Willamette Valley

7. Silver Falls Backcountry Loop by Matt Reeder

Distance: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Trailhead elevation: 1,363 feet
Trail high point: 2,374 feet
Season: all year (you may hit snow in winter)
Best: March – May, October - November
Map: follow the park map of the trail system
Pass: State Park Pass ($30 annual, $5 day, purchase on site)
Drivetime from Portland: 80 minutes

• From Portland, drive southeast on OR 213 for 30 miles towards Molalla and Silverton. Stay on OR 213, following signs for Silverton.
• In downtown Silverton, turn left on OR 214 and follow signs to Silver Falls State Park a total of 15.7 miles to a four-way junction signed for the South Falls Lodge.
• Turn left instead, onto a road signed for Overnight Facilities and the Campground.
• You will soon arrive at a fee booth. If you do not own the annual State Parks Pass, you can purchase a day pass for $5 at the fee booth.
• Continue straight to a T-junction. Turn left here, following signs for Overnight Facilities and the Conference Center.
• Drive 0.6 mile of paved road to a junction with a gravel road, signed for Howard Creek Horse Camp. Turn left here.
• Drive 0.1 mile to a turnoff for the Howard Creek Trailhead on your left.
• Turn left and drive into the trailhead, where you will find another fee booth should you still need to purchase a pass.

Everybody comes to Silver Falls State Park for the waterfalls. Can you blame them? Where else can you find 10 waterfalls in a narrow, verdant canyon so close to civilization? But the Silver Falls canyon is most definitely not off the beaten trail. Most people never visit the trails in the interior of the park, and
that’s a shame! While lacking in waterfalls, the interior of the park is home to impressive stands of ancient forest, woodland wildflowers, nice displays of fall color and the kind of solitude that really speaks to the heart. This lovely loop doesn’t go anywhere – there are no waterfalls, no views and no destination of note – but it does take you deep into the woods, into the solitary backcountry of the park. Even though you’ll
mostly be on abandoned logging roads, you will most definitely be off the beaten trail.

Begin at the Howard Creek Trailhead. From the signboard, walk straight to a junction and turn left. You’ll hike 0.6 mile (ignore signs for the horse camp, which just take you back to the trailhead) to a junction near Howard Creek signed for the Buck Mountain Loop. Turn left and begin hiking north until you reach another
junction at 1 mile. Turn right to stay on the Buck Mountain Loop and begin climbing up into the woods. The trail ascends into deep forest, passing occasional ancient trees that survived the logging prevalent in this area once upon a time. The forest is overwhelmingly green, but never more so than in early spring – the forest comes to life, glowing in the rebirth that spring brings. It will not surprise you to learn that this is an excellent hike on a rainy day.

Deep in the Silver Falls backcountry on a rainy day.

At 2.3 miles, 3.5 miles and 4.7 miles, you will reach junctions that may or may not be well-signed; in all three cases, keep right to continue this loop. You will reach the trail’s high point around the last of these junctions, where you may find snow in the winter months. Once you pass the third junction just after 4.7 miles, the trail begins a gradual descent to a junction at 5.4 miles. Here you keep right again and continue losing elevation to a junction with the Smith Creek Trail at 5.7 miles. Keep right yet again and drop down to a junction at 6.3 miles, where you are at last faced with a decision. The shortest way back to the trailhead would be to keep right again, staying on the Buck Mountain Loop to its end back near where you started; but the prettiest way is left, down into Smith Creek’s canyon. I recommend turning left on the Cutoff Trail. This short trail drops steeply down to a junction near a bridge over Smith Creek, just opposite the Silver Falls Conference Center. At 7.1 miles from the start of your hike, it’s not a bad idea to cross the bridge and
walk into the Conference Center, where you’ll find bathrooms, picnic tables…and people. If you’re not crossing the bridge, keep right here to stay on the loop. Continuing your hike, you’ll follow Howard Creek north, passing several enormous trees along the way, to a reunion with the Buck Mountain Loop at 8.5 miles. Keep left, cross a bridge over Howard Creek and reach a junction. Turn left and hike 0.7 mile to the Howard Creek Trailhead.