Silver Falls State ParkThis is the time of year when most residents of the Pacific Northwest turn their minds towards escape. The damp, dreary months of winter bring thoughts of trips to Hawaii to the minds of cabin fevered lovers of the great outdoors. But I say, rather than run from the precipitation exuding from the sky and the land all around us, it’s time to embrace it. Resist the tourist covered sunny beaches, and head for the solitude of the rain forest. Forget an afternoon sunset watching ocean waves, and slip behind the cascading sheets of a raging waterfall. Abandon the glamour of a glitzy, full service, wallet-draining hotel, and discover the joy of a rustic log cabin with reduced rates and a tiny electric heater that feels better than all the sunshine in Hawaii after a day spent hiking in the drenching rain.

Silver Falls State Park – the largest State Park in Oregon – is a rainforest paradise nestled among the bucolic fields of the Willamette Valley. One minute you’re driving past the umpteenth family farm, the next you’re transported to a land of dark forests, swirling mists and the roar of towering waterfalls tumbling from cliffs of ancient basalt. The scenic highway gives the casual motorist a respectable tour of the parks attractions, rich with easily accessible viewpoints of waterfalls. However, to truly experience this park, one must dive headlong into the torrential rain of winter and the drenching spray of the falls.Silver Falls State Park

Although there are plenty of great trails within the park, you can see the best of the waterfalls all in one particular hike: the Trail of Ten Falls. Starting from the large parking area near South Falls, the trail descends into the canyon, looping behind the pounding torrent of water that is South Falls. Silver Falls State ParkThe trail meanders along the creek before passing behind yet another waterfall (Lower South Falls). Just past the base of the falls, you can shorten the loop by taking the Maple Ridge trail back to the trailhead for a total of 2 ½ miles. For more falls, continue on up the north fork of Silver Creek, passing pleasant Lower North Falls and, shortly thereafter, the short side trail to the ethereal Double Falls, followed by small Drake Falls. The best falls of all is next. Middle North Falls is a wide, crystalline sheet of water, behind which runs a trail leading to an epic view of the falls and canyon atop a mist-drenched cliff. Twin and Winter Falls are found soon after, and the trail culminates in one last rain fueled cascade, North Falls, and yet another behind-the-falls walk. Before returning to the trailhead via the Rim Trail, there’s an option to visit another waterfall half a mile up the creek, its name – Upper North Falls – sharing a similar amount of originality with the rest of the falls in the park. Naming these various falls after the cardinal directions makes them seem somewhat blasé, but each has its own personality, and still provokes a feeling of awe as it comes into site around a bend in the trail.

Silver Falls State ParkOf course, those not blessed with the time or energy necessary for this loop of nearly 9 miles can easily see the best the park has to offer in a series of short hikes – most of the falls can be reached in less than a mile each. There are over 25 miles of trails traversing 9,000 acres, and especially in the gray days of winter, you can find solitude on the twisting forest paths that traverse the rambling ridges and verdant valleys of the Eastern Park. A trip in early spring will bring contrast to the gray of winter as trillium, orchids and flowering currant adorn the valleys and hillsides.

Normally, I’m a tent camper, whether high in the mountains or in a campground, but after a day of driving and hiking in the pouring rain, crawling into a damp bag in a drippy tent is not terribly appealing. Much more desirable are the park cabins, cheaper and easier to reserve in the off season. With a covered porch and plenty of bunkbeds, it feels like luxury, especially while playing cards at the table inside with the rain pounding on the roof and damp clothes steaming near the heaters.

Silver Falls may be a long drive for some – around six hours from Seattle – but it’s a great destination for a few days of rainforest exploration. Also, it makes an ideal stopover on the way to central Oregon or Northern California. Combine the trip with a visit to Smith Rock, the lava fields of Bend, the painted hills or with a trip to the Redwoods and a tour of the Oregon Coast.

Between rain-soaked sojourns amid loud falls and quiet woods, and the tempting possibilities for adventure beyond the borders of this beautiful park, few will visit Silver Falls and leave with their cabin fever intact.

Silver Falls State Park

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