Silver Falls State Park gets the Gold!

Have you visited – or heard of – Silver Falls State Park in Oregon’s Central Cascades? 

Upper North Falls
Upper North Falls

It is the best State Park we have visited recently – located in Central Oregon.  

A gem!

South Falls

While we are hosting here at Milo McIver State Park we talk to park guests about their camp travels & the parks they enjoy.

Guests here at Milo McIver frequently mention Silver Falls as their favorite –

After our visit I understand their passion!

Silver Falls is located in the Central Cascades here in Oregon – about 45 miles southeast of Portland, “as the crow flies.”  It is the crown jewel of the Oregon State Park system – 9000 acres of parkland offering 10 easily accessible water falls – on a circular trail – as well as other waterfalls accessed via various trails in the park.  It was an easy 1 hour-ish drive from Milo Mc.  We were lucky to score a rental cabin in the park for a one night stay.  Cabins are booked for months ahead of time – we got a last-minute cancellation.  Yeah!

BYOB (bedding, that is..)
BYOB (bedding, that is..)

  On the easily-accessed “Trail of Ten” your 8 mile hike provides views 10 great falls.  The falls include:

Middle North Falls
Middle North Falls
Distant North Falls
Lower 1 of 2 at Double Falls

Silver Falls City was formed in 1888 – primarily a logging  community with a few homesteaders –

the area was extensively logged.


No sign of logging here…

Silver Falls City was an early center for logging and some fairly unsuccessful homestead farming. Future US President Herbert Hoover surveyed some of the land here while serving as a young engineer.   By 1900, June Drake, a local Silverton photographer, began pushing for park status. His early photographs of the falls have become classics

June Drake early Photo

An inspector for the National Park Service rejected the area for national park status in 1926, however, because logging had scarred the area with “thousands of stumps that from a distance look like so many dark headstones.”  Since then the forest has regrown so that most visitors do not even notice that the area was once logged.

Or here...
Logging where?

After that, the private owner of South Falls charged admission to let people watch as he floated derelict cars over the falls. In 1928 a paying audience watched daredevil Al Faussett canoe over 177-foot South Falls.  Owner Daniel Geisler of Silverton agreed to allow Faussett’s stunt under one condition – Al would have to own the property when he did it, so that Geisler couldn’t be held liable (even back then, liability rules!) To that end, they drew up a contract under which Al would own Silver Falls for one day, on which he’d do his stunt.

Al Faussett (center) gets some help from his manager Keith McCullough (left) and an unknown person as Faussett prepared to go over Silver Falls in Sil...
Al Faussett – Early Evil Knievel

To make it work, Al and his partner dammed up Silver Creek at the top and rigged a chute to push Al’s boat out over the rocky lip. Then they rigged a cable that would guide the boat into that pint-size splash pool so it wouldn’t end up lighting on the rocks instead.

Waterfall Diving & Driving

On the big day, thousands of spectators were there to watch, and soon they started getting restless; it seemed like they’d been waiting a long time. One spectator, Bryan Gordon of Silverton, said he went to investigate and found Faussett “sitting in the canoe bracing himself with spirits for the ordeal ahead, for which you could not blame him.”  Booze & Waterfall Diving & Driving- never a good combination.


In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that Silver Falls would be one of his largest Recreational Demonstration Projects (RDPs).  The 1930s and early 1940s saw forty-six RDPs established in twenty-four states on 397,000 acres – mostly near urban areas in the Untied States.

Drake Falls
UNK Falls

The National Park Service purchased private land, employing employed young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps to develop park facilities.  Since that time, all RDPs have become Federal or State Parks, to include Custer State Park, Badlands & Shenandoah National Park among others.

Civilian Conservation Corps handiwork

All waterfalls in the park spill over 15-million-year-old Columbia River basalt. At that time the Columbia River flowed through this area to the sea at what is now Newport. Repeated lava flows poured down the river channel from vents in Eastern Oregon, gradually pushing the river northward. As the lava slowly cooled, it sometimes fractured to form the honeycomb of columns visible on cliff edges.

Walk Behind the Falls
Walk Behind the Falls

One unique feature of the Park is the numerous tree chimneys near the waterfalls – these were formed when hot lava engulfed living trees and disintegrated them.  The tree chimneys may be found on the walkways behind a few of the waterfalls. Formed by the softer layers of  sandstone beneath the basalt sheet which eroded over time, pathways were created behind some of the waterfalls and widened by the Civilian Conservation Corps workers to make safe for public use.

Not mini-person behind falls
North Falls – Note mini-person behind falls


For more than 20 years, Drake crusaded to have the falls and surrounding areas preserved as a park. Because of his efforts, some people have referred to him as the Father of Silver Falls State Park.  Thanks, Mr. Drake!


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