Oregon is known for its out-of-this-world natural beauty. Whether exploring its amazing coastline or trendy towns, the state is a true travel gem. However, for those hikers out there, today’s guest contributor, Ann Randall is taking us hiking inside the crown jewel of the state’s park system: Silver Falls State Park.
Silver Falls State Park in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is both waterfall and historical architecture nirvana. Ten cascading falls can be found on its scenic Trail of Ten Falls that winds through part of the park’s 9,065 acres. Half of the falls are over 100 feet high with a trail that meanders behind four of them to give hikers a backside view of the cascade and mossy grottos created by the force and heavy spray. The park also contains two Historic Districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its examples of Rustic Style architecture – the Silver Falls State Park Concession Building Area and Silver Creek Youth Camp.
As the largest of Oregon’s 361 state parks, Silver Falls owes its existence to the advocacy of a dedicated local photographer, a U.S President, the labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps and handicraft skills of the Works Progress Administration. In the late 1800’s the site was once the location of Silver Falls City, an ambitiously named small town consisting of a hotel, three stores, a church, dancehall, tavern and about 200 residents.
Beginning in 1900, June Drake, a local resident, used his photos of the ten waterfalls to begin a 33- year lobbying effort to convince the local Chamber of Commerce that the area’s unique proximity of the ten falls should be preserved in a park. In 1933 the land was dedicated as a state park. However, two years later, President Franklin D Roosevelt declared the property a Recreational Demonstration Area – a project intended to showcase federal land acquisition, its development for recreational purposes and transfer back to state governments.
Silver Falls was one of two Recreation Demonstration Areas on the west coast and one of 46 public parks in the nation expanded and developed under the federal initiative. In 1935 over 200 unemployed young men and women, hired under the back to work programs of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration, were dispatched to Silver Falls to construct buildings, trails, rock walls and bridges and to replant trees. In 1947 the park was transferred back to the State of Oregon with another 5000 acres added to the park’s boundaries.
The Silver Falls State Park structures erected during the seven years of CCC and WPA construction were built in Rustic Style, an architectural designation introduced by the National Park Service in the 1930’s for all its newly built parks. Emphasizing the use of local materials, handicraft work and harmony with the natural environment, the expansive park has over 43 examples of Rustic Architecture structures. Forty of them are found in Camp Silver Creek, one of the two youth camps built during the period. Today it provides group overnight facilities with a recreation hall, craft and dining.
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Forty of them are found in Camp Silver Creek, one of the two youth camps built during the period. Today it provides group overnight facilities with a recreation hall, craft and dining halls and cabins. Most park visitors, however, see the preserved architectural examples in the park’s historic Concession Building Area – in particular, the South Falls Lodge, the Nature Store gift shop and the Combination Building, a shelter and kitchen for day use.
The moderate 8.7 mile Trail of Ten Falls which runs along the banks of Silver Creek can be completed in sections for anyone not wanting to hike the entire distance. The park has an additional fifteen miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of horse trails and a 4- mile bike path for fitness buffs. Sturdy shoes are recommended for any hiking, particularly to see the waterfalls. The trails can be wet and there’s some elevation loss and gain to the Trail of Ten Falls.
For avid birdwatchers, the park is located on the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail. Its low elevation, old growth conifer forest (a piece of the last remaining temperate rain forest in North America), provides a home for five varieties of owls, two types of grouse and seven other indigenous bird species.
The Friends of Silver Falls organization maintains a robust interpretive program consisting of walks and presentations about the park’s history, flora and fauna as well as staffing the Nature Store. Additionally, the park sponsors public events including Historic Silver Falls Day and the Christmas Festival.
The park has a variety of year-round and seasonal accommodations and day-use and group facilities ranging from electrical hookup and tent sites to rustic cabins and dormitories. It also has primitive camp sites at its Howard Creek Horse Camp.
Silver Falls State Park is located twenty miles southeast of Salem and about 90 minutes south of Portland. For those who prefer to take advantage of the park’s day-use opportunities, but not the overnight accommodations, it’s a half hour drive to the charming town of Silverton with restaurants, B&B’s and art galleries.
Disclosure: Ann’s visit to Silver Falls State Park was sponsored by Travel Salem.
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