Hiking as a family: How to break down Oregon’s legendary Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park

Yes, hiking 7 miles of waterfalls can be kid friendly!

Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park offers a hiking trail that can take in 10 waterfalls. But the total length of the Trail of Ten Falls is also a whopping 7 miles long. Hiking as a family, that can be a lot to do in one go. Maybe some families can manage. But not ours. Possibly not yours. And that is okay.

Hiking that much in one day is a lot to ask any family. When you add in that the trails can go up and down into and out of river canyons, and sometimes the trails can be slippery, 7 miles can simply be too much. It’s better to have shorter, more enjoyable experiences than a tired-out slog that turns into a family-wide grumpfest.

When hiking as a family with children, the key is having a good time, enjoying nature and being fully present in the moment, your surroundings, and above all, one another. The waterfall trails at Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park actually really enable this. Your focus narrows to the trail, the forest, the canyon walls around you, and the whisper-thunder of the waterfalls. Even better is that you don’t have to tackle the entire trail at once. The wonderful thing about the Trail of Ten Falls? It can be broken up into segments. Each shorter hike can pack in a few falls.

Below we’ll get into our recommendations for the 3 smaller hikes you can break the Trail of Ten Falls into.

Things to consider when hiking waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park with kids

Silver Falls State Park is open year-round. That said, there are some important things to keep in mind when visiting and hiking as a family:

Always pack rain jackets.

Nestled in the western slopes of the foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, Silver Falls State Park can be prone to rain. Even if it’s not raining, some of the trails run close to the waterfalls, so the air gets pretty misty and damp. If you walk behind the waterfalls, there’s a good chance you can get wet. Getting wet, of course, can lead to chills and grumpy misery. Always pack some rain shells and warm layers.

Expect to be offline.

While you might get cell signal in some parts of Silver Falls State Park, signal can be unreliable at best. If you plan on using any mapping apps or other resources, download everything you need before you head to the park. Expect to be offline inside of Silver Falls State Park, especially when hiking the trail itself.

The cafe is reasonably priced, has good food and drink, and is downright beautiful.

We have visited and hiked around Silver Falls State Park in mid-December and early February. The on-site cafe, conveniently located in a historic log building on the way to South Falls, has a reasonably priced menu. (The grilled cheese was excellent, as was the tomato soup we adults enjoyed after a chilly day’s hike.) The roaring fireplace warms you up just as quickly as the food. Also don’t miss the back rooms. Nature exhibits of local flora and fauna are both fascinating and can start in-depth family discussions.

Winter and spring are best for water flow.

Rain and snowmelt feed these falls. The tricky thing about hiking Oregon waterfalls? The seasons when the hiking can be easiest are the seasons where the water flow is the lowest. If experiencing these Oregon waterfalls at their fullest is your biggest priority, then hiking the waterfall trails in winter and spring offers your best chances for maximum water flow and volume.

Western Oregon overall has moderate, temperate winters that veer more rainy than snowy. That helps Silver Falls be approachable at any time of year.

Summer has the most reliable clear and sunny weather, but water flow can be lower.

Whether preference, schedule, school breaks, or other factors, summer simply can be the easiest time of year to get to Silver Falls State Park. You’re more likely to get sunshine, or at least cloudy weather that doesn’t come paired with rain. While many of the waterfalls will still have powerful flow, expect the volume to be less dramatic and impressive. Some falls are seasonal (such as Winter Falls), and during summer may not be flowing at all.

The biggest downside of summer hiking, unfortunately, can be the wildfires that have become part of Oregon summer. (In 2020, a fire even got close to Silver Falls State Park.) When planning a summer visit to the area, keep an eye on air quality and wildfire reports.

Breaking down the Trail of Ten Falls

Break this down not by days, but by hike segments. If you want to take on multiple segments in one day, have at it. For example, instead of doing South Falls first, use North Falls and Upper North Falls as a warmup for your waterfall walk-behind. If your family is game for longer hikes, you can combine trail segments and waterfalls as well. Here’s how we like to hike with kids at Silver Falls State Park:

Hike 1, Walk behind a waterfall at world-famous South Falls

When it comes to hiking with kids, especially if there will be multiple days of hiking, it helps to start with a quick win. And it’s harder to get a quicker win than the 1.5-mile round-trip hike to South Falls. Here, you’ll walk behind a world-famous waterfall, cross a lovely little bridge, and go up and down a river canyon.

From the parking lot at the South Falls Day Use Area (there’s a machine where you can pay your parking fee, and a kiosk where you can pick up a free park and trails map), you can get off to a pretty easy start. A paved path winds along the various historic buildings in this forested, grassy part of the park, such as the restaurant and gift shop. Not only does this help everyone get ready for the hike ahead, but families can also take a pre-hike toilet break.

Near the end of the paved path, your first stop is the South Falls Viewpoint. This elevated overlook gives you a fall-to-plunge full look at the glory of South Falls. Turning toward Canyon Trail, you can switchback down an overall gentle grade, toward where you go behind South Falls itself.

Once you pass beneath and emerge from the other side of the eroded basalt enclave, the trail continues along the other side of the falls, so you can observe from multiple angles. A scenic wooden bridge crosses South Fork Silver Creek, taking you on your return path back to the paved trail you came from (albeit uphill), or you can evaluate branching off onto other trails for additional waterfalls.

Optional onward hiking as a family for more waterfalls

Instead of crossing the bridge, you can continue on Canyon Trail for about another mile to reach Lower South Falls. From Lower South Falls, you have the option to continue on Canyon Trail and take in the other waterfalls. It’ll be about 1.4 miles to Lower North Falls and Double Falls. Or, turn around at Lower South Falls and head back to the bridge near South Falls, then head back up the way you came.

Hike 2, Go north to North Falls and Upper North Falls

After getting a big win, next go for some short wins. From one parking lot, you can visit two waterfalls.

North Falls is a short hike along a canyon wall, with a fenced trail that offers a lot of assurance for parents while still maintaining a good view. North Falls is less up close and personal than some of the other waterfalls, but the overlook makes up for it. Back at a junction of the trail, head to Upper North Falls for a slightly more strenuous walk to a dramatic waterfall with a large plunge pool at the bottom. It’s a great way for the kids to romp around the edge a little too.

These shorter hikes are especially great with infants in a carrier, or toddlers who have more limited endurance in their chubby little walking legs. You’ll get two dramatic waterfalls in less overall distance than other falls. When Anthony first took a toddler Connor here, North Falls and Upper North Falls were a perfect morning intro to the park. Then they took a break for a snack at a picnic table in the South Falls Day Use Area, before tackling South Falls itself.

Hike 3, At least four falls in one go (including one you can walk behind)!

The Winter Falls Trailhead is your gateway to some incredible waterfall viewing, not to mention serene forested river canyon hiking.

Winter Falls

Depending on conditions and time of year, seasonal Winter Falls might or might not be flowing, but either way, the trailhead parking lot is open. Just off the parking lot you can see where the stream tumbles over the cliff and cascades down to a small pool below. You’ll walk down a sloping trail that levels off near the water flow of the stream and river. Trees line the deep canyon, and don’t be shy about using occasional benches for snack breaks and a wee sit-down.

From where the Winter Falls trail crosses the creek, your next 4 waterfalls—Middle North Falls, Drake Falls, Lower North Falls, and Double Falls—are all within about a half-mile stretch. This trail also takes in what is possibly our favorite waterfall—and yes, we’re saying we like it even more than South Falls!

Middle North Falls

What Middle North Falls lacks in the name, it makes up for with one of our favorite waterfalls in the entire state of Oregon.

About 0.2 miles from the creek crossing, when you reach the fork to the short spur trail for Middle North Falls, take it. You’ll be treated with not only an incredible walk-behind waterfall, but more as you look out over the rocks and the rippling flow of North Fork Silver Creek. The cascade here tumbles down in different ways, some straight down, and others down hollowed-out stone slides. The scooped out black rock has an extra drama here.

Once you’ve marveled at the cascade before you and cross what feels like a three-sided cave, you can continue on along a curved trail for another few hundred yards before a caution sign marks your turnaround point. Being behind Middle North Falls is just open enough to keep you feeling and seeing the daylight, yet tucked in enough to feel a little closed off from the wider world.

We enjoy South Falls. The high, 177-foot plunge is breathtaking. The walk-behind trail drips not only with water, but sheer magic and wonder. But Middle North Falls is more up close, personal, and thundering. Plus, there’s a decent chance you’ll have it all to yourselves. It’s our favorite waterfall in the entire park.

Drake Falls

Not far from the turnoff for Middle North Falls, the creek bed descends. You’ll observe smaller, fanned-out Drake Falls from a distance, looking down from a wooden overlook. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely tumble down to a broad pool of deep green water.

If you or your kids are simply done, Drake Falls makes a good rest break and turnaround point too.

Lower North Falls and Double Falls

However, if the family is up for it, your last two falls are about 0.2–0.3 mile onward. Just remember that from here, you’ll want to make sure everyone has energy for the return hike back to the Winter Falls Trailhead parking lot.

In all honesty, Lower North Falls is pretty, but the short, wide span isn’t necessarily anything special. The dual drops of Double Falls make up for it though. Not only does the two-tiered fall mean double the plunge pools to check out, the top tier powers down at a different angle than the lower tier.

Optional: Twin Falls

As you make your way along the first stretch of Winter Falls Trail, cross the North Fork Silver Creek and reach a choice. Turning left takes you to the waterfalls we just discussed. However, you have an option. Either when you’re starting out, or if you feel up to it as you come back, you can also turn toward a 0.3-mile bit of trail that leads to the side-by-side double cascade of Twin Falls.

Or, if this turns out to be a circumstance where you’ve had to, ahem, adjust your expectations while hiking as a family, heading to Twin Falls and back can be a shorter hike that still gets you a decent stretch on the trail, while taking in at least one waterfall (depending on whether or not Winter Falls is flowing). However, even if you are heading to Twin Falls, we would recommend at least pushing on to Middle North Falls, as it’s only about 0.2 miles from the creek crossing.

Where to stay for Silver Falls State Park

Inside of Silver Falls State Park itself, you have two main options:

  1. Camp at the park campground
  2. Book a cabin at Smith Creek Village. We’ve stayed here before, and the cabins and grounds are lovely. Here’s our review and experience staying at Smith Creek Village

When hiking as a family, we have loved staying close to Silver Falls State Park. From Smith Creek Village, trailheads and day-use areas are within a few minutes’ drive of your cabin’s front door.

The park is only about 30 minutes east of the lovely town of Silverton. Oregon’s capitol, Salem, is about an hour west of Silver Falls. We’ve also stayed at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton and love its proximity to the park as well. Check out the map above for other accommodation ideas.

Yes, you and your kids can hike all 10 waterfalls… a few at a time!

Our family does not pretend to be highfalutin endurance hikers. Plus, Jodie hikes while wearing a prosthetic leg. The slopes and uneven terrain at Silver Falls make the full Trail of Ten Falls a pretty tall order. When hiking as a family, we prefer to break things down into more manageable chunks. We use our energy better, and everyone stays in a better mood.

Hiking the Trail of Ten Falls doesn’t have to be done in one shot. There are many ways to make it more manageable for you and your children. The walk-behind South Falls and Middle North Falls are a bare minimum when hiking as a family here. When you can add on multiple falls, you can look forward to many hikes full of awe.

Silver Falls State Park truly is a gem of Oregon’s State Parks system. Experience the falls in the way you want. (And have an even better time hiking as a family.) Break up the Trail of Ten Falls into a few shorter hikes that you can all enjoy together!

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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