By Jim • 

Sports Fan: Silver Falls State Park offers great experience

Early summer brings out the park-trekkies in the Pacific Northwest, the seekers of the outdoor experience, sunshine, blue skies and exercise — and lots of trails and other activities from which to choose. The park-trekkie fairy knocked on our West Salem door on a recent Sunday morning, luring us to one of Oregon’s favorite parks, Silver Falls State Park, located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

Molly and I hadn’t hiked the park since 2006 when Diane Thake, our former Rotary Exchange Student from South Africa, came to visit us. So after a long hiatus, we jumped into the truck and headed east on Highway 22, taking the Silver Falls-Shaw exit, and arrived at the South Falls parking lot just after 10 a.m., hoping to cover at least six or seven miles of trail during the morning trek into the canyon and back out again before noon.

While we didn’t include all the falls on the “Trail of Ten Falls,“ we photographed at least seven, including the South and North Falls and a number in between. We also noted that several safety rails on the trail are in need of repair, although park officials had secured tape to the areas where fencing is loose or posts have rotted out. Some of those areas, I noted to my wife, wouldn’t be safe for several of our grandchildren, but most parents or grandparents wouldn’t take their four- or five-year-olds down those steep trails anyway.

But for the most part, the trails we hiked that Sunday were in great shape, with a little mud here and there slowing us down. Most of the brush has been trimmed away from the paths, and the variety of foliage and beauty of the creek and falls keeps a trekker’s mind from thinking about the sometimes more difficult sections of the uphill climb.

The nice thing about Silver Falls is its diversity and expansiveness. If you own a horse, there’s a place for you and Ol’ Paint and trails to ride at the park; if you own a dog, bring Fido along to enjoy the great outdoors; if you own a mountain bike, there are trails for you and your friends to ride for miles; if you’re a camper or picnicker, there’s a place to spread your tent or blanket (you can also rent a picnic shelter for a family reunion or secure a cabin); if you like to swim, there’s a nice swimming hole near South Falls, one that’s safe for the kids.

In addition, there are horseshoe pits, sand volleyball areas and many places to bring out a Frisbee, baseball or football to toss around. I watched one mother playing catch with her son, and when he missed one of her lob throws and she said, “Get your glove turned the right way,” he countered with, “It was a bad throw.” I think Mom was right, but I just smiled and walked on by and ignored the urge to stop and give the kid a few tips on correct glove position for a high fly ball.

By the time we finished the hike around noon, we had covered an estimated seven miles of trail, and I had promised Molly lunch when we arrived at the South Falls parking site, noting a food cart parked just off the pavement. The menu offered hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos and other items plus soft ice cream, and I had a difficult choice to make, neither of them especially healthy: the ice cream tamped into a waffle cone... or the nachos with American cheese, not my favorite cheese since I grew up with a dad who made excellent cheddar cheese for a living.

Since Molly isn’t a dedicated ice cream eater, we opted to share an order of nachos, which were actually very good, with a couple of veggies strewn over the chips and cheese to make it... “healthy.” So once we were well fed, we took the scenic way home, going through the picturesque town of Silverton before heading home, talking about the relaxing — and rewarding — experience of visiting one of our state’s great treasurers, Silver Falls State Park.

So if you’re looking for a little adventure in a nearby recreational gem, take the short drive to Silver Falls and spend the day getting back to nature, with a little fast food to end the day.

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