Silver Falls State Park, OR – Within moments of entering Silver Falls State Park, I had to wonder how I’d managed to stay away for so many years. It’s not only the largest State Park in Oregon, but it has waterfalls that rival any I’ve seen in Hawaii or Yosemite National Park. I had my earliest experiences at Silver Falls as a girl when I got to be lucky enough each summer to come and get assigned my very own horse to groom and ride for one glorious week of “horse camp.” Naturally, I grew up with the impression that this is what all forests and waterfalls are like. But this time, setting off down the path toward the magnificent 177-foot high South Falls, I marveled that this hasn’t been made a National Park yet. Though I admit, I’m glad it doesn’t pack the crowds we battle at some of the better-known big parks we visit.
This photo that I snapped while standing behind the South Falls only shows a part of the waterfall, but it’s a good example of the landscape you’ll find here and the memorable experiences to be had throughout this park–even if you only take the .5 mile hike to this very vantage point. Standing here, you can feel the roar of the falls travel your bones as the mist settles on your cheeks. There are several short hikes with impressive pay-offs, or you can opt to see all of the water falls on the 7-mile “Trail of Ten Falls” (a.k.a. Canyon Trail). You can view the park’s trail map online as a PDF at: http://www.oregonstateparks.org/images/pdf/silverfalls_trailmap.pdf . William Sullivan, author of the “100 Hikes” guidebooks, has some good hiking suggestions for Silver Falls online that may also help you plan your attack.
With ten water falls impressing visitors even at summer’s end (though spring snow melt makes for the most spectacular falls), Silver Falls is truly a special–if not magical–place to visit. Anyone wanting to see Oregon’s lush, green temperate rain forest, will find one of the best examples here. Layer upon layer of ferns and shamrocks, Douglas fir trees, hemlocks, and mossy rocks crowd happily into every view. I marveled as I strolled beside a hedge of maidenhair ferns as high as my hips, and that’s when I saw the fabled “fairy train” caterpillar (black with a row of yellow windows down its side), which my great grandma always said brought good luck. I am lucky to be here, I thought, as I showed the fairy train to my daughters.
Good to know:
While there are some safety fences here and there along the trails, there are still steep staircases, drop offs, and slippery areas on trails, especially where you walk behind the larger falls. With my active toddler wanting (and needing) to be very much on her own two feet, I was glad to have our Safe-Fit backpack harness along for her (with an extra diaper/wipes, snacks, and sippy cup) to attach to my belt loop as a back up (I recommend a carabiner clip for quick attach & release–and of course, a sturdy belt loop).
With smaller children, you’ll want a good backpack or frontpack carrier while on the trails. If you’re wearing a framed backpack carrier, take extra care of your child’s clearance above you if you need to duck beneath an occasional rocky overhang.
As with most lush, green places in Oregon, even a hot sunny day elsewhere may leave you wanting a jacket or at least long sleeves while hiking the falls. You’ll also want to bring along your own water, lunch and/or plenty of snacks if you plan to spend much time in the park since you’ll have a hard time finding it here.
The Pearsons, a local family living near the park, offer some more helpful tips on their own website: http://www.silverfallspark.org/PT/ParkTips.html, including the all-important note that there are no restrooms along the trails, so be sure to use the lovely pit toilets at the parking areas or restrooms at the picnicking/camping areas before you venture out too far.
When you go:
Silver Falls State Park is approximately a 1-hour drive from Portland, and you may save some time during heavy traffic by taking Hwy 99 E. If you come from Salem, or via I-5, it is 26 miles east of Salem on Hwy 22, just be sure to follow the signs for Hwy 214, which will lead you through Silverton and on to the park. You will need to purchase a $3 day-use pass for your visit, unless you are paying a fee to stay overnight in the park or have another Oregon State Parks pass. The park is open year-round, except in the case of a severe weather closure. More information at: http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_211.php.
Explore some more:
Just 15 minutes down the road, the city of Silverton offers up an irresistible small-town experience that’s stood the test of time and strip malls remarkably well. Seriously, they still have penny parking meters in the picturesque olde downtown and an annual pet parade–and don’t miss the “davenport races” if you happen through town during Homer Davenport Days, named for the late 19th century cartoonist who was born and raised in Silverton.
Antique shops, flea markets, boutiques, bohemian cafes, elegant eateries, and everybody’s favorite greasy spoon (you’ll know when you see it) are all within a pleasant stroll of the small downtown area, which is made all the more charming in summer months by dozens of hanging flower baskets overflowing with petunias (the likes of which will rival any window box in Europe). And if you have the chance, pop by for a show at the independent movie house on the corner where you’ll be treated to a slideshow of inspirational quotes and quick wit before the show, rather than a barrage of violent previews (the popcorn’s not bad either).
Silverton is also home to The Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical wonderland with 20 themed gardens and one house by Frank Lloyd Wright. Children under 7 years may visit the Oregon Garden free, and those that do will want to be sure and check out the special “Children’s Garden” made just for them. Note to the stroller set: Yes, it’s very stroller friendly as everything is wheelchair accessible. The Oregon Garden also hosts a summer concert series with names you will know, and children of all ages are welcome at the concerts, with free admission for those under 2 years.
For kicks, you can visit the “Gallon House Covered Bridge” on the edge of town. It used to be the oldest covered bridge in Oregon, but it had to be rebuilt in 1990. When Silverton was dry, this was the place where locals sought their booze in one-gallon home-stilled jugs. Nowadays, however, they can buy their liquor right in town at the one official liquor store–except, ahem, on Sundays (per Oregon state law).
Stay and play:
Overnight options right in the park include rustic 1- and 2-bedroom log cabins, modern cabins, modern lodges, two rentable ranches with their own bunkhouses, group camp sites, and individual tent and electrified RV campsites (backcountry camping is not allowed in the park). As you can imagine, it’s a popular place for weddings, family reunions, and group retreats–and with good reason. See the brochure Where to stay at Silver Falls State Park for detailed info on all the lodging options in Silver Falls park.
The Prestigious Tours site has a nice collection of the lodging options in and around Silverton, including the handful of charming small inns, historic B&Bs, and even an “outback bungalow,” though many of these accommodations are best suited to couples (click here to see their directory). Families might consider Cicily’s Guest House, which offers three bedrooms and a furnished kitchen for a flat rate up to 4 guests, and additional guests are welcome for $25 each per night (they’ll even leave your breakfast in the fridge).
In fall of 2008, the Oregon Gardens Resort will also open in Silverton.