South Falls is the tallest waterfall in Silver Falls State Park, dropping a spectacular 177 feet off a basalt shelf. South Falls can be visited (along with nine other waterfalls) on the park’s great loop, the Trail of Ten Falls. When this 7.9-mile loop is too much, a 1.1-mile lollipop loop can be hiked to visit South Falls on its own. The short hike has 200 feet of elevation change. Start from South Falls Day Use Area, visit a viewpoint at the brink of the falls, make your way behind the waterfall, and cross a downstream bridge for great views of Silver Falls State Park’s most beloved jewel and one of Oregon’s most recognizable waterfalls.
Set out from the large parking lot at the Silver Fall Day Use Area. Pass a bathroom and take a brick path alongside South Falls Lodge (or pop inside to take a look). The lodge and the Trail of Ten Falls were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Projects Administration between 1935 and 1942. A panel along the trail explains that the CCC and WPA workers completed 88 projects to built the long-standing infrastructure of Silver Falls State Park, which you can admire over the course of the hike.
A level 0.15 miles of hiking leads to a prominent trail junction at a spot called the Stone Circle. Follow signs for South Falls and turn left. It won’t be too long until you come to another junction where Maple Ridge Trail parts to the right. Stay to the left toward South Falls.
The forest opens up as you approach South Falls Viewpoint. Step out on the cliffs alongside South Falls. You are standing beside the brink of South Falls where the peacefully-flowing South Fork of Silver Creek suddenly plunges 177 feet into the canyon below. Watch mist rise from the waterfall, providing moisture for the mossy trees below.
South Falls Viewpoint is a quarter mile from the parking area over level terrain. To get better views of the single-drop waterfall, continue down Canyon Trail, which descends to the right.
Canyon Trail eases down the bluff, buckling to the left around a switchback. This turn lines you up for head-on views of South Falls.
Come to a junction on the side of the canyon where the short loop visiting South Falls begins. A trail to the right goes down to a bridge below the waterfall. This will be the loop’s return route, unless you choose to reverse the directions. Turn left on an exciting trail that goes directly behind South Falls across ledges underneath the basalt cliff that the waterfall pours over.
Turn left and get clear views of South Falls, which takes a dramatic drop from a basalt overhang.
Are you really going to hike right behind this colossal 177-foot tall mass of water? Yes.
The trail somehow finds safe passage across ledges in the area behind the waterfall. Be prepared for spray from the waterfall to saturate you as you pass along the back of the opening behind South Falls. This awesome hiking experience offers unique waterfall views.
Come around the far side of South Falls, admiring its plunging water from yet another angle. Proceed down the west side of the canyon. Waterfall views persist as you approach a junction by a bridge over the creek, 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Pause here to admire South Falls from the elegant span. Canyon Trail continues down the South Fork of Silver Creek toward Lower South Falls (which is 2/3 of a mile away and also has a trail behind it), the next waterfall on Trail of Ten Falls Loop. If you’re not exploring that longer hike, bear right and cross the bridge.
On the other side, the trail ascends through forest for 1/8 of a mile, taking one switchback to return to the junction on the side of the canyon where the loop began. Turn left and follow the trail back up to the top of the cliffs. Hike back the way you came, bearing right at the Stone Circle Junction to walk past South Falls Lodge and return to the trailhead.
The turn-by-turn directions for this hike are:
- Leave South Falls Trailhead (0 miles)
- Hike past South Falls Lodge to the Stone Circle Junction and turn left on Canyon Trail (0.15 miles)
- Bear left past the top of Maple Ridge Trail (0.2 miles)
- Look over the brink from South Falls Viewpoint and proceed down Canyon Trail to the right (0.25 miles)
- Bear left on the trail behind South Falls (0.45 miles)
- Turn right across a bridge below South Falls (0.6 miles)
- Turn left to ascend away from South Falls (0.73 miles)
- Stay to the left past South Falls Viewpoint (0.89 miles)
- Return to Stone Circle Junction and turn right toward the lodge and trailhead (0.95 miles)
- Return to the trailhead (1.1 miles)
Dogs and bikes are not allowed on this hike. Silver Falls State Park charges a fee to park at the trailhead, which is $5 per vehicle for the day or $30 for an annual Oregon State Parks pass. Silver Falls State Park is located in Marion County, Oregon, about 25 miles from Salem. No permit is needed to hike to South Falls, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take Interstate 5 to exit 253 for Route 22 & 99E, following signs for Detroit Lake & Bend. (The exit is about 45 miles south of Portland.) Head east from the end of the offramp on Route 22 (99E). Drive 5 miles and take exit 7, which has a sign for Route 214 and Silver Falls State Park. At the end of the offramp, turn left onto Route 214. Follow Route 214 through several intersections for 16 miles and then turn left, following a sign for South Falls. Now within the park, you’ll make another left to reach the trailhead parking area.
Trailhead address: 20024 Silver Falls Hwy SE, Sublimity, OR 97385
Trailhead coordinates: 44.8776, -122.6556 (44° 52′ 39.4″N 122° 39′ 20.2″W)
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