If you’re like many Oregonians, odds are you’ll visit Silver Falls State Park at some point this year. The 9,000-acre park attracts nearly a million hikers, cyclists, trail runners, campers, and horseback riders every year, making it one of the most beloved and best known destinations in the Oregon State Park system.
Summer draws the biggest crowds, but winter might actually be the best time to visit. The temperate rain forest’s trails are less crowded than at their summertime peaks, comfortable camping accommodations are easier to come by, and thanks to regular rainfall, the park’s famed waterfalls are even more stunning than usual. Those are just a few reasons why the popular park—about 25 miles outside of Salem—is an ideal winter getaway for Portlanders wanting to reconnect with nature in all its splendor. Here, just a few of the draws for a visit to Silver Falls State Park in winter.
The centerpiece of Silver Falls State Park is the Trail of Ten Falls . The full loop, in just less than nine miles, offers close-up views of 10 impressive waterfalls—more than five are at least 100 feet tall—and provides an opportunity to walk behind four. Along the way, hikers pass crystal clear creeks, picturesque forests, and spectacular canyon viewpoints. According to park manager Kevin Strandberg, “It’s still really lush and green, even in the wintertime.”
And while throngs of visitors pour into the park throughout the summer, Strandberg says that winter is an ideal time to visit, thanks to heavy rains—the park averages 80 inches of rainfall each year, compared to just 40 inches in nearby Salem. “It can be 10 times more water in the waterfalls than in the summer,” he says. “The falls are roaring this time of year.”
Winter falls, for instance, offer much more than the slight trickle you can expect to find at the height of summer. But after steady rains throughout the fall and winter, Strandberg says “it’s a roaring, full-on type of waterfall."
Biking Options Abound
Silver Falls State Park is currently in the midst of developing a seven-mile, single-use mountain bike loop, but in the meantime cyclists have plenty of riding opportunities.
A four-mile paved bike loop offers some early hills but is an otherwise easy path—perfect for families. Along the way, cyclists pedal past 200- and 300-year-old trees and gain a deep appreciation for the park’s natural beauty. “It definitely feels like you’re in a remote rain forest when you’re in there,” Strandberg says.
Mountain bikers wanting more of a challenge can tackle some of the park’s 25 miles of backcountry, multipurpose trails.
The park’s 14 cabins stretch even the most lax definition of “roughing it.” Each is outfitted with electricity, heaters, lights, bunk beds, and a futon. And while the park’s tent sites are closed for winter, the cabins nevertheless provide a home base for hikers and cyclists wanting to explore.
Wi-Fi is offered in the Silver Falls Historic Lodge, where guests can also purchase an assortment of standard American fare, including hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches.
Away from the cabins, keep an eye out for wildlife along the trail. Bobcat, cougar, deer, and bear sightings are more common in winter months, when fewer cars and visitors crowd the park, Strandberg says.
Just one more reason to explore this serene slice of nature in the offseason.