It’s easy to see why Silver Falls State Park attracts equestrians from all over the Pacific Northwest. Located 20 miles east of Salem, Silver Falls is a fabulous place to ride. It offers over 20 miles of horse-friendly trails that travel through spectacular forest. Here are 10 compelling reasons why you should check out Silver Falls:
1. First-Rate Facilities
The park has excellent camping facilities at Howard Creek Horse Camp, including corrals, spigots with potable water at each campsite, toilets, and manure bins. A huge day-use parking area is located next to the horse camp.
2. Beautiful Forest
If you like the color green, you will love Silver Falls. Every trail runs beneath an impressive canopy created by the park’s huge Douglas-firs. And the understory of maples, vine maples, and sword ferns are a delight.
3. Horse-Friendly Terrain
The trails at Silver Falls are generally wide and in excellent condition, with good footing and no drop-offs.
4. Amazing Trails
The park features loop trails and out-and-back rides of varying lengths. Here are our favorites:
5. Buck Mountain Loop
The Buck Mountain Loop is an 8.5-mile trail that runs beneath enormous old-growth trees. It features a gradual elevation gain of 850 feet in a little over 4 miles. Much of the route runs along old forest roads, so the trail is nice and wide. On the eastern leg of the loop, you’ll find massive stumps from a long-ago logging operation interspersed among the live trees. Today these stumps act as “nurse logs,” providing nutrients for the younger trees that grow out of the rotting wood.
6. Howard Creek/Buck Mountain Loop
The Howard Creek/Buck Mountain Loop is 5 miles long. Like the Buck Mountain Loop, it features huge old-growth Douglas-firs and hemlocks, plus massive maples and dense undergrowth. The trail runs along Howard Creek and the Smith Creek riparian area.
7. Rackett Ridge/Perimeter Loop
The Rackett Ridge/Perimeter Loop gains 1,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles as it explores Rackett Ridge and the eastern boundary of the park. This beautiful 10-mile loop crosses several creeks and is densely forested.
8. Shellburg Falls
Shellburg Falls is another worthy destination, though it's 15 miles long with 2,500 feet of elevation change so it’s more strenuous than the other trails in the park. The route follows the Buck Mountain Loop to its highest point, then runs (at times steeply) down the south side of Buck Mountain, leaving the park and entering the Santiam State Forest. When you arrive at the Shellburg Falls Trailhead, tie your horse at the hitching rail and continue on foot for 0.4 mile to the falls. Horses are not permitted on the trail to Shellburg Falls because part of it descends a steep staircase. The trail will take you behind the falls.
9. 214/Smith Creek Loop
The 214/Smith Creek Loop is a very nice 7-mile ride that crosses Howard and Smith Creeks before swinging around to connect with the Buck Mountain Loop. Some sections of the forest along the trail have been clear-cut in the more recent past, creating variation in the vegetation you’ll see along the way.
10. Waterfall Trail
While you’re at the park, be sure to visit some of the spectacular waterfalls along the Trail of Ten Falls. It passes ten waterfalls, taking you behind several of them. Horses are not permitted on the waterfall trail, so you’ll have to hoof it on your own. But the exertion is absolutely worth it!
Whether you go for a day ride or stay for a week, Silver Falls has a lot to offer equestrian trail riders: oodles of trails, verdant forest, and excellent facilities. Don’t miss the amazing Silver Falls State Park!
The trails at Silver Falls State Park are covered in more detail in Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.