[This is a guest post by my husband Ken 😊]
The Spectacular Waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park
Oregon is known for its spectacular waterfalls throughout the state, especially those at the famous Columbia River Gorge. But did you know about the Silver Falls State Park, where you can see 10(!) waterfalls in one hike? In addition to the waterfalls, this amazing park is also known for its beautiful Fall foliage, so Fall is the perfect time to see both waterfalls and beautiful Fall colors!
In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite photos from my trip to Silver Falls State Park, my ranking of waterfalls for photography in the Fall, and also some travel and photography tips. It really is a beautiful park, especially in the Fall. The combination of golden Autumn colors and waterfalls is spectacular!
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About Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls State Park is considered the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system and is the largest State park in Oregon. It’s famous for giving visitors the opportunity to walk behind a 177-foot curtain of gushing water at the South Falls waterfall. What an incredible experience! In fact, there are FOUR waterfalls that you can walk behind in this amazing park!
Silver Falls State Park is located 55 miles southeast of Portland, about a 1.5-hr drive. For us, it was a 10-hr drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. There’s no manned entrance and the day-use fee is collected when you park at one of the trail heads in the park.
Trail of Ten Falls
The main trail in the park is the famous 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls that loops around, above, and behind – you guessed it! – 10 waterfalls, ranging in size from small to spectacular, along a rocky canyon. The full trail descends to a winding creek at the forest floor, with an overall elevation change of 800 feet. The trail can be done in smaller and shorter loops as well. You can park at the main trail head (Stone Circle) and walk the entire trail. Or you can do as we did and park at the Stone Circle, North Falls, and Winter Falls trail heads and walk to the nearby waterfalls.
Tip – The only restrooms are at the South Falls day-use area and at the North Falls trail head (the ones here are non-flushing). There are no restrooms on any trails, so plan accordingly!
The ten waterfalls are listed below, with an asterisk marking the ones that you can walk behind:
- South Falls*
- Winter Falls
- North Falls*
- Upper North Falls*
- Middle North Falls
- Twin Falls
- Drake Falls
- Lower North Falls
- Double Falls
- Lower South Falls*
Just before the main park trail-head (the Stone Circle trail-head near South Falls), there’s a large day-use area with a small general store, a café with free wifi, and a large picnic area – a perfect place to fuel up before exploring the park!
Tip – Allow 3 to 4 hours to do the entire 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls, longer if you stop for a lot of pictures like we did. If you’re short on time, you can easily see the spectacular South Falls waterfall just steps from the trail head next to the South Falls day-use parking area!
Waterfalls Ranked for Fall Photography
Silver Falls State Park has such a wonderful combination of Fall colors and waterfalls in October. We wanted to see all ten of the waterfalls, but unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to visit four of the ten waterfalls (Lower South Falls, Lower North Falls, Double Falls, and Drake Falls). Of the six that we did visit, here is my ranking of them for Fall photography.
Middle North Falls
My favorite waterfall for photography is the Middle North Falls. This is one of the prettiest falls in the park and is surrounded by beautiful Fall colors. The 106-foot waterfall pours over an overhanging rock onto a small creek. The best thing is that the trail leads you behind this spectacular waterfall for an amazing experience! I also like how it’s surrounded by different kinds of trees and the shape of the waterfall is so beautiful. There are multiple angles to capture this waterfall.
Second on my list is South Falls, perhaps the most famous of the park waterfalls, and one of the most photographed ones in Oregon. The setting of the falls is beautiful and the ability to walk behind the waterfall is a big plus and an amazing experience. In addition, it’s extremely accessible even for a quick visit because the overlook is just a few steps from the trail-head! From here, you can see the river and the top of the waterfall. Immediately to your right is a flight of steps leading down to the bottom of the waterfall.
There are several photo spots along this trail but you’ll be in high traffic area so please mind your tripod. When we were there, some of the trees had turned bright yellow and were so beautiful. If we could access the creek at the bottom of the waterfall, that would be a big plus for photography, but the area was fenced off with signs warning about hazardous conditions.
Upper North Falls
Third is the Upper North Falls. It’s only a 65-foot waterfall, and the fallen logs make the scene a little messy. But from the creek, we were able to get some interesting pictures. It was also interesting to capture the waterfall among the vegetation from the trail.
North Falls is spectacular, but it’s difficult to get to the bottom. The top of the falls is just a short walk from the North Falls trail head parking lot, but it was a long flight of stairs about 150 feet down. Thinking about how we would have to walk down the equivalent of a 15-story high-rise building with full camera backpacks and then walk back up, we opted to save our energy for more waterfalls instead!
This is one of the waterfalls that you can walk behind since the trail leads to a huge grotto behnd the waterfall! It would be a great experience if we had more time (and lighter backpacks!)
Twin Falls is “seasonal”. Big tip: if you’re visiting in the Fall – Twin Falls is totally skippable since it’s a tiny waterfall during this season!
Tip – The park is beautiful year round, with waterfalls being the fullest in the Spring.
Winter Falls is also “seasonal”. We only saw a trickle of water from the cliff. If we didn’t know that we were walking by this waterfall, we would have completely missed it! I’m sure it’s much nicer with more water in the Spring though. However, the Fall leaf colors in the area are very pretty.
I wish we could’ve seen all ten of the waterfalls, but by the time that we finished photographing these six, night had already fallen upon us. The trail was a little wet and muddy, so we concluded our trip without visiting the remaining falls. We certainly have some motivation for a trip back though!
RECOMMENDED PHOTOGRAPHY & Trip Gear
- Sturdy tripod for long exposures. I used my carbon fiber 3-Legged Thing tripod this time. I like to use this for hiking since it’s so lightweight, and it has an assortment of feet options for different conditions. I also like my sturdy but heavier Manfrotto tripod.
- Wide-angle lens to capture the tall waterfalls. I used the Nikon 20 mm f1.8 lens with the fantastic Nikon D750 (new model D780 here) for this trip.
- Mid-range lens. I used the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens for this trip. It’s somewhat heavy and pricey, but very high quality.
- Polarizer filter
- ND filter if the day is bright. I didn’t need any since it was cloudy.
- Microfiber cloth to clean the water sprays off the lens
- Water boots if you want to walk into the creek for pictures.
- Rain gear for yourself and for your camera. It is Oregon after all! These inexpensive camera rain covers are handy.
- Comfortable, waterproof hiking shoes with grippy soles. The trails are steep in sections and mostly unpaved. I like these awesome ones from Vasque. Pansy likes these boots from Keen and Timberland.
- Headlamps and flashlights for a safe journey back after the sunset shots.
As of June 9, 2020, the park is partially open for day-use and camping, with reduced services. Please check their website for details.
There’s a $5 day-use parking fee, purchased at the trailheads. There’s no fee if you have an Oregon State Parks day-use parking permit ($30 for 2019-2020)
There are four trail heads and parking areas. The pay station at the South Falls parking area accepts credit cards, but the one at the North Falls trail head does not. We had to put the $5 parking fee in an envelope into the collection box and put the parking receipt on our windshield. There’s no pay station at the smaller Winter Falls trail head between the Stone Circle and North Falls trail heads, so you’ll have to purchase a ticket at one of the other trail heads first. There are trail maps at the trail heads also.
Where to Stay Around Silver Falls State Park
Sublimity, about 12 miles or 18-minute drive away, is the closest town with grocery stores and sandwich shops nearby that make it a good base. There are few hotel options here, but here are some decent Airbnb options in Sublimity and our group ended up staying in a spacious and renovated house in this city.
Our AirBnB host was great and went above and beyond to welcome us (some delicious local Straus ice cream was involved even!) and offered us early check-in. If you haven’t tried AirBnB yet, here’s a referral signup link for up to $65 off your first trip!
Silver Falls Lodge & Conference Center is located approximately 10 minutes south of the South Falls day-use area. It offers 37 rustic-style lodge rooms and cabins, with a few cabins offering private bathrooms.
Salem is about 25 miles or 30-minute drive from the South Falls area and is the closest big city. There are plenty of hotels there.
Silverton, about 19 miles or 30-minute drive away, is a small town with buildings dating as far back as the 1800s. There are cafes, restaurants, and shops that line the downtown creek to take advantage of its natural beauty. If you stay at the Oregon Garden Resort, admissions to the 80-acre Oregon Garden is included.
My Photography Gear
These pictures were taken with the fantastic Nikon D750 (new model D780 here), using the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens and the Nikon 20 mm f1.8 lens, and with an iPhone. Read more about my photography equipment here.
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