One of my favorite Portland day trips is Salem area’s Silver Falls State Park. Quite simply, this is a park I make a point to visit at least once a year. Add a side trip to the nearby town of Silverton, and you’ve got the perfect day out.
Portlanders love to boast about the many attractions we have—in town and out of town. Deciding where to go for a day trip may start out with, “Coast, gorge or mountain?” Which is shorthand for the “Pacific Ocean, Columbia Gorge, or Mt. Hood?” But we know we have even more options; our own Willamette Valley.
Silver Falls State Park is located an hour south of Portland or a half-hour east of Salem, Oregon’s state capitol. Here, much of the Willamette Valley is farmland and rural properties. Making your way to the park, you’ll pass groves of hazelnuts and fruit trees, grass fields and of course, vineyards.
On the approach into Silverton, 13 miles from Silver Falls State Park, you’ll pass cute, well maintained homes with baskets of flowers on the front porches. Downtown has parking meters that require coins, not credit cards, and some great buildings from around 1900.
Take a look. Make the trip.
Silver Falls State Park
The park’s main attraction? A series of 10 waterfalls you’ll feast your eyes on if you hike the 7.2 mile Trail of Ten Falls. There’s 177-foot South Falls, 106-foot Middle North Falls, and 136-foot North Falls, to name just a few.
If you’re not up to the whole loop trail, there are a number of shorter trails to take that still afford great views of many of the falls, forest, and basalt formations.
There simply is no bad time of the year to visit Silver Falls State Park. Oregon’s largest state park opened in 1933, with much of the trail, bridge and building construction being done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. (The CCC was a federal program established by Franklin D. Roosevelt that provided work for men young, unmarried men in the years following the Great Depression.)
The park lies in the temperate rain forest at lower elevations of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. There’s dense coniferous forest, where you’ll find Douglas fir, hemlock, cedar. From March to May, the greens are almost neon-brilliant as deciduous foliage sprouts: big-leaf maple, vine maple, Oregon grape and ferns. Yellow, purple and white wildflowers bloom. The colors are beautiful in the fall as well, and the thick canopy makes for a welcome hike in summer. The park is open year-round, even on those relatively infrequent times when there’s snow and ice. A gorgeous time to visit, if you can.
But of course it’s the waterfall trails that are the big draw. Water levels will vary, but it’s beautiful regardless. (Although it’s fun to feel the splash on your face when it’s really raging.)
Silver Falls State Park gets over 1.3 million day visitors a year, with almost 79,000 overnight visitors a year. (There’s RV camping, tent camping, cabins and yurts—but book as far in advance as possible. Bring your bike, or your horse, as there are equestrian facilities and trails.) The park is comprised of more than 9,000 acres. It’s rare for the park to feel crowded, except perhaps on some summer weekends, and even then, that’s usually just at the South Falls area and Lodge areas.
Before or after your hike, head into the town of Silverton. Downtown Silverton has some great turn-of-the-(last)-century brick buildings, plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and gift and antique shops, so spend some time wandering.
My preference is a morning hike, followed by lunch and time for browsing the town afterwards. But you can also enjoy a relaxed breakfast (Main Street Bistro is a good choice), an afternoon hike, followed by some shopping and dinner back in Silverton. There are numerous restaurants and brew pubs with lunch and dinner options, a few of which offer outdoor seating that overlook Silver Creek.
This town of 9,500 loves its murals. You’ll also notice any number of the more than 20 murals painted on walls and fences throughout downtown Silverton. Each tells stories about the town’s history and lore and they’re fun and well done.
On one of my recent visits, I happen to be around when mural artists were working on the “Adventures of Bobbie” mural. Bobbie the Collie’s tale began in 1923, when he went missing on a family vacation in the Midwest, 3,000 miles away. But, to great fanfare, Bobbie returned to the family’s Silverton home. Read the whole story on this colorful mural that includes reproductions of newspaper clippings and family photos—and come to your own conclusion.
Although there are a lot of great places to eat, I really like Gather. This American-style bistro is housed in a great brick corner building with exposed brick interior walls, high ceilings and airy décor. The food is always great.
Right before heading home, stop at the Chocolate Box for one of their dark chocolate truffles. Some of the chocolates are house-made and some are sourced from other Oregon chocolatiers.
Have More Time?
There’s much more to see in the area, and no shortage of hotels and other lodging in Salem, Silverton and beyond. Extend your stay with some of these suggestions:
- Explore Salem, Oregon’s state capitol. The capitol building’s Rotunda is lovely and the downtown architecture make for great walking.
- Just minutes from Silverton, the Oregon Garden is an 80-acre botanical garden. There are more than 20 garden “rooms,” including a Rose Garden, Tropical Garden, Children’s Garden, Sensory Garden and more. The Oak Grove features a 400-year-old oak tree. It’s is beautiful year-round, but especially so from April to October.
- The Gordon House. This home, originally build for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon in 1957 (finished in 1963) was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was originally built in the Portland suburb of Wilsonville and moved adjacent to the Oregon Garden to save it from a planned destruction. The Gordon House is Oregon’s last remaining home designed by the famed architect.
- You’re in Wine Country. Stop at a winery or two for some wine tasting.
- Silver Falls State Park, oregonstateparks.org/
- Gather, https://gather.cafe/
- Main Street Bistro & Coffee, Silverton, 503.874.1234.
- The Chocolate Box, www.silvertonchocolateboxshop.com/
- Oregon Garden, www.oregongarden.org/
- Gordon House, www.thegordonhouse.org/
- Travel Salem, www.travelsalem.com/
-All photos by Nancy Zaffaro.