Silver Falls is a perfect day trip from Portland with so much to experience you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before. Imagine several miles of perfect hiking trails with 800 feet of elevation, stunning views and more waterfalls than many people will witness live in their entire lifetime. And it’s all just over an hour South of downtown Portland.
The Silver Falls State Park is considered the crown jewel of the Oregon State Park system. It is located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, East of Salem and only about 14 miles out of the city of Silverton on Hwy 214. The multiple falls descend a section of the North Fork Silver Creek that weaves through a dense forested landscape at the bottom of a carved canyon.
Silver Falls Day Trip Plan
There are many places you could go within the Silver Falls State Park, but we have put together a simple plan to get the most out of a quick day trip. We suggest that you target your adventure on the North Falls and Upper North Falls area. You will have access to several waterfalls and around 7 miles of pristine hiking trails with breathtaking views. The best part about this day trip from Portland is that you can stay clear of the busiest areas within the park system and avoid the largest crowds and parking hassles.
When and where to go.
We found that if you plan to arrive at the North Falls Trailhead and Parking Area before 9:30 am on a weekend, you can often find enough parking. The Google Maps address for the trailhead parking area is North Falls Parking, 4141-4149 Silver Falls Hwy SE, Silverton, OR 97381. Be aware that arriving later in the day will put you in a packed parking lot with few or no spaces available and a lot of people fighting for the few spaces.
The North Falls Trailhead area does have ample parking if you arrive early, but be aware that you will need to obtain a day permit for your vehicle. The permits cost just $5.00 per vehicle and are deposited in an envelope and placed in the fee drop. They are good for the entire day at any other State Park sites, so you can go from this location down to the South Falls area or other day use areas without having to purchase another permit that day.
There is a built-in restroom at the trailhead, but be aware that it does not having running water or plumbing. On hotter days you will find this far less desirable for reasons we think you can figure out on your own. Here’s a preview of what you’ll experience.
Your Silver Falls Hike Plan
Upper North Falls Hike
Once you’ve parked and paid your permit fee go to the trailhead and cross the bridge. We recommend that you head toward the Upper North Falls first. It’s a short .6 mile path up and back that takes you to the breathtaking Upper North Falls location. The trail is largely flat with only limited inclines and it’s great for hikers of all ages and experience levels and ends at the Upper North Falls area.
We recommend starting here on your trip as it is the most frequented falls from this trailhead and therefore becomes extremely crowded later in the day. If you start here early, you will find few people and unobstructed views for gazing and photography.
Once you have enjoyed the Upper North Falls, return to the part of the trailhead where you broke off and continue on the North Falls Hike.
North Falls Hike
Another short hike of just under a mile, however this trail has quite a bit more elevation. You will start following the Canyon Trail straight ahead at the first trail junction. At the next junction, showing signs for the Rim Trail or Canyon Trail, go toward the right to stay on the Canyon Trail and start down the stairs.
You will continue on a steady decline toward the bottom of the canyon with glimpses of the North Falls as you go. Once you reach the bottom the trail goes under the falls, which is carved into the rock with a huge cave that circles behind the waterfall.
If that isn’t enough for you, just stay on the trail beneath the waterfall and go forward. It will wind under the North Falls and continue on the other side of the creek for several miles, eventually crossing the creek downstream and winding you all the way back to the trailhead where you started. We found that if you continue on this route for about 1.5 miles or so, you will experience many additional smaller falls and scenic areas on the trail without getting too burnt out. When you start to get tired simply reverse your course and head back toward the North Falls cave area and back up the path and stairs to the trailhead area. All told, this gave us an exhilarating 5.5 mile hike, a lot of photo ops, some great exercise and left us tired but not exhausted.
After Your Silver Falls Hike
We definitely recommend packing an ice chest with lunch and plenty of water for after your hike. Though the trailhead parking area has a few benches, it really isn’t a good place to have a picnic. If you’ve followed our instructions, by the time you get back to your vehicle, the parking lot will be completely packed anyway, so you’ll want to move to a more secluded location to relax and eat.
North Falls day-use and group camp
We suggest that you pack up and head back South on the main road just a short half mile or so to the North Falls day-use and group camp. This park-like setting has plenty of large shade trees, picnic tables, grassy areas and ample parking. Again, this time of day should give you a lot of elbow room away from crowds and a peaceful landing spot to relax, eat and even play outdoor games. The grounds are simply beautiful and the clean restrooms have running water and plumbing. A welcome sight after a long hike.
Silver Falls is a Portland day trip that’s perfect for a weekend or even during the week. You are close to downtown Portland, yet get deep into the forest with cool water, excellent trails and amazing waterfalls. Let us know what your day trip to Silver Falls was like and enjoy your getaway from Portland to enjoy the beautiful Oregon scenery!