My wife Jessaca, sister in law Carly, and I embarked on this trip on May 5th, 2018. Silver Falls State park in the largest state park in Oregon and only about 60-90 minutes outside of Portland, its arguably the most impressive park in Oregon, so it fair to say it draws very large crowds. We did the hike about 1:30 PM on a sunny Saturday with temperatures in the low 70’s which were perfect for hiking weather. The spring season brings the snow melt and more water for the waterfalls. Easy to say we probably picked the best season but worst time to do it if wanting to avoid crowds, but most the visitors seem to view the falls you can drive to, so once on the trial the crowd’s tapper off and you can have a little piece of the woods to yourself.
We camped right inside the park at its only campground. We are ones more to ruffing it, but it’s nice to have a spot reserved you can drive up to, park and camp. It’s also nice being close to the falls. If you want to stay here on the weekend, leave this page now and go book a spot!! I booked our spot in March, I looked at every weekend throughout the summer is this was the last weekend and the very last spot they had until October!
The whole waterfall trial from what I have seen is about 8.7 miles. Some of the falls you can drive to, but there are 2 falls that if you drive to and will take off over 2 miles of the trial, giving you your most bang for your buck when it comes to hiking falls per mile. Friday night after setting up camp we decided make a quick evening walk to see those two and check them off the list. The drive over there takes a couple minutes, and there is a big parking lot. These two falls are North Falls and Upper North Falls (by the way, they are not very creative in naming any of the falls in this park). To see both these falls you only have to walk about a half a mile in total. There are maps everywhere around the park, both in signage and paper maps to take, so you’ll be able to grab these and see exactly what place I am referring too and where to go. Friday evening was a great time for a stroll, as not many people were out on the trial, we had both waterfalls to ourselves. Dogs are allowed on the trial to upper north falls, so we took this opportunity to get her out for a walk. Also, dogs are not allowed in most of the park including the main waterfall trial. There are many outback trials and even a dog park they can go too, but if you were planning on only taking your dog on the waterfall walk, then leave them at home.
Normally I like to get up early for waterfall shots for the best lighting, and anyone would of course highly recommend it (I’ll talk about that more at the end), but my desire to sleep in this day was overpowering. The camp ground is very close to the main parking lot at the head of the trial, so we walked over there. After getting to the parking lot, I’m glad I did, the parking lot was completely full as cars drove in circles hunting for an open spot. South falls is the first one you will come to right as you start the hike. Lots of great vantage points and this is one you can walk behind.
After working your way behind South Falls, it’s about a ¾ mile hike via the Canyon trail before getting to Lower south falls (I said they are not creative on their names at all). This waterfall you can also walk behind, and will still have a ton of people since it’s a short hike. Since I did not do what most photographers do and go early, I had to photoshop about 8 people out of my shots. I would say this was my favorite falls though, as my wife Jessaca would say “it’s got a lot going for it, its big, it’s got great symmetry, its wide, and it hits a rock wall at the bottom giving it more contrast” and I agree!
Since there are so many falls over a short distance, the next waterfall on your adventure will be Lower North Falls. Technically when we went, there was a waterfall I noticed off the side of the trial that does not have a name and is not recognized as a waterfall of the park. I’m guessing its very seasonal, and since its small in comparison to the rest, no one is impressed by it, but I really liked it, so I snapped it.
Back on to the journey to Lower North Falls. Here we stopped for some lunch and just sat back and enjoyed the view and the smaller amount of people. This one would of paid off for seeing it early when lighting is the best, it’s in a fairly open area so I got a lot of glare from it.
Here there is a side trail over to Double falls, I have heard this one dries up in the late summer and fall, but the trial is about 100 feet long, so take the short walk up there and see if its running. This one you can also just walk right up too. Being a popular state park, most the falls are hard get close to as I’m sure they want to protect the natural resources. This fall you can walk around in the water and cool off, perfect for a hot summer day. Yes, it is called double falls because there are two falls. The first fall is way up on the cliff you really have to look up for, it was hard to include in the shot I wanted so its not shown in my picture, but it’s there.
Again, the walks between falls are short, so the next one is just about a half a mile that will bring you to Drake Falls. This is one that does not have a great vantage point for photography and you can’t go off trial. The viewing platform is small, so we just spent a few minutes here and moved on to allow others to see it.
Now this one was another one of my favorites. There will be sign taking you off the main trail to Middle North Falls. Another one you can walk behind. This one was great for photography as the shading was great, and this is probably one of the farthest back on the trial with little crowds. I didn’t see many other photographers the whole time (probably because they are smart and go on an early morning weekday), but here there were a couple others since this one was so photogenic. I was able to get several shots with no people in them. Here is one though with my wife and sister in law having fun. The trial takes you behind the fall and around to the other side (this is where the photo was taken. We were a little confused a first because it looked like that trial keeps going somewhere, but it does dead end around the corner, it’s just used to get to the other side of the falls. You will turn around and go back to the main trial to keep going. I also included a second photo of this one because I thought how interesting it was that it looks like a completely different waterfall from a side angle.
A little ways up the trial you will come to a junction with the trial going forward, and a bridge that will cross the river. This is where that cut off is if you don’t want to add on the 2 extra miles to see North Falls and Upper North Falls(the ones you can drive to) There is however a waterfall 0.3 miles up that trial called twin falls, so we hiked up there and back to see it. This was probably my least favorite fall, but again, just a short stroll to see it, so might as well. If you are going to say you hiked The Trial of 10 Falls, you better see all 10, so it’s worth the walk up there.
Turning around back to the bridge and crossing it this time will lead you to the last fall of this trip, Winter falls. There is a Parking lot near this falls as well so you can drive to it, and the crowds were back.
You’ve probably taken some waterfall pics before so I won’t be one of those blogs that tells you bring a tripod and go to manual mode blah, blah blah, hopefully you know that. What I wanted to mostly share is how surprised I was that I was able to get shots on the busiest day possible, worst time of day and worst lighting conditions. Normally a bright sunny day will just give you too much light and not allow for long exposure shots, and give you all sorts of glare or over exposed shots if you are looking for the silky-smooth water, but most the waterfalls are in deep canyons with large shaded tree cover, I was presently delighted of the amount of light it filtered. I just had a UV filter, but I did not have to use a ND filter, and I could always get longer than 0.3”, and even up to a 0.8” exposure sometimes. I mostly used 0.5” exposure time and aperture anywhere between f/11-18. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s always better to go early in the morning, or in the evening for best lighting and limited crowds anywhere you go, but also don’t leave the camera at home if you decide to do a mid-Saturday hike either, its great all around. Since I was fighting crowds, taking the time to block the trial by setting up a tripod was a little hard sometimes, so another tip I used was using surrounding items to get a good steady base. Many of the falls have this wood fence around them, and the fence posts are flat on top that I could just set the camera on for a good solid base and use the 2 second delay. If there was no fence, I also held the camera as best I could up against a tree for a steady shot. There were also several times I could use a tripod, so I also had it attached to my camera ready to go at all times, and when I saw a good shot, and I good opening in the trial or no people around, a could quickly set it up, grab the picture and continue on. Sunday morning, I got up early, and went for a solo walk back to the main parking lot and snapped some shots again at South Falls. At 8 AM, there were a couple trail runners passing by, and one other guy out taking pictures. I knew that the morning hours would be slower, but it was a ghost town compared to just the day before! So just proving my point about how much of your timing can make a difference here. The soft lighting was amazing! Here is another shot of South Falls during the golden hour.
Thanks for reading. As someone fairly new to photography, I love researching others photo techniques before I visit a new place to be prepared and have some tips in mind, so I hope some of this was helpful. If you have anything to add or any questions, concerns, comments or complaints, please share in the comments below.