of Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture to recognize trails of local and regional significance. If that seems like too much of a trek, biting off a smaller chunk is easy to do because the “Trail of Ten Falls” is comprised of four trails that together create an 8.7-mile loop: Canyon Trail, Rim Trail, Winter Trail and Maple Ridge Trail.

The woods of Silver Falls

Cyclists will enjoy a four-mile paved bike path that follows a portion of the south fork of Silver Creek and a portion of the Rim Trail. Mountain bikers have access to more than 25 miles of multi-use trail.

Cool off from the hiking and biking by taking a dip in Silver Creek at the developed swimming area.

Why you’ll want to come back

It’s one thing to look down at a waterfall, or to look up at a waterfall. It’s a different thing entirely to look through a waterfall. The creeks in Silver Falls State Park run atop basalt lava flows resting on older, softer rock. At some of the falls, that older, softer rock has eroded, creating amphitheaters behind the falling waters.

Flora and fauna

Plenty of rain means plenty of trees: Douglas fir, hemlock, red alder, cedar and Pacific yew, the source of cancer-fighting taxol.

Visitors may spot Pacific blacktail deer and Roosevelt elk. The park is also home to black bears, mountain lions, Pacific marten, northern flying squirrel and river otter.

By the numbers:

  • Website: Oregon State Parks and Recreation
  • Park size: 9,064 acres or 14 square miles
  • 2010 visitation: 1.05 million
  • Funky fact: The South Falls Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. W e'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.

Inset photo of Silver Falls woods: Martin Bravenboer/Flickr