Check out our tips for handling this long hike with kids. You don’t want to miss the “crown jewel” of Oregon trails!
When a friend of mine told me she took her nine- and six-year-old on an eight-mile waterfall hike, I was wildly impressed. What kind of super-children could trudge eight miles, cheerfully, even for waterfalls? She assured me my kids, ages eight and eleven, could do it, too. So for my birthday, I requested that we pack up, drive to Silver Falls State Park, and enthusiastically see ten spectacular waterfalls.
This was our family’s first trip to Silver Falls. I refused to look at pictures beforehand — no waterfall spoilers for me — so I had no idea how breathtaking the falls would be. The very first one (pictured above) is absolutely stunning, and the trail even winds behind it. We had hardly begun and were already blown away. At that point, I assumed we had seen the main event, and the rest would be afterthoughts. Absolutely untrue. Each waterfall was unique: some wide, some spectacularly tall, some you could touch with your hands.
What to Expect
Technically, it’s a 7.2 mile loop, but if you take the little offshoot trails to get closer to the falls — and you absolutely should — it can be between eight and nine miles. The trail will be wet in places, so wear the sturdiest shoes you have. My children wore sneakers and were fine. The trail difficulty is moderate, with an elevation change of 800 feet. If that’s too much for your family, remember: you don’t have to do the whole loop. We even saw toddlers on the first stretch. It takes most people around four hours to hike the entire loop, but we took it slowly, clocking around six hours.
No pets are allowed on the Canyon Trail, for safety reasons, so be sure to plan accordingly.
As this is a spectacular hike, expect crowds. We arrived early on a Saturday morning and found parking easily, but the parking lot was crowded when we left. The trail gets less crowded the farther you hike, so don’t despair at the start if it feels a little tight. If you’re really crowd-averse or concerned about social distancing, try hiking it on a weekday.
Tips and Tricks
Walk the trail clockwise, because you’ll walk into the best views, instead of turning around for them. We parked at the larger South Falls parking lot, where you’ll find bathrooms that even my public-restroom-averse child found acceptable. Don’t forget to make that initial bathroom stop; it’s a long hike.
I can’t emphasize enough: bring snacks! We brought birthday cookies, but don’t forget to bring real food and plenty of water, too. You will all need to be hydrated and energized for that long of a trek.
You’ve Got This
Yes, of course, the last half hour my kids were absolutely done, only hanging onto cheerfulness by a lingering sugar high. And the last waterfall — Winter Falls, for us — was kind of anticlimactic. But honestly, we were waterfall connoisseurs by that point, so maybe we would have found it impressive if it had been our first. But as soon as we sank into our car and began the blissful, restful drive home, we marveled at our unbelievable hiking stamina. We were amazing. We could do anything. We just saw ten waterfalls in one day.
If kids can walk Disneyland, they can do this. And Mickey can’t hold a candle to these waterfalls.
Originally published Spring/Summer 2021