[This is a guest post by my husband Ken 😊]
Road Trip to Oregon for Fall Colors
Fall is here and we photographers want to see some fall colors! A group of us from an S.F. photography club wanted this season’s theme to be waterfalls. Two places in Oregon immediately came to mind, Silver Falls State Park and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. We decided to hit both and were not disappointed by either. If you’re looking for Fall colors in the Pacific Northwest, you will not be disappointed either!
In this article, I’ll share some of my photos from the trip, my ranking of waterfalls for photography, some travel and photography tips, and also my Airbnb experience with you. Silver Falls State Park really is a beautiful park, especially in the Fall. The combination of golden Autumn colors and waterfalls is spectacular.
We didn’t get to see all the waterfalls, but enough to appreciate why it’s so popular and enough to make us want to come back for more.
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!
*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase (at no extra cost to you). I hope you enjoy this article regardless. 😊
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.
It’s located 55 miles southeast of Portland, about a 1.5-hr drive. For us, it was a 10-hr drive from the S.F. Bay Area. There’s no manned entrance and the day-use fee is collected when you park at one of the trailheads in the park.
The main trail in the park is the 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls that loops around, above, and behind – you guessed it! – ten 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. We parked at the Stone Circle, North Falls, and Winter Falls trailheads and walked to the nearby waterfalls.
Tip – The only restrooms are at the South Falls day-use area and at the North Falls trailhead (the ones here are non-flushing). There are no restrooms on any trails, so plan accordingly!
Just before the main park trailhead, the Stone Circle trailhead near South Falls, there’s a large day-use area with a small general store, a café with free wi-fi, and a large picnic area – a perfect place to fuel up before exploring the park!
Waterfalls Ranked for 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 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 it’s surrounded by beautiful Fall colors. The 106-foot waterfall pours over an overhanging rock onto a small creek. The trail leads us from one side of the falls, to behind it, and continue onwards. I like how it’s surrounded by different kinds of trees and the shape of the waterfall is spectacular. There are multiple angles to capture this waterfall.
Second on my list is South Falls. I like the setting of the falls and its ease of access. The ability to walk behind the waterfall is a big plus and an amazing experience. The overlook is just a few steps from the trailhead. 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 fall. 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 fall, 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 trailhead parking lot, but it was a straight 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.
Twin Falls is “seasonal”. Let me save you some walking on your trip. Twin Falls is totally skippable. It’s a tiny waterfall with almost no worthwhile camera angle. I didn’t even take out my cell phone for a picture.
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 but we were not lucky enough to see it this trip. However, the Fall leaf colors 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. It’s best to leave a little motivation for a trip back, don’t you agree?
RECOMMENDED PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT
- 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 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. 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.
HOLY GRAIL HIKING BOOTS
After going through so many, I have found my holy grail hiking boots. These Vasque boots are not only waterproof, lightweight and breathable, they are extremely comfortable and good looking to boot. The roll-up toe and heel areas make them very stable as well. These have gone with me to many photo treks the past couple years, including to damp places like Scotland, Costa Rica, Mont Saint-Michel, and now this waterfalls chasing trip, and have held up very well. In fact, they often look to be in better shape than I do after my trips!
The park is open year-round. Please check their website for hours by month. As of 2019, the hours are as follows:
November-January: 8:00am – 5:00pm
February: 8:00am – 6:00pm
March: 8:00am – 8:00pm
April: 7:00am – 9:00pm
May-August: 7:00am – 9:00pm
September: 7:00am – 8:00pm
October: 8:00am – 7:00pm
There’s a $5 day-use parking fee, purchased at the trailheads. No fee if you have an Oregon State Parks day-use parking permit ($30 for 2019-2020)
There are four trailheads and parking areas. The pay station at the South Falls parking area accepts credit cards, but the one at the North Falls trailhead 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 trailhead between the Stone Circle and North Falls trailheads, so you’ll have to purchase a ticket at one of the other trailheads first. There are trail maps at the trailheads also.
Places to Stay Around Silver Falls State Park
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.
Sublimity, about 12 miles or 18-minute drive away, is the closest town, but with few hotel options. It does have the basic grocery stores and sandwich shops nearby that make it a good base. There are some decent Airbnb options here and this is where we ended up staying.
Our AirBnB Experience
When I travel, I like to mix up the type of lodgings I stay at. In big cities, I tend to book hotels convenient to attractions I’m interested in. For smaller, more remote towns, I’ve had great experiences with Airbnbs, including amazing stays in the French Alps and in Scotland.
So I had no qualms about booking a house through Airbnb at Silverton for our trip. Our group needed multiple bedrooms and a kitchen, and a house was ideal for our situation. We found a nice looking house and confirmed our reservations. However, two days prior to our arrival, in the middle of our road trip, the host texted to tell me that he needed to cancel our reservation! Shocked, I immediately contacted Airbnb, who offered assistance and maintained contact throughout by telephone and later followed up by email.
Luckily, we did find a place at Sublimity and the 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. And in the end, AirBnB did right by us and covered the price difference after some back and forth. So despite the unexpected cancellation by the first host, we ended up having a great stay. If you’re looking to stay in a spacious and renovated house for your trip to Silver Falls, I recommend this house that we stayed in.
If you found this article helpful, please pin, share or leave a comment below! Thank you and I hope you have an amazing trip if you have one planned! ❤️