Winter at Silver Falls

Waterfalls and icicles abound

Silver Falls State Park is Oregon’s largest state park, with more than 9,000 acres to explore. The early American history of the area included private ownership of South Falls. The owner pushed old cars into the canyon and charged 10 cents to see the falls. Thankfully that insane use of such a fantastic area has ended. Early logging removed much of the massive trees that once surrounded the incredible falls in the area. American activity around Silver Falls in the early years of settlement was based primarily on exploitation. This period of exploitation ended during the 1930s as America shifted towards conservation. Through these efforts much of the deforestation around South Falls Historic District is no longer apparent to the majority of visitors. Silver Falls State Park is a place I often take for granted.

Silver Falls is the crown jewel of Oregon State Parks, and because of this I always assume anyone living in Oregon has been there. I now know this is not the case because my girlfriend, who has lived in the Willamette Valley her entire life, had never been. It’s truly an incredible place that everyone in Oregon should visit. The centerpiece of Silver Falls State Park is the Trail of Ten Falls. If one is looking to enjoy this area without many people, winter is the best time to visit. It is also a great time because the flow of water is more impressive and the falls are shrouded in ice. Walking behind many of the cascades is my favorite part of the Trail of Ten Falls, although during the winter this can be a somewhat dangerous task. There are massive icicles that you must travel under, which tend to fall as the temperature increases. Behind the falls, the ice melts much later than elsewhere, providing an incredible, albeit slippery path.

Though there are many entry points to the Trail of Ten Falls I prefer to start and end at the South Falls Historic District. From the visitor center, the trail rapidly descends to an epic vista of South Falls, which it quickly travels behind. One will likely run into the largest crowds around South Falls, but as you travel along the trail towards Lower South Falls the crowd will dissipate. Approximately one mile later you will come to Lower North Falls. The trail passes rapidly by three other falls and several miles later you will come to North Falls. When we made our way under North Falls, my favorite, I couldn’t help but linger in the chilly afternoon air and admire the power of falling water before finishing the remainder of the trail high above in an impressive Douglas-fir dominated forest. Silver Falls State Park is a must see for any Oregonian or anyone passing through Oregon.

Directions from Eugene: Follow I-5 north for 60 miles, turn right onto Hwy. 22 East, follow for 4.9 miles, take exit 7 towards Hwy. 214, follow for 12 miles, turn left into the South Falls parking lot.

Hike Data: 8.7-mile loop, with 1,300 feet of elevation gain.