By Ryan Loughrey
Sometimes your weekend starts with a long drive. This one in particular ended at a campsite at Richardson Park, just west of Eugene, Oregon.. It was a Friday night, and we had both worked full days. We drove north on I-5 fueled on coffee and adrenaline, trying to get as close to Silver Falls State Park as realistically (and economically) as possible. We were set to arrive at the campsite around 11:30 at night, but I was worried since we were arriving so late that someone might snag our spot, not seeing the ‘Reserved’ sign in the dark.
Turns out, not many people wanted to tent camp now that the weather in central Oregon had turned cool. The tent sites were virtually unoccupied, save for one family gathering and one other tenter. Rather, everyone was cozy in their RV’s with their roaring fires and large flat screen tv’s (not a hyperbole, we drove by one and could clearly make out the Seahawks uniforms that the football players were wearing on the tv).
We setup our tent and settled in for the night. The next day, we had plans to explore Silver Falls, a place I’d been to once before and my partner had never been to.
After eating our sufficiently healthy and carb-filled breakfast at the Original Pancake House in Salem, Kiva and I headed eastward towards Silver Falls. It had crossed our minds to camp here, but of course the campsite was full. We drove along on the windy and hilly road to Silver Falls, until we came to the first parking lot nearest to South Falls, the iconic waterfall that seems to be photographed and visited the most.
We decided, somewhat impulsively, that we were going to attempt the dramatic sounding Trail of Ten Falls. The distance seems to be a little debatable, but it seems to be between 7.2 and 8.7 miles (two different markers we saw).
The park seems to be immensely popular as it is quite accessible and certain falls are easy to hike to. On this cool Saturday, we were two of many that decided to visit the Park. The first falls we came to was South Falls. Far be it for me to be the judging of names, but I have to say nearly all of the waterfalls have very literal/boring names “South Falls,” “Lower South Falls,” “North Falls,” “Upper North Falls,” “Middle North Falls,” and so on.
South Falls is possible the most well-known and well-visited. At 177 feet, it is one of the highest waterfalls in the park and visitors can walk the path behind its waters. The path seems to have been carved directly under the rock, and as the wind shifts, occasionally a cool mist would drape over the hikers. It was an interesting sensation, considering just minutes before we stood at the trail at the top of the waterfall, where the water is placid and serene.
We continued on the Trail of 10 Falls. The number of people we saw on the trail dramatically dropped off. Most people come and take photos at South Falls, then head back or continue on their way. We were not entirely prepared for the long hike, our only sustenance was triscuits and rather than hiking poles or fine hiking shorts, we wore jeans and athletic shoes. Still, we wanted to see as many of the falls as we could.
After some steep stairs, where the handrails were smooth from use, we walked to Lower South Falls. Another waterfall where we could hike behind, and this time on the stone wall we spotted a banana slug enjoying the view.
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The trail continues and meanders along Silver Creek, which looks as innocuous as any creek you could find behind your house. A few spots have been carved out where families could stop and put their feet in the water to cool off. After Lower South Falls, there is about a mile without any waterfalls. Then, in about a span of a half mile, four falls can be glimpsed: Lower North Falls, Double Falls, Drake Falls, and Middle North Falls.
Double Falls is a short jaunt away of the main trail, but it is easy to get to and worth the small hike. We decided to take a break here, in the shade of the forest. Double Falls is one of the few where you can almost walk right up to the base. It’s a shallow pool that it falls into, making a unique environment to play in.
The next most dramatic falls are North Falls. Situated at the eastern end of the loop, the 136 foot waterfall also has a deep path carved into the rock behind the falls. We felt like we were cave dwellers of the south west, looking out from our protected vantage point at the cascading water. We stayed here for a little while, resting our legs and sitting on the rocky perches.
The last waterfall we came to was Upper North Falls, again a short hike off the loop. This 65 foot tall beast was easily accessible, and the cold water didn’t deter one diver who wore a wetsuit and was diving for crawfish.
We hiked the loop back, a little tired but in good spirits. The hike back follows the road, farther away from the peaceful creek and closer to the lumbering vehicles. We passed a few families, and at one point even saw a wedding was happening in the park.
Overall, we were able to see the whole park in around 4 hours. This includes a coffee break at the lodge, stopping and looking at the quaint souvenir shop staffed by two elderly and sweet volunteers, and taking photos of banana slugs. If someone had less time, the Trail of Ten Falls could probably be done quicker.
We headed back to our little campsite, worn out in the best possible way. We had done Silver Falls State Park in a day, and spent the night near Eugene, Oregon. It was a weekend packed with a lot of driving and a lot of waterfalls, but definitely worth it. The park is busy, but mainly at the most scenic falls. If you take the long trail, you get to see the sights that the majority of people miss. Just make sure to bring plenty of water and food, and you will have a trip that is well worth your time.