Friday, June 29, 2012

hometown tourist : silver falls state park

"Hometown Tourist" is an occasional series in which I tell tales about our adventures around town, and actually, the whole state of Oregon. Take a peek and come exploring with us!

For Mother's Day weekend, we drove up to Silver Falls State Park. Despite being a life-long Oregonian, I'd never been, though Silver Falls is the largest state park in Oregon and incredibly beautiful. More than 9000 acres in size, it features approximately 25 miles of trails for hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders (though not all on the same trail).

It also offers clean campgrounds and cabins for campers. Here's where we stayed.

Cabins are divided into two rooms, with a living area in front (with fold-down futon) and a bedroom in back (with built-in bunk beds and a queen bed, all with vinyl-covered mattresses). You could easily sleep six people here, but we'd recommend you bring a drill or screwdriver, as all but the built-in bunk beds are super-squeaky due to loose screws.

Our picnic area, complete with long picnic table and metal fire hoop.

The old red water pump (shared between cabins).

There's a shared bathroom/shower building nearby, too, so there's no woods-squatting required, and hikers can get cleaned up at the end of the day.

We were surrounded on all sides (as is usual in Oregon's boreal forests) by tall cedars and douglas firs, and shrubs in a thousand colors of green.

The park was established in the 1930s thanks to the work of photographer June Drake; the lodge (shown here from behind) was built as part of President FDR's Works Progress Administration's Civilian Conservation Corps. It no longer hosts overnight guests.

Inside the dining room, the original myrtle wood tables are still extant. The only food served at the lodge anymore, though, is summer snack stand food; burgers, fries, ice cream bars, etc. Mother's Day weekend hosts a plant and bird show so the tables weren't useable for dining while we were there, but may be usually.

Photographs of and by photographer June Drake feature prominently on the wall by the snack bar.

Spring fiddleheads on ferns outside the lodge.

Ah! At last! A waterfall! The North and South Forks of Silver Creek feed the falls, of which there are ten (major) within the bounds of the park (and you can reach them all by following the Trail of Ten Falls on an 8+ mile hike).

The first, right off the parking area by the lodge (and the separate 1930s gift shop called the Nature Store), is South Falls.

It's a spectacular introduction to Silver Falls State Park, falling 177 feet to a pool beneath. The trail starts at the top of the vertigo-inducing descent . . .

. . . then winds down the side of the gorge and leads behind the falls.

You pass behind a massive curtain of water, protected by a metal rail (hold tight to your bebes!). The overhanging cliff drips and sweats overhead.

The trail is narrow and not passable by stroller, wheelchair, bike, or horse at this point, although many of the falls are viewable from overlooks along the road, or along other trails. Here's a link to a pdf brochure that can help you plan.

A little more than a mile away along the trail is Lower South Falls.

Lower South Falls is shorter (at 93 feet), but the trail is more treacherous; the path suddenly leads down a steep, lightly-maintained staircase of stone steps (probably also built in the 1930s), edged by a railing of varying degrees of undependability. Seriously, hold tight to your bebes, and don't lean against the railing. (Make these photographs larger by clicking on them, and you can see part of the staircase in the previous photograph) The trail also leads behind Lower South Falls, the second of three falls along the trail with this feature.

Shortly after we passed Lower South Falls, my nearly-forty-pound two-year-old fell asleep in my arms, and became a dead weight I carried up the steeply sloping Maple Ridge Trail. This "shortcut" back to the trailhead and lodge seems interminable though only about a mile, because of the 30-45 degree slope. The kiddo woke up at the top of the hill, of course, and wouldn't nap again. We crossed a short bridge over Silver Creek and spotted this picnic shelter.

Upriver near the campground, close to the swimming area and a small playground, I photographed the exterior of the WPA lodge-style bathrooms in the late afternoon sun.

The next day, we scrapped the idea of starting over and walking the entire trail, and drove up the main road a little ways till we found the Winter Trail trailhead near Winter Falls.

After geeking out a little over the similarity to Winterfell (the name of the castle of the Stark family in Game of Thrones . . . yeah, we're nerds), we hiked down a zig-zagging trail to the bottom of the fall, which is approximately 134 feet down . . .

. . . and took a family portrait with my Commando phone near the pool at the base.

We hiked back up (except for one of us, who was carried aloft like a tiny, lazy prince) to the top, and drove a little ways further up the road to the parking area near the North Falls trailhead.

There was a bit of a hike to North Falls, and the narrow trail closely hugs the overhanging cliff. The scenery is mostly green, and the water gushes close by at all times.

Again, the trail is bordered by a railing of questionable stability and, along one length, a bit of chain link fencing. It spits out suddenly over a deep overhang. Yes, North Falls is the third and final waterfall that the trail passes behind. But . . .

. . . at the bottom of another old staircase and down a slippery mud trail, you'll notice in this photo that there's no railing here. The trail is narrow and slippery at the top of a steep, muddy slope. Though there is a bench there (labelled; click the photo to zoom), the kiddo and I didn't brave this one. We stayed back while the Mister went to check it out . . . and reported back that it was a freaky as it looked.

Still, it was pretty enough behind the chain link, from our perspective. We hiked back up the staircase and back to the car.

I was unable to convince the guys to follow me on another mini-hike, so I begged off for a quick, short, quarter-mile hike from the car to Upper North Falls. This was the easiest bit of trail yet, and yielded a secluded 65-foot waterfall and a large, calm pool.

Yes, Upper North Falls is 65-feet tall, which means the fallen timber on the left side is taller than that. It's probably hard to get the right perspective from photographs. Imagine ten tall men standing on top of one another; that's how tall Upper North Falls is.

Sans baby and husband to make me look legit, the vacationing family posing by a smaller, unnamed waterfall wouldn't accept my offer to take a photo of all three of them together. Or rather, the father wouldn't. The mom totally wanted to be in the photo with her husband and daughter, but it was probably too expensive a camera to hand over to a stranger. Even on a dead-end trail. I contented myself with more fiddleheads.

And then we were on our way home. We passed by a glaring yellow field on the way towards Salem, and just like that, we were away!

So we checked five of the ten waterfalls off our list, and I plan to go back when I can count on my kiddo to walk most of the way, and not go sliding off the side of the trail. (I can literally worry about anything. Try me.)

I definitely recommend Silver Falls State Park as a day trip; even better if you're into hiking and can snag a campsite or cabin before they fill up (hint: make reservations waaaaay in advance). Keep a close eye (and a pair of strong hands) on your kiddo at all times, though, as there are lots of steep drops and difficult bits of trail.

Have you been playing hometown tourist in your neck of the woods lately? I'd love to follow your (non-spam) links in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

p.s. you can make these photos larger just by clicking on them, but you probably already knew that.)


Janet said...

Beautiful, What a nice "Blog" on the Silver Falls area. Great pictures and wonderful narrative. Makes me want to go there and spend some time. Just wish it were more wheelchair friendly. But in the "30's" there weren't many wheelchairs around! Though would still be a great place to go. Thanks for sharing a wonderful local place.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful write up! Beautiful pictures!

Night Garden Design said...

Hey, Janet! I wish it was more wheelchair accessible, too. This article from Oregon Live mentions a wheelchair-friendly loop around South Falls, and the top of Winter Falls is viewable from the parking area. Not sure about the other 5 falls, though.