A crown jewel of Silver Falls State Park, the Trail of Ten Falls is often called the best waterfall hike in Oregon. And we are not going to disagree with that.
The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Trail of Ten Falls in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
A funny story, I hardly knew anything about Silver Falls State Park, moreover the Trail of Ten Falls, until recently. But as luck would have it, this area became one of our primary interests during the latest trip to Oregon.
After a brief research, one thing was clear. Silver Falls State Park was an ultimate playground for waterfall lovers. My mom was one of them. And since we had planned this whole trip for her to see these remarkable natural phenomena in person, the place had to be on our itinerary.
A Word about Silver Falls State Park
Home to the famous Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park amazes with miles upon miles of walking and horse trails and a 4-mile bike trail, all spread across more than 9,000 acres. More than 24 miles of hiking trails run through a dense rainforest consisted of moss-covered Douglass fir, hemlock, and cedar trees.
We had first fell in love with the Oregon’s mossy kingdom in the Columbia River Gorge. And a year later, the mysterious realm created by the hanging from the trees moss was still intriguing us like the day we had laid our eyes on it.
This time, however, we experienced a thrilling adventure along the Trail of Ten Falls in Silver Falls State Park.
A creek, surrounded by a rocky canyon, winds though the floor of the lush forest. Along it runs the scenic Canyon Trail that together with the Rim Trail make the Trail of Ten Falls. All the waterfalls we longed to see reside along the canyon, within the Canyon Trail section.
History in a Nutshell
Silver Falls State Park officially opened on July 23, 1933. Since its first day, it has been a gathering point for nature-loving locals and visitors of Oregon. But the history of the region started many centuries ago.
Some historical chronicles confirm that indigenous people moved to the area nearly 14,000 years ago. Before 1812 when the first settlers arrived, almost 15,000 native people lived in and near the Silver Falls region. The indigenous population, however, started decreasing rapidly with the introduction of new diseases for which they had no immunity yet.
By the early 1840s, only about 600 Indian-Americans survived. In 1854, the survivors had to leave the area and relocate to government-assigned reservations.
By 1850, hundreds of new settlers moved to the Silver Falls area. Their numbers continued to grow.
When the Great Depression started in 1929, the new residents and the economy of the entire region suffered tremendously. In attempted to create more jobs, the U.S. government employed young men to construct roads, trails, bridges, and buildings, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places today.
The Trail of Ten Falls
- Distance: 7.2-mile loop trail
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Time: 3-4 hours
- Trailheads: South Falls and North Falls
Hiking the Trail of Ten Falls
The Trail of Ten Falls is the most popular track in Silver Falls State Park. The loop path is over 7 miles long. It consists of the Canyon Trail and Rim Trail. Parking lots with the trailheads are located near South Falls and North Falls. Alternately, you can access the Trail of Ten Falls via the Maple Ridge and Winter Falls Trails.
The Trail of Ten Falls is considered a moderate hike. It changes the elevation gradually. A series of stairs assists in the steepest sections of the trail.
We hit the trail with my mom who is not the most experienced hiker and a 5-year-old kid. Both of them managed the entire Canyon Trail without any problems. Roshan and I let them rest at the North Falls parking area while we hiked the Rim Trail back to the South Falls area where we had parked our car.
It took us about 5 hours to complete the hike along the entire Trail of Ten Falls. An average person can finish the hike in 3 hours.
Alternative Shorter Hikes
If you can’t hike the entire loop, there are a few shorter trails that show you some of the waterfalls nestled along the Trail of Ten Falls. The first, the Maple Ridge Loop, is 2.6 miles long. It starts at South Falls, ventures to Lower South Falls, and takes the hikers back to the trailhead via the 1-mile Maple Ridge Trail.
The Winter Falls Loop Trail is 5 miles long. It features 7 waterfalls. You can start your hike along the Winter Falls Loop Trail either from the South Falls Day-use Area or the Winter Falls Trailhead.
Waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls
As the name implies, 10 waterfalls adorn the Trail of Ten Falls area. None of them are exactly the same. The waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park range from short cascades to powerful drops plunging from towering cliffs.
4 of these waterfalls raise extra attention. Dropping from the bluffs with small caverns, these stunning members of the park allow the hikers to walk behind them.
TIP and the Best Time to See the Waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park: From late fall through mid-spring, the waterfalls are at their peak flow. During these times, you can count on the falls that let you walk behind them to give you a generous forest shower. Otherwise, wear a waterproof jacket and stay dry throughout the entire hike.
As I mentioned earlier, we had started our Trail of Ten Falls hike at the South Falls area. Therefore, I’ll begin my rundown of the Silver Falls State Park’s waterfalls from popular South Falls. Scroll to the bottom of this list and read your way up if your hike along the Trail of Ten Falls starts at the North Falls parking lot.
1. South Falls
South Falls is one of the highest and most frequently visited waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls. The 177-foot waterfall consists of one tier and has a pretty reliable flow throughout the year. And this is the first of the 4 waterfalls you can walk behind.
TIP: The trail behind the waterfall is not particularly wide. In order to avoid getting all soaked, stay closer to the cliff wall.
From South Falls, the Trail of Ten Falls descends slightly into the canyon. It never approaches the forest floor. But you are certainly a few feet closer to it at this point.
As you leave behind the first waterfall of the hike, preferably not soaking wet, you stumble upon the first trail junction. The right fork runs across a footbridge. Although it looks like the most likeliest continuation of the Trail of Ten Falls, it is not. This path takes you back to the South Falls Day-use Area.
TIP: If you want to see all 10 waterfalls of the hike, continue on straight along the unpaved section of the trail.
2. Lower South Falls
In 1.3 miles, you meet the second member of the Trail of Ten Falls. Lower South Falls plunges 93 feet from a sheer cliff. A narrow trail passes behind the waterfall, rewarding the hikers with the second behind-the-waterfall experience.
A series of stairs near the waterfall disrupts the normal trail’s pattern. These are not the first and not the last meager obstacles you have to conquer while chasing the waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park.
TIP: Take as many pictures of Lower South Falls from above the stairs and the both sides of it. But don’t forget, you have 8 more waterfalls to see. Don’t waste too much time along this section of the Trail of Ten Falls. This advice comes straight from my heart as I certainly spent more time here than I should have.
3. Lower North Falls
The dense forest with its many inhabitants, mostly birds along the trail, and the winding creek below are your only entertainers for a short while until you reach the second trail junction.
If you’ve seen enough or are not able to hike the entire Trail of Ten Falls, take the right fork. It winds through the forest for another mile before taking you back to the South Falls Day-use Area.
The waterfall hunters should keep on hiking along the main trail. In one mile, they get to see Lower North Falls. The 30-foot waterfall impresses with its symmetrical shape.
A large log that stuck in the right corner of the waterfall tries to hide the beauty of the site. Its deeds are unsuccessful. Lower North Falls still contributes its waters to the creek in a stunning, cascade-like manner.
4. Double Falls
Double Falls sits slightly to the left off the Trail of Ten Falls. Do not skip it, as this side trail is very short. At the end of it lives the highest waterfall in Silver Falls State Park.
The 178-foot, two-tiered falls is a roaring giant in winter and spring. During the last days of August when we hiked the Trail of Ten Falls, it barely trickled down the cliff face. The upper drop was almost non-existent. But the whole area still held on to a dreamy vibe that is always present in a place where a waterfall resides.
5. Drake Falls
Back on the Trail of Ten Falls. The next waterfall sits approximately 0.3 mile away. The waterfalls are located pretty close to each other along this section of the trail.
At 27 feet, Drake Falls is the shortest waterfall along the trail. The best views open up from a small deck perched alongside the trail, above the waterfall.
6. Middle North Falls
Middle North Falls adorns the scenic Trail of Ten Falls just 0.4 mile down the Canyon Trail. This is your third waterfall to walk behind.
The 106-foot falls is somewhat similar to Lower South Falls. It drops from a towering cliff with a large grotto created behind the waterfall by erosion.
7. Winter Falls
At this point, you need a map to hike to all waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls. Otherwise, remember what I’m about to unveil here.
The main trail continues on along the canyon rim. A short trail branches off the Canyon Trail and runs to the right. Half of the hikers proceed straight ahead without paying any attention to the sign marked as the “Winter Trail”.
The equal amount of the Silver Falls State Park’s visitors turn to the right. If you want to see all 10 waterfalls, follow their lead.
The side trail is 0.5 mile long, virtually flat, and is abundant in the moss-covered trees growing along it. The end of this mini hike can surprise you with a remarkable waterfall view or it can be a disappointment.
Winter Falls is a seasons waterfall. I must say, it’s one of the fussiest members of the Trail of Ten Falls. During the off-season, which is usually summer, you hardly see any evidence of the waterfall here.
The 134-foot waterfall is a sight to behold in winter and early spring. In fact, the falls was named “Winter Waterfall” for the fact that it flows mostly during the winter season.
Winter Falls Loop vs Trail of Ten Falls
Preferences differ here as well. As we were hiking to Winter Falls, only 2-3 waterfall lovers headed back to the Canyon Trail, the main route of the Trail of Ten Falls. Seduced by a sign that promised beautiful views of North Falls, from the Winter Falls overlook, the majority of the hikers processed farther up along a steep incline to the Rim Trail.
They still were able to stand near and walk behind North Falls. We met some of them later on when we got to the second to the last waterfall along the Trail of Ten Falls.
The difference is that we saw all 10 waterfalls. These Silver Falls State Park’s visitors missed one falls, Twin Falls, and hiked to North Falls from the opposite direction, after they had completed the Winter Falls Loop.
8. Twin Falls
Again, if all 10 waterfalls are on your radar, from Winter Falls turn back and follow the same trail you used to get to this viewing point. Once back on the Canyon Trail, hike for 0.3 mile until you reach Twin Falls.
The 31-foot waterfall is not the most impressive in summer. The views are a little bit obscure. But as I mentioned before, none of the waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls are the same.
The trail itself is worth hiking, though. You see more moss-covered trees that I always associate with Oregon. The creek winds and twists more, offering several tiny cascades that if we didn’t know better we could easily take for small waterfalls.
9. North Falls
North Falls prefers solitude and distances itself from the other 8 waterfalls by 1.1 miles. It’s the last waterfall that you can walk behind. Unlike at South Falls, the Canyon Trail dives deeper into the wide cavern behind the falls. Getting splashed by the waterfall is impossible here.
Instead you can perch on one of the benches installed inside the grotto right behind the 136-foot waterfall and stare at the water curtain in front of you.
More stairs appear along the Trail of Ten Falls beyond the North Falls point. This time you have to climb them. So it may challenging for some hikers. Take your time. You have only one more waterfall left.
10. Upper North Falls
Continue on along the Canyon Trail until you reach the North Falls Trailhead located near the North Falls parking lot. From here, follow the sign and hike 0.3 mile along a side trail to Upper North Falls.
The 65-foot waterfall is the only waterfall in Silver Falls State Park that is nestled outside of the Trail of Ten Falls loop. So often the hikers forget about it or, like we, have hard time finding it. Consequently, this secluded location saves the site from excessive attention that the other waterfalls get.
While you can’t walk behind Upper North Falls, you can get to it as close as possible. A big basalt amphitheater filled with rocks that you can step on stretches all the way to the waterfall.
The water runs between the rocks, leaving small pools in the deepest splits. On a calm day, you can see the waterfall beautifully reflected in these mini pools. It’s as if you get to see two falls: one dropping down from a basalt ledge and the second creeping up the cliff.
Rim Trail – The Non-waterfall Section of the Trail of Ten Falls
After you hike back to the North Falls parking lot, jump in your car if this is where you started your Trail of Ten Falls hike from or trek along the Rim Trail to the South Falls Day-use Area. The trail is approximately 1.9 miles long. It runs trough the forest and parallels Oregon Highway 214.
No waterfalls live in this area. The trail is easy but fairly long considering that you’ve just hiked more than 5 miles. We covered this distance in 15 minutes (I timed). But our walk was on the verge of running.
Things to Know before Hiking the Trail of Ten Falls
Silver Falls State Park is open daily, from 8:00 am (7:00 am in April through September). The closing time differs depending on the season. The park remains open until 9:00 pm in summer. In winter when the days are shorter, it closes its doors at 5:00 or 6:00 pm.
Day-Use Parking Permit
The day-use parking permit for Silver Falls State Park is $5. You can purchase it at most trailheads.
Hiking with Pets
No pets are allowed on the Canyon Trail, a section of the Trail of Ten Falls that features 9 waterfalls. You can hike with your dogs along the Rim Trail and toward Upper North Falls.
We saw people violated this rule, bringing along their dogs to the Canyon Trail. I guess everybody’s risk tolerance is different. For some hikers, a dog on the trail – although it’s prohibited – is all good, until they get caught by rangers and are issued a hefty fine.
Flying Drones in Silver Falls State Park
You can fly drones and film a section of Silver Falls State Park at the South Viewpoint and the North Falls Group Camp and Day Use. Sadly, no waterfalls can be seen from here.
Using the drones along the Trail of Ten Falls is prohibited. This rule is imposed to provide a safe and sound environment for the other hikers and wildlife.
Wildlife along the Trail of Ten Falls
The chances of spotting black bears and cougars along the Trail of Ten Falls are limited. These wild animals live in the deepest forested areas. If you happened to see any wildlife except for birds, rodents, and small reptiles, keep a safe distance and report the sightseeing to the rangers.
Moreover, store your food in bear-resistant containers and pack out all your trash.
Wear Proper Hiking Shoes
The Trail of Ten Falls can be slippery, especially after it rains. Make sure to wear well-fitting hiking shoes with good traction.