Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Trail of Ten Falls

The state of Oregon has lots of great natural scenery but one of the things it's best known for is the abundance of waterfalls.  Drive along the Columbia River Gorge and you'll pass several.  Travel to Central Oregon and there are also a good number.  Ditto with southern Oregon.  But no one area in this state has a higher concentration of tall, beautiful cascades than Silver Falls State Park.

Lucky for me, Silver Falls State Park is a mere hour and a half drive from home.  Over the years I've lived in Oregon this park has seen many visits, although as of late, autumn is usually when I go (the fall colors framing these waterfalls are simply gorgeous!)  But if one wants to see waterfalls in their full, watery glory, spring is the season of choice.

South Falls

One day in mid-March I got the yen to go chasing waterfalls.  Although the weather forecast wasn't overly promising - showers and mist were predicted - it had so far been such a wet spring that I knew if I didn't start doing things in the rain, I would be stuck at home all the time.  So I packed up my camera and raingear, crossed my fingers, and headed out.

Silver Falls State Park boasts the "Trail of Ten Falls" - a path that passes by ten waterfalls along it's forested canyon.  Although I've hiked portions of this trail on previous visits it had been many years since I'd tackled the entire thing.  However, on this day I was feeling strong and had ample time, so the decision was made to see all ten.  The park brochure lists this loop as 7.2 miles in distance and 800 of feet elevation gain.  For an experienced hiker like me - no problem! 

The top of South Falls

Since this state park is wildly popular, even on weekdays, I timed my arrival for it's 8 am opening.  My plan worked like a charm, only one other vehicle in the lot!  After gathering my stuff, I headed out for the first waterfall, 177 foot tall South Falls, just a short distance from the parking area.  Due to it's very easy access, this cascade is the most visited in the park.  From the upper lookout, one can get a good view of Silver Creek as it drops over the precipice that forms South Falls.  After soaking in this magnificent vista, visitors can then follow a footpath as it switchbacks steeply 800 feet down to the waterfall's splash pool.  Which is what I did.  

The path behind South Falls

Although I've photographed these waterfalls countless times, using all of the popular compositions, today my goal was to capture some different images of these scenic beauties.  I followed the paved path behind South Falls, hoping to shoot a new perspective.  But heavy spring flow meant an abundance of spray, which forced me to put my camera back in it's bag.

Lovely mossy forest along the trail

It's still a cool experience to walk behind a waterfall, and despite the spray dampening my photographic ambitions, I enjoyed watching South Fall's huge column of water thunder over the cliff to the splash pool below.  

But there were more waterfalls to see - time to move on to the next cascade, Lower South Falls.

Lower South Falls

After about a mile of walking I came to Lower South Falls.  A long, switchbacking descent led me to this cascade's base.  Visitors can also walk behind this waterfall.  As a matter of fact, the trail routes hikers under it's misty curtain so you have no choice.  At 93 feet in height Lower South Falls is not as regal as it's upriver sister.  But it's still a very pretty cascade, and would be a major attraction in many other waterfall-deficit places.

The very top of Lower South Falls

From Lower South Falls it was another mile of pleasant forest walking to reach the next waterfall.  The scenery here was top-notch.  My trail followed lovely Silver Creek.  The adjacent forest was full of greenery - new spring leaves bursting from trees, plenty of ferns on the forest floor and moss everywhere, on both the rocky cliff faces and tree trunks.

Tiny seasonal waterfall

I passed a tiny seasonal waterfall dribbling down a rock face.  Although it didn't count as one of the ten I decided it was pretty enough to warrant a photograph.

Interesting trees

The next waterfall on my journey was tiny Lower North Falls.  At only 30 feet in height it was the second shortest cascade on the Trail of Ten Falls.  Hardly worth a photograph.  But the surrounding scenery was nice, so I shot a few pics anyway.

And yes, whoever named all the waterfalls in this park (South Falls, Lower South Falls, Lower North Falls) was not very original, were they?

Lower North Falls

Not far from Lower North Falls was a side path to the next cascade, Double Falls.  Now this was a photo-worthy waterfall.  At 178 feet in height, it had the honor of being the tallest waterfall in the park, beating South Falls by one foot.  It's slender ribbon of water was most beautiful, as was the smaller cascade directly above the main drop.  My only problem was trying to fit the entire thing into my frame.  Hemmed in by the narrow canyon where it was located, there weren't many places to stand where you could capture it all.

Double Falls

After my photo session attempt of Double Falls, it was back on the trail in search of the next cascade.  I didn't walk far before I crossed paths with the shortest waterfall in the park, Drake Falls.  At a mere 27 feet tall, it wasn't much of a waterfall at all.  It looked more like rapids in the creek.  In fact, Drake Falls was so underwhelming that I didn't even bother to take one picture of it.

Spring wildflowers!

Beyond Drake Falls as I walked down the trail I began to get excited.  The next waterfall was my very favorite in the park, Middle North Falls.  Soon I rounded a bend and got my first glimpse of it's gorgeous watery fan spilling over the canyon.

Middle North Falls peeps into view

At 106 feet in height, Middle North Falls isn't the tallest.  But wider than most of the falls in the park, it's curtain-shaped flow is especially attractive.  

Trying to keep my pack weight down I'd opted not to bring a tripod.  But seeing the gorgeous shape and flow of Middle North Falls made me regret my decision.  From previous photo trips I knew a slow shutter speed made the flowing water look silky, which produced especially dramatic effects on this cascade.

My favorite waterfall in the park

No mind, the higher shutter speeds seemed to work fine too!  I was very happy with the images I produced.

Middle North Falls' impressive flow

Although so far I'd had the trail nearly to myself (early morning starts are the best!) by the time I reached Middle North Falls I began to see quite a few people.  Also, the intermittent drizzle that had fallen most of the day turned into more constant raindrops.

The beautiful forest below

Despite the increased wetness and people, I took my time and walked behind Middle North Falls to get my favorite vantage from the opposite side.  The forest surrounding the creek below is gorgeous, full of ghostly moss-covered branches.  And if you're attempting to photograph, the view of this waterfall is best seen from here - you'll be able to fit the entire cascade in your frame.

Can you spot the person?

By now my backpack and camera bag were getting wet.  Although I donned my pack cover over the backpack, I had no such protection for my camera bag.  And it wasn't waterproof.  That's why when I came to the fork in the trail that said it was a half mile out of my way to see Winter Falls I decided to skip that one and continue on.

This is what it looks like to walk behind a waterfall

I hurried on past the next waterfall, another tiny cascade named Twin Falls.  Only 31 feet high, it was just another small area of turbulent water.  But feeling guilty that I'd snubbed Drake Falls I did take the time to quick capture a couple images of this one.

Twin Falls - not much of a waterfall

Then it was a long 1.5 mile trek through more lovely scenery to the next-to-last waterfall on my journey - North Falls.  This waterfall was in an especially scenic location - a deep forested canyon full of twisted, mossy trees and large boulders.  The cavern behind North Falls was huge and provided a welcome respite from the rain.

Along the trail to North Falls

At 136 feet in height, North Fall's wide white plume was also extremely photogenic.  I snapped a few photos from both the approach to the falls, and also from the cavern behind.  Then I climbed up a long, twisty trail to the top of the canyon.  There was only one more waterfall to see, Upper North Falls.  But it was a half mile in the opposite direction of my return trail.  With the rain increasing, I decided I'd hiked far enough in the elements.  It was time to head back.

North Falls appears between the trees

Since there was only one waterfall viewpoint on the return loop, I stuffed my camera into my backpack to try and keep it drier.  I then put my head down and marched the 2.5 miles to the trailhead as quickly as my body would take me.

The lovely view downriver from North Falls

The return trail snaked along the top of the canyon, paralleling the park road.  Although there wasn't much but forest to look at, by that point I was focused on getting back to my car, so I didn't need any scenic distractions. 

A wet but great day!

If you've been playing along at home, you should have counted 8 waterfalls in my hike thus far.  As I trekked along the path that would take me back to the parking lot I passed by the top of Winter Falls.  Although it wasn't much of a view, I did see enough of the waterfall to count (by my rules anyway!)  So I hiked the "Trail of Ten Falls" and saw every one of the waterfalls but Upper North.  Nine out of ten ain't bad!

Despite the less-than-ideal weather forecast I still had a great time revisiting all my favorite waterfalls and seeing them in their gushing spring splendor.  A wet, but great day!


  1. That's a wonderful trail and reminds me a little of the waterfalls walk that I used to lead in the valleys of the rivers Mellte and Nedd in S Wales. There was a problem with the names of the falls there: they were more poetic than yours but a bit of a trial for most non-Welsh speakers - Sgwd yr Eira, Sgwd Gwladus, Sgwd Ddwli, Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn ????? I remember that a nine-mile walk used to take all day by the time everyone had negotiated the rough, slippery paths and had taken all the pictures they wanted.

  2. is wonderful, but ten are amazing.

  3. I love this park so much! I noticed you hiked clockwise, it seems like I always hike it counter clockwise...which do you prefer? Great shots of this beautiful place, as always, Linda!

  4. A damp but sensational hike. Wonderful to be able to come along dry and experience their splendour! Two favourites - your final image and the "Can you spot the person?', clever!

  5. That is an incredible number of waterfalls. I would not be able to hike that far and I certainly thank you for sharing these.


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