I like the concept of hiking. Being in nature, seeing flowers, trees, and the occasional animal is wonderful and I am a huge fan, but I am not such a fan of the hard work it often takes to get there. Uneven trails where you have to watch your feet more than the view. and steep climbs and descents are not fun for me, and I know enough about myself now to understand that I will never be a person who hikes for the sake of hiking. For me, it’s all about getting to the place to see the pretty thing, and knowing that about myself I am careful about which hikes I choose, and always judge them in the end on whether or not it was worth it. I should also mention that because I don’t feel I can really trust most online reviews (my level of difficulty scale is usually much higher than others), I mainly stick with shorter hikes and Lee lets me plan the hikes because his physical limits are greater than mine.
This year I feel a little differently. After tracking our steps at Amazon over the holidays and consistently walking 10 miles in a 10 hour shift, I thought I felt like I could tackle some longer ones. I was a little disheartened in Utah because walking on uneven ground is NOT the same as walking on a concrete floor. Still, when I heard about an 8 mile loop that contained numerous waterfalls I knew I had to go and try. After looking at the map, and reading about the trails online, I thought the best bet would be to tent camp in the state park and split the loop into two separate days. Not only would this allow us to see all of the falls, it also gave us an opportunity to leave the Timothy Lake area and get some much needed job separation.
Lee was pretty great about the whole thing. The burden of prepping all the gear fell on him and since he only had a couple of days to get that done, he worked on it late into the evening. I was left with figuring out what we would eat, but since we have access to free ice up here, I was able to use a cooler to give us more variety. So Monday night we were packed up and ready to go and then on Tuesday we left work early and headed towards Silver Falls State Park. It was a beautiful drive and a bright and sunny day and ultimately we arrived at the campground at 2pm. Since our site was open, we went ahead and set up our tent and then went up to the kiosk at 3pm for formal check-in.
I was a little disappointed that the campground wasn’t near any of the waterfalls, but I will say that it was incredibly neat and the bathrooms were super clean. The sites had nice separation with foliage and trees, and even though it was completely full while we were there it never felt crowded. We were in the tent area which is $19 a night, but the campground also has numerous large RV sites with electric for $29, which is a huge bargain. The best part is the camping fees also included Day Use, so we didn’t have to pay the additional $5 to go explore. Since it was only 4pm when we were all set up, we jumped in the car and drove across the street to the South Falls Day Use area. This is by far the largest day use I have ever seen and shows the popularity of the park.
The South Falls Day Use has restrooms, a cafe, a lodge, and nature store. It also has beautifully paved paths that lead to views of the South Falls, which are wheelchair and dog friendly. We walked along a relatively short path checking out the buildings, and then we got our first views of a waterfall.
After seeing the falls from the overlook we went back to our campsite and made some hamburgers and ate some potato salad. Then we had a nice campfire and snuggled in for the night. As soon as the sun went down it started getting pretty cold, but we hoped it would be OK, even though our sleeping bags aren’t rated for extremely cold weather. It was pretty chilly though (I learned later it got down to 44 degrees), and at 3am I was wide awake and very cold. I went outside as quietly as I could and managed to start a good fire in the dark, and as I was thinking about whether I should make coffee or not, I heard some animals fighting in the bushes behind us. I turned on my flashlight and walked around a bit and saw a potato salad container on the ground that had been eaten. When I flashed the light at our cooler, and saw that our piece of wood was still on it, I immediately thought “Who was the idiot that left food out.” Then I flashed the light under the picnic table and saw a HUGE raccoon, just staring at me. I whispered “Git!” to it a couple of times and it nonchalantly wandered off, but he made it clear that I was not the boss of him. When I started hearing more rustling in the woods, I thought “Screw this,” and went back inside the tent and tried to go back to sleep.
The next morning we were both up pretty early and it was cold! We started a fire, but this one seemed to take forever to generate any warmth and while we were waiting I told Lee about the potato salad container. He looked in the cooler (which still had the wood on it) and said, “Yup that was ours.” I immediately felt bad, because I know better than to leave an accessible cooler out and felt even worse because I was the idiot! We secured the cooler and then decided we might as well get up and start hiking because it would start the blood flowing, so by 8:30 am we were parked at the North Arm trailhead. This trailhead has a much smaller parking lot, but I wanted to start there because that half of the loop had more waterfalls than the southern half. Plus I was hoping we would avoid the crowds by starting at a less crowded place, and that is exactly what happened. We only saw two other couples for the first half of our hike and had the place all to ourselves. I really can’t adequately describe how magical it was, so let me show you with a picture tour.
Those of you who have been reading for awhile, know I am a self-proclaimed waterfall junkie. So it definitely means something, when I tell you that North Falls is my new favorite waterfall. I have seen bigger ones, and wider ones, but I have never experienced anything quite like this fall. I absolutely loved it and because the path continues through the cave and out the other side, we got to take pictures from all angles.
Around the time we got to the sign for Middle North Falls, we started seeing people along the trails walking in the opposite direction. There were several school groups on the trails, but thankfully most of those we passed quickly. We also starting seeing smaller groups of people who we ran into later in the day. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful, which was a good thing, because my one complaint about the hike was the signs were a bit confusing. Thankfully I had my paper map with me and I referred to it often. A couple of times I even had to ask people coming the other direction for assistance, which was kind of strange since it is just one big loop. Well really it’s not so much a loop as more like a figure 8 and in a couple of spots two different trails ran close together and we weren’t sure which path to take. But like I said people were super friendly and we enjoyed meeting people throughout the day. Generally we don’t talk to people much when we are hiking, but the waterfall stops really encouraged people to talk to one another. Plus lots of us were willing to take pictures for each other.
In the same small area there were three of the smaller falls, and although the views were less spectacular it was still neat that so many were together. At this point we had a decision. We could turn around and walk back to North Arm, leaving the rest of the loop for the next day or we could continue. Since it was still pretty early (around 10:30am I think), we decided to press on and then stop at the cafe at South Falls before heading back. My major concern was that the other loop had several long sections with no waterfalls, but since the morning had gone so well, I was game and we kept going.
After the Lower South Falls though there was a series of very steep steps. Those were a killer, especially because we still had a ways to go, but we took our time and I made it up them. Then we had another half mile or so to reach the South Falls we had seen the day before. This time we walked behind them and then walked up the hill to the upper level.
At this point we were both very tired, but when I saw a sign to Frenchie Falls I had to check it out. I had read that the most marriage proposals in the park happened at this location and since it was only a tenth of a mile away I headed down the trail. Lee wasn’t crazy about the idea but he humored me, and we were both disappointed when we saw the falls had been blocked off and we couldn’t see them at all. At that point he said “lunch!”, and I really needed to go to the bathroom (there are none along the trails) so we headed to the cafe and ended up having a pretty good lunch. Lee got a pannini and I had a chicken Caesar Salad. We had gone 5.2 miles at this point and it was great to just sit down inside and rest for a minute.
After lunch we headed out, really dreading the 2 mile hike along the Rim Trail back to the car. I was hopeful that we would see at least one waterfall along the way, but the hike down to the Winter Falls was extremely steep and neither of us had that in us. The Rim Trail was extremely well-maintained, but dogs were allowed and since the bike trail ran in parallel occasionally bikers were on the trail as well. Plus despite having been told it was a level trail, we found the ups and downs a bit exhausting. A big part of that was how tired we were, but it definitely wasn’t flat. It was lush though and when we got near the parking lot we caught a glimpse of the North Falls which cheered me up. By the end of the hike we had gone 8.3 miles, which was by far the longest hike we have ever taken.
At this point it was only 3:15pm, and we started talking about what to do with the rest of the day. We could spend another cold night and then hike the Upper North Falls and Winter Falls the next day or we could strike the tent and head to Eugene and have dinner with our friends. We had last seen Jim and Georgia in Campbellsville, KY as they were headed out on their own adventure. They had decided that they wanted to live on the West Coast and had quit their jobs and headed that way. After some traveling, they ultimately landed jobs in Eugene, Oregon managing a very nice 55+ community. They had been there about two months and we hadn’t had a chance to see them yet, and since we were more than halfway there, decided to check with them and see if they could meet us spur of the moment. Georgia said , “Of course!” (she’s awesome like that) and we had a great time seeing their place and then going to dinner. Their job has a lot of similarities to running a campground, and we spent some time talking about what it is like to live where you work.
It was a great day and even though we got home at 11pm, we were glad to have done everything we did. And as an added bonus we told the park ranger that we were leaving so they were free to rent out the site and we ended up getting a refund for the second night. We certainly didn’t expect that, and she must have done it manually, and it was extremely nice of her. It was a perfect cap to a wonderful stay and makes Silver Falls State Park the best state park we have ever stayed in.
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