Silver Falls State Park, 44.8770° N, 122.6552° W
Silver Falls State Park is not only one of the crown jewels in the Oregon State Park system, but darn near perfect for camping in a teardrop trailer.
The Route to Silver Falls State Park:
You can get to Silver Falls State Park a number of ways, it’s about 26 miles due East from Salem, Oregon, the state’s Capital (and home to Teardrops NW, our trailer’s builder). We were coming from Portland, and while you can get there quickly by taking Interstate 5 southbound to Salem, then cutting East on Highway 22 to Highway 214, we opted for the scenic route which only adds about an extra 15-30 minutes of travel, but is much more pleasant.
In the Portland Metro Area you start in Oregon City (the terminus to the Oregon Trail), and then head Southbound on Hwy 99E past the Willamette Falls (which I’m told is the second largest in the United States by volume of water, second only to Niagra). You’ll follow the Willamette River to Canby, Oregon, then continue on 99E South through farm country, towns like Barlow (pop. 135), Aurora (pop. 1,008), Hubbard (pop. 3,386) until you turn off in Woodburn onto the Silver Falls Scenic Loop (there are signs) following highway 214.
You’ll move Southeast, first hitting the quaint town of Mt. Angel, Oregon, home to the state’s most famous Oktoberfest, as well as the Queen of Angels Monastery, the Mount Angel Abbey (opening a Benedictine Brewery and Taproom Spring, 2018), and the Glockenspiel Restaurant and Pub.
From Mt. Angel, you continue onward to Silverton, Oregon, “Oregon’s Garden City”, a perfect place to stop for lunch before heading to the campground at the park. There is dedicated RV (and car-teardrop) parking, with signage, and this small town along Silver Creek is perfect for walking, with charming shops and a number of restaurants downtown (we recommend checking out Klecker Knives for some great camping hardware). Silverton is also home to the Oregon Garden for a lovely botanical side-trip, and is your last patch of civilization, with banks, grocery stores and the like before you hit the road into the hills.
After Silverton, it’s a gentle climb into the foothills, past orchards, Christmas tree farms, and nurseries, winding your way until you enter Silver Falls State Park.
The Campground at Silver Falls State Park:
One of the benefits of camping at Silver Falls State Park, other than its proximity to Portland and Salem, is that it is perfectly-suited for camping in a teardrop trailer. Our Teardrops NW Trek has no grey water storage, and no black tank, either, so unless we want shore power and dedicated water at our site, we can “dry camp” in pretty much any of the tent campsites. The 45 tent sites have parking strips long enough to accommodate a teardrop and tow vehicle, and of course the standard sites have more than enough space. All of the 52 standard sites have 30 amp power, water, but no sewer hookups. There is a dumping station in the park, as well as garbage and recycling. Due to the wooded nature of the park, most tent sites are at least partial shade, and many are full shade, take note if you intend to dry camp and use solar.
18 of the standard sites are available year-round, and the remainder and the tent sites are open from April thru October. Sunset Magazine rated Silver Falls State Park as one of the “Top 15 Beginner Campgrounds” in the U.S., and it’s easy to see why, with washrooms, showers, park hosts, great well-maintained trails, and more, it’s hard to have a bad camping experience here.
One of the best aspects unique to this state park is its age, built in the 1930’s, the trees and foliage are old and established, tent sites feel individual, separated by towering Douglas Fir along a babbling brook, and most of the standard trailer sites have trees and bushes separating each other as well. It feels a lot less like a “parking lot in the woods” than many other campgrounds and state parks.
Each campsite loop has a heated building housing the washrooms and showers. These have hot and cold running water, and have free showers as well as electrical outlets with GFCI plugs. You can hike, bike, swim, and then have a nice hot shower afterwards. Even run a hair dryer if you like. The paths to the washrooms are paved, but not lit.
The campground is offset from the South Falls Lodge and day use area by about a half mile. There’s a bike/walking path from the campground to the day use area. One of the nice benefits of your campground reservation is that it also acts as a parking pass good for any Oregon State Park day use area for the duration of your stay. This is great if you want to drive to the North Falls and park to explore there, for example.
I heard There Were Waterfalls?
The reason over a million people visit the day use area annually is for the gorgeous waterfalls. There are four, count ’em, four(!) that you can walk behind. The easiest and most photographed is the 177 foot South Falls, a short walk down the canyon from the main lodge at the day use area.
Walking along the Trail of Ten Falls you can make the hike as long or as short as you like. The full trail loop is a moderate 8.7 mile hike featuring an overall elevation gain of 1,300′. We usually take the reverse 2 mile route, starting at the Stone Circle at the Silver Falls Lodge, we follow the rim of the canyon North along the Maple Ridge Trail, then follow the switchbacks downhill (about 500′ elevation drop) to the bottom of the canyon. This beautiful mile long hike on a hard packed earth trail gives picturesque views of the ravine, the creek, lichen-covered trees, and temperate rainforest ferns. There are benches set at the switchbacks for taking a rest if you like.
From the bottom, you head South along the Canyon Trail for a short walk until you reach the Lower South Falls, which anywhere else would be a destination of its own. It falls 93 feet, you can walk behind it (it has a Conservation Era stone wall to keep you safe), and makes for some incredible nature photography. After getting a refreshing misting from walking behind the falls, it’s a 150′ climb up a set of switchback stairs, then the trail is relatively level following the meandering Silver Creek for about .8 mile until you reach the bottom of the South Falls. There are access points for wading into the creek, as well as benches for pausing to have a rest or a snack.
South Falls looms impressively from the trail, with a bridge crossing the creek at the base of the falls, perfect for that selfie, or for taking in the rush of the water and the sunlight glistening through the trees on the canyon rim. If you don’t want to walk behind the falls, you can access the trail back to to the lodge by crossing the bridge, but most continue up the trail to enjoy seeing a waterfall from behind. Note: the roof of the chamber behind the South Falls can get quite low, so if stooping or bending is a challenge, you’ll want to cross the bridge.
In the ampitheatre carved by the falls’ eroding lava flows (which allows you to walk behind the falls), you can actually see daylight through “lava tubes”, created by the lava enveloping trees, then cooling, then the void being cleared out over time by the rushing water. After getting misted by the falls, it’s a short uphill hike through a couple of switchbacks to the top of the ravine and the main lodge. This hike took us about 2 hours, moving slowly to enjoy the scenery and take photos.
Note: There are no washrooms along the trails, and smoking, bicycles and dogs are prohibited (though you will frequently see folks breaking these rules). Even in summer the trails can get quite muddy, and close to the falls there can be large mud puddles, so having the right footwear can make all the difference.
But wait, there’s even more waterfalls!
If you elect to take the whole ten falls hike you’ll see all the waterfalls, but even if you just do the 2 mile loop around South Falls and Lower South Falls, and don’t feel like doing a lot more hiking, you still can easily get more waterfall action!
A short 2.6 mile drive or bike along highway 214 from the South Falls Day Use Area is the parking area for the North Falls, which your parking pass for the campground will allow you to park for free during your reservation window. This parking area does fill, and is not suited for parking your tow vehicle and trailer together.
From the parking lot it’s a very short walk (.3 mi) East to the Upper North Falls, but the real draw is the equally short walk West from the lot to the 136′ North Falls. North Falls really is not to be missed, though the trail is much narrower than the more trafficked path by the South Falls. This waterfall also allows you to walk behind it, but has a much larger chamber allowing you to stand fully erect, even set up a tripod if you like. You get a clear view from elevation of the ravine, which can give you great light to play with for photography and in late Autumn, some delightful colour as well.
Winter Falls//Twin Falls
Halfway between the South Falls lot and the North Falls lot is the trailhead for Winter Falls. There is extremely limited parking here. You can hike a mile South along the Rim Trail from the North Falls to get to the Twin Falls, or ride a bike (or walk) a mile up the road from the South Falls parking lot to the trailhead.
Both Winter Falls (which turns into a trickle in Summer months) and Twin Falls are relatively unimpressive compared to the other waterfalls in the park, but from the Winter Falls trailhead you can take about a mile hike down the canyon along the Winter Falls Trail and the Canyon Trail and see Winter Falls, as well as Middle North Falls, Drake Falls, Double Falls, and Lower North Falls.
The 106′ Middle North Falls also lets you walk behind the falls, however the path to get behind it is a dead end, and there are no guardrails or barriers. Drake Falls, at 27′ is more like a rapids and is not as easy to see from the trail, but Double Falls is noteworthy in that it has two drops, the first about 141′ and the second another 40′. Finally Lower North Falls, despite being the most remote, and only about 30′ tall, is one to see due to its width and being surrounded by foliage; it makes for some superb photography, especially in Fall when the maple trees turn colour.
Note: While the park rates the hikes as moderate, the elevation gain and drop if you do an up-and-back hike from the Winter Falls trailhead (or add an extra 2 miles starting at the North Falls parking lot), makes this a bit more challenging for the more casual hiker/traveler.
The waterfalls aren’t the only pretty features of Silver Falls State Park. At the Silver Falls day use area, there are some reservable picnic shelters, and numerous picnic tables along the bank of Silver Creek. There is an off-leash area for exercising your dog, play structures for the kids at the campground and the day use area, and a dedicated swimming area for taking a dip in the ccccc-cold waters of Silver Creek on a hot Summer’s day.
Silver Falls Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930’s, has a dining room and a less-formal coffee shop/cafe, with patio seating, free-wifi, and makes for a great post-hike respite.
The Friends of Silver Falls operate a gift store at the base of the hiking trails, with knickknacks, souvenirs, and such, as well as the ubiquitous “I was there” stickers for the back of your trailer, if so inclined.
Latest Stay: January 13-14, 2018
How to book: Reserve America. They allow reservations 9 months to the day your visit begins. Call center reservations are available Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm at 800-452-5687.
This park books out fast, and major holiday weekends (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day) books out basically 9 months to the day. Weekdays always have more availability than weekends.
Where: Cascade Foothills, Oregon
# of sites: 52 trailer sites w/full hookup, 45 tent sites (dry camping for a teardrop), and 14 cabins. Tent sites are closed Oct-Apr. All of the cabins and 18 of the standard sites are available year-round.
Camp type: Oregon State Park
Bathrooms/Showers: One bathhouse per camping “loop” with heated washrooms, running hot and cold water, flush toilets, and free showers.
Dishwashing: Every full site has its own water hookup, the tent sites have shared spigots.
Store: Can buy firewood and ice from park hosts. The day use lodge has a cafe and gift shop.
Power/water: Standard trailer sites have water, 30 amp power, tent sites share spigots, no power.
Telephone/Wifi: Depends on your carrier, but we were full bars in most of the park. We have AT&T. The South Falls Lodge at the day use area has free wi-fi.
Firepit: Metal rings and metal grids to grill.
Sites: They are mostly wooded and some are along the river with access.
Amenities: Numerous hiking trails, many waterfalls, dedicated picnic tables, a lodge with cafe, gift shop, swimming area, park ranger lectures in summer, the jr. Park Ranger program, and guided hikes.
Pets(?): There are numerous trails in the park, but the main “trail of ten falls” does not allow bikes or dogs. All other trails do allow dogs, as do the campsites, and there is a dedicated off leash area as well.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Have you been to Silver Falls State Park, share your memories in the comments below.