The Pacific Northwest offers countless incredible hikes, but the Trail of Ten Falls in Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park may just take the cake. On this stunning trail, you’ll walk through a lush rainforest, gaze at (you guessed it!) ten rushing waterfalls, and even get to scurry through basalt caverns behind four of these falls cascading overhead.
So if you’re a sucker for moody Pacific Northwest vibes, unique hikes, and spectacular waterfalls, lace up those hiking boots- here’s everything you need to know about the Trail of Ten Falls.
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Table of Contents
- About the Trail of Ten Falls
- How to get to the Trail of Ten Falls
- When to go to the Trail of Ten Falls
- What to expect along the Trail of Ten Falls
- What to bring on the Trail of Ten Falls
- Where to stay when visiting the Trail of Ten Falls
Pssst… headed to this portion of western Oregon? You may be interested in checking out our post on the nearby Abiqua Falls, one of the most stunning waterfalls in the entire state!
We also have a ton of other content about Oregon (what can I say? It’s a REALLY cool place!), which you can check out here.
About the Trail of Ten Falls
- Distance: 8.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dog-friendly?: Sorta, but not really.
The hike consists of several shorter interconnected trails and dogs are not allowed on almost any of them. Inside the park, your furry friend is only permitted on the Rim Trail and Bike Path (which are both along the south part of the loop) and the Perimeter Trail (which is east of the trail), none of which have waterfalls along them.
Along this trail, you’ll pass by not one, not two- but TEN waterfalls. And these aren’t just any ol’ waterfalls- most of them are quite epic. In fact, two of them are over 170 feet tall!
The park’s unique geological makeup adds to the trail’s epicness- sandstone was covered by basalt rock from volcanic lava flows approximately 15 million years ago here, which you can now see in the dramatic basalt columnar cliffs lining the trail. Over the years, erosion from the waterfalls caused the soft sandstone to collapse behind four of the falls, creating “amphitheatre” like passage-ways, and these caverns were eventually widened into hiking trails by the Civilian Conservation Corps (or the “CCC”) in the 1930s.
While there are some other waterfalls you can walk behind sprinkled throughout the United States, there’s few places on the planet where there’s such a high concentration in this small of an area. Today, between the craggy basalt cliffs, towering hemlocks and Douglas firs, and eye-popping number of water features, this trail is inarguably one of the coolest in Oregon.
How to get to the Trail of Ten Falls
As mentioned above, the Trail of Ten Falls is found in Silver Falls State Park, located in Sublimity, Oregon (about half an hour southeast of Salem and a little over an hour south of Portland). Silver Falls has been described as the “Crown Jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system and that isn’t really hyperbole- the park has such a mysterious and moody beauty, it was actually one of the shooting locations for everyone’s favorite “vampire-werewolf-human love triangle” movie, Twilight.
Whether you enter the park’s north or south entrance, the roads leading to the park are well-maintained and paved, so, unlike some other trailheads in the Pacific Northwest, a regular ol’ passenger vehicle will work to get here just fine.
That being said, I’d strongly advise against driving here at night (if you plan on staying in the park, like my husband and I did). The roads leading to the park are twisty and without street lights- add in the dense fog that regularly blankets the area and its active wildlife, like elk and even bears, and the drive can feel like an adventure in and of itself! Plus, the scenery in Oregon is incredible- you may as well make the drive while you can see it.
Once you’re in the park, follow the many signs pointing you to the Trail of Ten Falls, which is located in the northwest section of the park. Given that the hike is a loop, there’s several places that you can park and start the hike.
The most popular two spots are either by the South Falls (in which case, you’d park in the South Falls Day Use parking lot, here) or the North Falls (in which case, you’d park in the much smaller North Falls parking lot, here). Confusingly, there’s also a handful of parking spots and a sign for the Trail of Ten Falls by the trailhead for Winter Falls (located here).
I’d personally recommend parking by the South Falls, given that it offers the largest parking area and the South Falls Lodge, a cozy log cabin (built again by our friends in the CCC!) serving up snacks and drinks if you need a little pick-me-up after your hike.
Wherever you park, you’ll need to purchase a $5 day use permit which you can buy from machines at the park’s entrance or the North or South Falls parking lots. Alternatively, if you’re a local or going on an epic Oregon road trip, you may want to consider purchasing a 12-month pass for all 25 Oregon State Parks that charge fees, like the beautiful Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach or Smith Rock State Park in Bend, for just $25 here.
While you’re free to do the loop in either direction, I’d recommend going clockwise if you’re starting at the South Falls Day Use area (or counter-clockwise if you’re starting at the North Falls). If you go counter-clockwise from the South Falls, you’ll have to start the hike by walking several miles without seeing any waterfalls- and where’s the fun in that?
When to go to the Trail of Ten Falls
One of the best things about this trail is that it can be great to visit year round. During the rainy season (October through April), the forest will be lush and green and the waterfalls will be at their most impressive. This is especially true in the springtime, thanks to the additional snowmelt- in fact, the Trail of Ten Falls is one of the best things to during the spring in Oregon!
In the heart of winter (January and February), if the weather gets frosty enough, you may even see some of the waterfalls freezing over, creating gorgeous structures of ice. If you visit during the winter, I’d recommend packing crampons, which help provide traction in icy conditions- there are quite a few hills along the trail and between the water from the falls and the Pacific Northwest’s rainy atmosphere, it can get pretty slippery.
The most popular time to visit Silver Falls is in the summertime, when the skies are clear and sunny and the temperature is warm. If you’re planning a summer excursion, I’d recommend going towards the beginning of summer (May or June), so you still get the benefit of catching the falls at their fullest. Any later in the summer and unfortunately, some of the falls dry up to little more than a dribble.
And no matter what time of year you go, try to start your hike early. My husband, Justin, and I visited on a pretty rainy Saturday in December and were delighted to find the South Falls parking lot mostly empty when we started our hike around 8:30 am. Chalking the lack of crowds up to the crappy weather, we had most of the waterfalls totally to ourselves.
But over the course of the next few hours, the trail got more and more crowded and by the time we got back to our car, the lot was totally full- I can’t even imagine how crowded it gets on a nice summer’s day!
What to expect along the Trail of Ten Falls
So we’ve definitely established by now there are ten pretty dang cool waterfalls along the trail- what else do you need to know about the hike?
Well, remember how I just said there’s a bunch of small, interconnected trails? There’s no clear signage, either by the South or North Falls trailhead or along the trail itself, pointing you in the direction of the “The Trail of Ten Falls”. There’s also a bunch of spur trails, bridges, and junctions, so without clear signage, the trail itself can feel a bit confusing, even for a regular hiker.
As such, I’d strongly recommend either downloading a map of the trail from AllTrails before you enter the park (while AT&T and Verizon has limited signal in the park, our T-Mobile phones got absolutely no data) or snapping a picture of the trail map at the start of the hike (there’s a large sign with a clearly-labeled map by the South Falls trailhead). I off-handedly snapped a picture of the map with my cell phone before we started the trail, not thinking we’d really need it, but I’m so glad I did- we’d have been totally lost without it.
The park itself is exquisitely well-maintained and otherwise has abundant signage, so if I had to guess why there’s limited signage regarding this particular hike, I suspect that it may be because the hike is kind of like a build-your-own-adventure. You can start the hike where you want, you can go in whatever direction, you can take shortcuts to reduce the length of the trail if you don’t want to hike the whole thing. Ultimately, how you explore this trail is totally up to you and perhaps Silver Falls State Park doesn’t want to cramp your hiking style.
Whatever the reason is for the lack of signage, I’m a Type A lady who likes to know and understand my hiking route. So if a build-your-own-adventure hiking trail gives you a bit of anxiety, I’ll provide a detailed breakdown of where you should go below, but really all you need to remember is (again, these are directions from the South Falls parking lot, going clockwise):
- Once you pass the South Falls, there will be about a dozen confusing bridges and trail junction signs along the Canyon Trail. You’ll need to take the small spur trails to see Double Falls and Middle North Falls, but besides those two short offshoots, ignore all of the other junctions and just continue straight along the Canyon Trail until you reach North Falls.
- Once you’ve reached the North Falls, continue past them and follow the out-and-back side trail to Upper North Falls.
- Upon your return to the main trail, follow the Rim Trail, all the way back to the South Falls parking lot (making a slight detour out-and-back to the Winter Falls Trail).
And that’s really it!
If you, however, want a more thorough breakdown of the trail, here’s all the nitty gritty details in all their glory:
- Starting at the South Falls trailhead, you’ll follow the paved path and should see the South Falls Lodge on your right. You’ll eventually reach a gray paved circle- take the path to your left, which will lead you to the trailhead for the South Falls. It’s here you’ll find the handy map for the hike that you can grab a picture of with your phone.
- Head down the path and you’ll soon catch a glimpse of the stunning 177-feet South Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the entire park and the first one you can walk behind! Watch your step on the rocky path behind the trail- the smooth stones can get quite slippery amid all of the mist.
- You’ll continue along the Canyon Trail for 0.7 miles and make your way down a series of stairs to the Lower South Falls. This is the second waterfall you can hike behind and the trail really brings you up close and personal with the falls’ curtain. In fact, you may want to put your fancy camera away for this one- I got pretty soaked here!
- Keep trekking on the Canyon Trail for another 1.3 miles, where you’ll pass the Lower North Falls on your right hand side, across the North Fork Stream. Less than 0.1 miles from here, you’ll find a 0.1-mile spur trail to the tallest falls along this trail, Double Falls.
Once you’ve had your fill of craning your head up and gawking at this towering beauty, head back to the Canyon Trail and continue along for another 0.2 miles. On the right hand side, you’ll see a viewpoint to overlook Drake Falls, rushing in the North Fork Stream below.
- From here, it’s another 0.2-miles along the Canyon Trail to Middle North Falls, the third waterfall you can walk behind.
Unlike South and Lower South Falls, though, the trail itself does not continue on this path; while you can get an awesome view of Middle North and the surrounding basalt cliffs if you follow all the way behind and around the waterfall, you’ll need to retrace your steps back to the Canyon Trail to continue on the path (so you’ll have to walk behind the waterfall twice- how terrible!).
- In about another 0.1-mile along the Canyon Trail, you’ll reach a junction at a bridge, pointing towards the Winter Falls Trail. Instead, continue straight on the Canyon Trail- you’ll hit Winter Falls on the way back to your car!
In another 0.3 miles, you’ll hit both Twin Falls on your right and a sign, to the left, with arrows pointing to the South Falls, the North Falls Group Camp, the Twin Falls Trail, or the Canyon Trail (confused, yet?). If you’ve been paying attention, you can probably guess what we’re going to do- continue straight on the Canyon Trail. If you follow the sign to the Twin Falls Trail, you’ll actually just wind up in a parking lot!
- Another 1.1 miles on the Canyon Trail and you’ll see the second-most famous waterfall in the park and the final one you can walk behind, the North Falls. Along the trail, make sure to take in the scene behind the North Falls’ curtain- between the towering pine trees and the dramatic basalt cliffs, it’s kind of the quintessential Pacific Northwest landscape.
- We’re finally going to get off the Canyon Trail and follow the side trail out to Upper North Falls (0.6 miles out-and back).
- Head back to the main trail and follow the signs for the Rim Trail, which you’ll continue along for another 1.1 miles. On your right, you’ll see a sign for the Winter Falls– it’s about 0.5 miles out-and-back down into the canyon to see these falls.
If you’re visiting in the middle of summer or a particular dry period, you may consider skipping this one- it tends to dry up pretty quickly!
- Return back to the Rim Trail and follow it for about another mile, all the way back to the South Falls parking lot. Stop in the South Falls Lodge for a steaming cup of coffee or tea- you earned it!
Short on time? Don’t feel like hiking the whole thing? As mentioned above, the trail is the perfect build-your-own-adventure hike– it’s super easy to shorten so that a hiker of any level can still see some of the best falls.
Here are some options:
- For a hike that’s about 4.7 miles, you can start at the South Falls and follow the Canyon Trail clockwise, until you see the junction for the Winter Falls Trail on your right (almost immediately after you pass by Middle North Falls).
Once you see Winter Falls, you’ll just follow the loop all the way back along the Rim Trail. With this path, you’ll skip Twin, North, and Upper North Falls, but seven waterfalls (including three you can walk behind!) in under 5 miles is nothing to sneeze at!
- If you’re mainly interested in seeing the most impressive falls in the park, you can make the 1.0 mile out-and-back walk to the South Falls, repark your car by the North Falls, and walk the 0.5 miles out-and-back to North Falls. Honestly, these are some of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen in my life (and I have seen a LOT of waterfalls), so seeing these two alone would be 100% worth a visit, in my book.
- Really short on time? No matter what you do in Silver Falls, you gotta stop at the park’s most stunning showstopper, the South Falls. Accessible via a quick 1.0-mile loop trail (you’ll just loop back on the small viewing bridge in front of the falls), you really shouldn’t leave Silver Falls without seeing this beauty!
What to bring on the Trail of Ten Falls
Given the hike’s relatively short-length, there’s not a ton you need to pack, but here are a few things that will make your hike that much better:
- Raincoat: If you couldn’t tell from above, if I had to use two words to describe this trail, it would be “beautiful” and “wet.” Oregon’s weather is unpredictable and famously rainy, especially from October through April. Bring along a rainjacket (like this one for women and this one for men)- not only will it keep you dry in a surprise downpour, but you can always throw it on as an extra layer if the temperature drops unexpectedly.
- Reusable water bottle: While this trail isn’t overly challenging, you’ll still be exerting yourself plenty, climbing up the hike’s rolling hills and frolicking behind epic waterfalls- so you gotta stay hydrated! To be good to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international trips to road trips and yup, definitely hiking excursions.
- Hiking boots: Given how wet this part of Oregon is, the trail is incredibly muddy and traverses some rocky, slippery sections. As such, it’s definitely worth wearing a pair of actual waterproof hiking shoes, which provide better support and traction AND, more importantly, keep your feet toasty and dry. Check out these for women or these for men.
- Offline maps: Silver Falls State Park is located in a remote area of Oregon and cell phone coverage is spotty here, at best. I’d recommend downloading offline maps for the area in the Google Maps app before heading there to make sure you don’t get lost along the way.
Where to stay when visiting the Trail of Ten Falls
Looking for a place to stay during your visit to Silver Falls State Park? If rustic, woodsy vibes are your jam, consider booking a few nights at the Smith Creek Village, located in the park itself and offering a variety of cozy accommodations, like tiny cabins and cottages. Given the small number of individual rooms at Smith Creek, it books up WAY in advance, so be sure to make those reservations early!
If you’re looking for something a bit bougier (i.e, some of Smith Creek’s offerings do not come with en suite showers), consider staying instead in the lowkey city of Salem, with lots of breweries, some hipster-chic restaurants, and accommodations with showers in the room. The Grand Hotel in Salem has amazing customer service, an indoor pool, AND free breakfast and, while the Hampton Inn & Suites is just a regular ol’ chain, it has an eye popping 5 star rating on TripAdvisor with over 1,100 reviews!
For my RVing fam, Silver Falls has a great campground, with a variety of sites for both tent-campers and RVers, both with and without electrical and water hookups. Between the campsites surrounded by lush greenery and the affordable price tag ($28/night for a site with hookups), this is a fantastic spot to call your home for a couple of nights.
I hope you have the best time exploring the Trail of Ten Falls- in my opinion, it’s one of the best hikes in the Pacific Northwest! Do you have any tips about the trail to suggest? Let me know in the comments below!