The Trail of Ten Falls is a wonderful loop that will deliver you to many of the more impressive falls found within Silver Falls State Park. Silver Falls State Park is the largest State Park in Oregon and contains one of the highest concentrations of large waterfalls anywhere in the US. The downfall of this stunning display is visitors. Don’t expect much solitude along the trail and you may even encounter a traffic jam or two as dozens or even hundreds of people line up in the narrow grottos behind South Falls and Lower South Falls. Dogs are also not allowed on the Canyon Trail, where you will encounter the majority of the falls.
There are numerous different locations you can begin your hike, and a couple of different cutoff options if you don’t feel up to the entire loop. The easiest place to begin your hike is probably the South Falls. They have a huge parking area there and it is also the location of South Falls Lodge. It is a small, beautiful stone building built by the CCC in the 1930s that offers some food and a nice fire during the chillier months. From here, I like to head clockwise around the loop. You get to see the highest, single drop fall in the park (177 feet) and bust through the majority of the people right off the bat.
From the parking area, head past the lodge and follow the signs to South Falls. The trail quickly begins heading down the steep canyon, but first you will be rewarded with a viewpoint over the falls. The trail can be wet most of the year on its way down the canyon, so watch your step. As you get to the first switch back, there will a short side trail to Frenchie Falls heading to the right. This is a smaller falls at 48 feet without much flow (It completely dries up in the summer), but if you’re wanting to hit every fall you can, head on up and take a gander.
After the switchback, you will head back to South Falls and then be rewarded with one of the coolest experiences in Silver Falls State Park, the ability to walk behind the falls. These caverns behind the falls were created millions of years ago when lava flowed over the entire landscape, burying softer, older rock. As the eons past, the stream slowly carved through the harder, upper layers of basalt, and as they did, the softer, lower lays easily eroded away, creating these large bowls behind some of the larger falls.
After passing behind South Falls, don’t cross the bridge over the South Fork of Silver Creek but continue down the Canyon Trail instead. You will reach Lower South Falls in just half of a mile. As you approach the falls, the trail heads down a steep section of stairs and then travels behind this falls as well. The cavern is much smaller here though, and wetter. Expect puddles in your path as you squeeze by people. Once you’re through, continue down the creek for less than half a mile until you reach the North Fork of Silver Creek. Here, if you’ve had enough, you can head up the Maple Ridge Trail and return to the lodge in about a mile. If your thirsting for falls is not yet sated, head to the left.
The next mile is fairly uneventful as you parallel the stream along the canyon bottom. Soon though, Lower North Falls pops into view. The falls is only 30 feet, but the creek appears to be going down a large waterslide, making it one of the more photogenic falls in the park. As you reach the top of the falls, a side trail will take you to the largest falls in the park (178 feet), Double Falls. This falls is only .1 miles away from the main trail, and while it doesn’t have nearly the volume of the main falls, it does grant the visitor the ability to approach right up towards its base. Just be aware that this falls can also turn into barely a trickle in the warm, summer months.
Once you return to the main trail, you will pass two more falls in little more than a quarter mile. Drake Falls cascades down 27 feet and can be viewed from a wooden platform overlooking a large scour pool below the falls. Quickly after Drake Falls, you will encounter the 106 foot Middle North Falls. A side trail can take you to the grotto behind this falls if you desire. Shortly after Middle North Falls, you will encounter another trail junction. Depending on the time of year, you can head across the bridge and hike about 1/3 of a mile to Winter Falls. This falls drops an impressive 134 feet, but only runs during the winter months. You can also shorten your loop here if you want, by continuing the additional 0.2 miles up the canyon to the Winter Falls Trailhead. If not, turn around and head back to the main trail and continue your loop.
You will come across the 31 foot Twin Falls in 0.3 miles from the bridge. This falls gets its name from a large boulder in the middle of the falls that splits its flow. Continue on the loop by staying on the trail that reamins along the canyon bottom. In a little less than a mile, you will reach one of the cooler falls in the park, North Falls. North Falls drops 136 feet into a pile of boulders, but it also contains one of the largest grottos behind the falls. Here, you can even find holes that are the remnants of trees that burned when the area was covered by lava and ash.
After you pass behind the falls, a nice, steep climb complete with a flight of stairs awaits you. Once you climb up, you have one more choice to make. If you think you have an extra mile left and really want to see one more falls, Upper North Falls lays straight ahead about half a mile. Upper North falls is a smaller falls at only 65 feet, but because of that and its location at the end of a dead end trail, it can often be one of the less crowded falls in the park. Whatever your decision, once you’re ready to head back, continue on the Rim Trail as it follows the highway back towards the South Falls. Enjoy the huge trees and the soft light glowing through the green and you amble the final 2 miles back to your vehicle.
If you are coming from Salem, take Highway 22 east until you reach Exit 7. There will be a sign directing you to Silver Falls State Park. If you are coming from the east, take Exit 13 towards Sublimity and head north. Both routes will meet at the intersection of 214 and the Cascades Highway. From there, head east on 214 and follow the signs. While it is only 10 miles from this point, it will be slow and windy and you will undoubtedly get stuck behind a land yacht so be patient. Once you’re in the park, head in to the South Falls Day Use Area on your left and begin your quest for a parking spot.
Passes: A $5 day use permit is required.
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed on the Canyon Trail.
Open Season: Open year round. Flows over the watefalls are much more dramatic in the winter and early spring, so much so that you can count on getting wet when walking behind them. The flows on some of the falls will almost dry up by late summer.