The Trail of 10 Falls lives up to its name, and is one of Portland’s best day hikes, especially if you’re chasing waterfalls!
Oregon, like it’s neighbor Washington, is blessed with an abundance of nature, that you can explore on any one of its many trails. This makes it even more difficult to choose which is Portland’s best day hike.
Before our first visit to Portland last year, I researched a ton of trails to hike. We did up our laces and headed off to explore my top picks, only to find that most of those on my list were closed, decimated by the devastating Eagle Creek Fire of 2017. The fire centered in the Columbia River Gorge, destroyed 50,000 acres, and took 3 months to contain! Those figures blow me away.
Fast forward to today (Sept. 2019), and those same trails are still closed. So Plan B it was. As we were staying south of Portland (in a lovely Lake Oswego AirBNB), I searched for trails south of Portland, and jackpotted when I discovered the Trail of 10 Falls in the Silver Falls State Park. Who doesn’t like chasing waterfalls? And 10 on one trail – that’s amazing. This really could be Portland’s best day hike.
Trail of 10 Falls – Portland’s best day hike
It’s a winner of a hike however you look at it.
At around 8 miles, it’s quite long, but you can break it down and do just parts of it, so perfect if you don’t want to / can’t do the 8 miles. You need to climb down to the river at the beginning, and back up at the end. This constitutes most of the elevation gain of 1100 ft, so the bulk of the trail is relatively flat.
We started our hike at South Falls.
There’s a huge carpark which does fill up! So like any popular destination, arriving early takes away any possible parking stresses. Parking is $5 which you can pay by card or cash at a machine there. There’s also a great looking café, shop, and most importantly before you head off, real toilets!
But now it’s time to hike!
As mentioned, you can choose here to walk all or part of the full Trail of 10 Falls. From here, the shortest option is the 2.1 mile South Fall loop.
South Falls: 177 feet
The falls are visible very early on in the hike, and you can see them as you start your descent. These falls are the first of 4 that you can actually walk behind! It’s such a great experience to stand behind the waterfall. And all of this just 1 mile in! South Falls are apparently the most popular falls of all 10, which I think is largely due to their accessibility. (Because personally, if I was only going to visit only one of the falls, it would be North Falls.)
Lower South Falls: 93 ft high
The Lower South Falls are next. You walk another ½ mile which ends with 150ft of switchbacking, irregular stairs to reach the area behind the falls. Yes – another beautiful waterfall, that again you can walk behind. Once you’ve enjoyed its beauty, you’ll continue alongside the river – it’s such a beautiful walk.
Lower North Falls – 30 feet
After enjoying more beautiful bush and river views, you’ll cross a bridge and reach Lower North Falls.
Double Falls – 178 feet
Double Falls are a quick side track detour (5 minutes). If you’re doing all 10 falls, then you need to do it, or you won’t have done 10 falls! They are the tallest falls in the park, but they were just a trickle in comparison to the others.
Drake Falls – 27 feet
At 27 feet, these are just baby falls, that are best viewed from a platform next to the trail.
Middle North Falls – 106 feet
You’ll gain a good view of these through the trees as you approach. There’s a side trail to go down if you want to go behind these falls. But getting behind this one is not as good as what’s coming up!
Winter Falls – 134 feet
These falls get their name from the fact that they only run in winter (or spring). Perhaps ‘Winter or Spring Falls’ was too much to name! To reach Winter Falls you take a 1/2 mile detour, which we decided against doing.
Twin Falls – 31 feet
Can you believe we didn’t take a photo of Twin Falls? Not sure how that happened, perhaps it was because it was so small in comparison to the others. But a mile on from here you’ve got ‘treasure’ waiting.
North Falls – 136 feet
Our favourite ‘falls’ in all of the park, not necessarily because of the falls, but because of the most amazing cave/grotto in behind them. This is another of the four falls you can walk behind. But more than that – you could bring a band and have a party in this cave! (Actually, I’m not sure if that’s allowed, but hopefully you get the point!). It is truly incredible and huge. I recommend you make use of one of the benches to take a seat and absorb the atmosphere. You’re in this dark cavern, and it sounds like a plane is flying low right over you. But it’s not a plane, it’s the constant flow and crashing of the waterfall. The noise is stupendous, amplified by the cave. Check it out on the video below.
Can you see why I think this is Portland’s best day hike? And we haven’t even finished yet!
After you’ve finished enjoying the magic of the grotto, you’ll start your stair climbing ascent. You may have forgotten by now that descent at the beginning – but this will jog your memory. But the stairs don’t last for long, and you’ll still be on a high from the beauty of the cave.
Upper North Falls – 65 feet
These falls seem to be off trail a bit – you’ll hike down alongside the creek and under a pedestrian bridge and then the road bridge to reach the trail. These falls drop into a beautiful big pool – it’d be lovely to swim in in summer I’m sure.
This is the last of the falls in Portland’s best day hike.
You’ll back track to the beginning of this trail, and then head home on a trail around the rim of the park, loosely following the road back to the South Falls parking area. It’s about 2 miles back, and it’s all pretty much flat.
You’ll find all of the distances between the hikes here on the Hike Log.
Here are answers to some other questions you may have;
- Distance to trail head from downtown Portland – approximately 56 miles
- Trail of 10 Falls opening hours – the park is open year round. In winter the main parking lot locks at 5pm.
- Pets – not allowed on the Canyon Trail of Ten Falls (check the attached map to see which parts this entails)
- Suitable for children? – yes, but not in strollers
- South Falls Lodge Cafe – open daily 11am – 4:30pm (summer 10 – 6)
- Camp in Silver Falls State Park – if you’re looking for more than a day hike, you can camp here. Here are all the details.
- Best time to visit the Trail of 10 Falls – early morning to get that car park and for beautiful light! But otherwise, each season has its own benefits. The only thing to be wary of is ice on the stone stairways in winter.
- Do you need hiking gear? I don’t think so, although I would always recommend good boots, as it can get slippery at times. I purchased these boots 2 years ago based on the Amazon recommendations, and they would have to be one of my favorite purchases EVER! They have been comfortable from the first instance I put them on, they’ve kept my feet dry when walking through streams and snow, and the grip has been fantastic. I highly recommend them. (This is an affiliate link, which means if you purchase I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. However, I purchased these before I had anything to do with Amazon. This recommendation is from my heart.)
- Are there bears in the park? Bears and cougars do live in the more remote park areas, but it is unlikely you’ll see one on the Trail of 10 Falls.
I hope by now you see that this is absolutely one of Portland’s best day hikes. It’s so accessible, you can customise it to your timing and ability, it’s so so beautiful, and the caves behind the waterfalls are pretty unique.
Before you head off to plan your trip, PIN this now, so you can always find it.