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Trail of Ten Falls Loop Hike

From Portland Hikers Field Guide

South Falls (Steve Hart)
South Falls Lodge (RSDW)
Middle North Falls (Steve Hart)
Trail of Ten Falls route


Contents

Hike Description

Silver Falls State Park is the crown jewel of the Oregon State Parks system, being both Oregon's largest State Park (9,000 acres) and boasting one of America's most impressive waterfall day-hikes. There are no less than ten falls on this 8.7-mile loop (which can be reduced via two cutoff trails), and most of them are flat-out gorgeous. Unfortunately, while the hike is not very strenuous (most folks will handle the rolling elevation, with about 1,300 feet of total accumulation, in three to five hours), dogs are not allowed on the Canyon Trail portion of the hike -- which is where the waterfalls are found. Unless it's a foul-weather day in the middle of a week in winter, count on seeing plenty of other visitors on the trail.

Visitors also are bound to appreciate South Falls Lodge, which isn't particularly large and doesn't provide accommodations, but features a café and seating in a rustic space that smells of firewood smoke and stone walls. Silver Falls was designated as a "Recreational Demonstration Area" by President Roosevelt in 1934 and developed as a park by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which included the lodge's construction. And before that, it was the life's passion of June D. Drake, a Silverton-area photographer who led a 20-year campaign to designate the area a park. For his efforts, one of the ten falls here bears his name.

For this hike, start at the South Falls Lodge Trailhead, in parking lot A. You'll start out in a generally eastward direction on the Rim Trail. At mile 0.1, you'll cross a side road, and at mile 0.5, you'll cross the bike trail. From here, you'll parallel the bike trail and Highway 214. At mile 0.7, you'll walk on the bike path for a short distance and at 0.9 there's a side trail connecting to the highway. When you get to the Winter Falls Trailhead at mile 1.1, the roadside strolling is half over. Continuing on the Rim Trail, there's not a whole lot to note other than a 30 inch tall anthill next to the trail. In another half mile, you'll come to the North Falls Viewpoint. From here, you can look deep into the canyon at North Falls. (The view may be better if you make a quick scramble up to the highway turnout.) From here it's a quick walk to a couple of trail junctions and the North Falls Trailhead. Follow the signs toward Upper North Falls and head under the highway bridge.

Upper North Falls is only a quarter mile up this trail. This isn't the largest waterfall in the park, but it's remoter than most and it makes a fine morning introduction. Here you can see all of the standard features of Silver Creek waterfalls. The water cascades of a basalt cliff formed by ancient lava flows. You can see pieces of rock that have fallen from above and the beginnings of a cave like grotto behind the waterfall. As pretty as "Upper North" is, don't get too distracted. You've got nine more to go!

Return to the highway and the trail junctions. Take the second right, signed as the Canyon Trail and start down. There are a lot of stairs here going down, but you'll be amply rewarded by the views of North Falls. North Falls is one of the very large falls in the park at 136 feet. Just as amazing is the huge grotto behind the waterfall. Millennia ago, lava flows buried softer soils here and even the trees that grew here. In more recent times, the waterfall has eroded away the softer material, while the hard basalt remained intact, creating the cave like area behind the falls. There are vertical holes extending up from the grotto where the lava cooled around the trees as they burned. The trail circles behind the waterfall through the grotto, then heads down the north side of the creek.

In about a mile, you'll come to Twin Falls, a nice, if smaller waterfall that gets its name from a large block of rock in the center of the stream that splits the flow into two forks.

Next come another trail junction, this time with the Winter Trail. Winter Falls is only 3/10 of a mile across the creek on this trail. Winter Falls is a great show in the winter and spring, but it merely trickles in late summer. It's well worth the side trip, if the water levels are high enough.

Returning to the main loop, head down the Canyon Trail. Now, you're in the highest density of waterfalls anywhere in the northwest. It's only a few steps to the top of Middle North Falls. The cliffside lookout here is currently closed do to tree damage, but the view from below is fine from the trail. In another tenth of a mile, there's a side trail that goes behind the falls. A bit further down the trail is your last view of Middle North Falls, but it's a dramatic one. Just around the corner is Drake Falls, best viewed from a wooden viewing platform next to the trail. Take a few more strides and you'll be on a footbridge over Hullt Creek. Looking down the creek, you'll see the lip of Lower South Falls. Pause here and look up the side canyon to the right and you'll see Double Falls. There's a side path that leads the short 1/10 of a mile to Double Falls. Back on the Canyon Trail, you'll continue past a gorgeous look back at Lower South Falls and then you'll cross another footbridge over the North Fork.

Next comes a brief climb, followed by a leisurely stroll down the creek. After the rush of all the falls, the pleasant, yet non-dramatic creekside stroll is almost a welcome relief. There's a beautiful side waterfall falling from the cliff across the creek that only flows in the winter and spring. Eventually the trail climbs a bit to a junction with the Maple Ridge Trail. Go straight ahead here, drop to the South Fork of Silver Creek and proceed up the South Fork Canyon.

Soon, you'll come to Lower South Falls. The creek plunges off of a lava lip in a wide sheet here. Like most waterfalls, Lower South Falls is more dramatic in the winter and spring when water flows are highest. Maps make it seem that there is a nearby trail bridge here. The reality is much more interesting as the trail loops behind the waterfall itself in a large cave like grotto. After crossing behind the waterfall, the trail climbs several switchbacks of stairs and continues upstream.

After a long half mile, the trail comes to the most popular waterfall in the park, South Falls. South Falls is the second highest waterfall in the park and it's the highest single drop. Though the Canyon Trail crosses a bridge here and heads up the canyon wall, an alternate route crosses behind the waterfall in yet another natural grotto. There's even a bench here, to rest on, inside the grotto. South Falls rates as one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon, along with Multnomah Falls and Punchbowl Falls. After passing the falls, the trail climbs the side of the canyon, providing several beautiful looks back at South Falls. There's a short spur trail to Frenchie Falls, which is a tiny drop that stops completely in the winter. Soon you'll come to the trail junction you passed earlier and a quick stroll brings you back to your car.

Maps

  • Sky Island Graphics: Silver Falls State Park: Trail and Recreation Guide

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • State Park Pass required. $5.00 daily at the parking lot gatekeeper.

Trip Reports

  • (Click here to add your own)

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Afoot and Afield Portland/Vancouver, by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades - 3rd Edition, by William L Sullivan

More Links

Contributors

North Falls (Steve Hart)
Behind Middle North Falls (Steve Hart)
North Falls (Steve Hart)
Double Falls (Steve Hart)
Winter Falls (Steve Hart)
South Falls (Steve Hart)
Drake Falls (Steve Hart)
Lower North Falls (RSDW)
South Falls Lodge (RSDW)
Portland Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.