As winter turns to spring, rain and snowmelt fill our rivers and streams. The mist rolls in, and the forests erupt in green. It’s waterfall season in the Pacific Northwest!
And have we got a waterfall for you! Two of them actually—Golden Falls and Silver Falls, only a half hour inland from Coos Bay on the southern Oregon Coast. Nestled in the lush Coast Range, Golden and Silver Falls rival even the most spectacular falls at the much more crowded Silver Falls State Park and Columbia River Gorge to the north. But these two cascades come with something extra: solitude. For the best viewing conditions, go on a rainy, misty day this spring. If you time it right, you just might have the kind of day Sue and I had there last March. It was one of the most beautiful days we’ve ever had. And we had the place to ourselves.
The trails to the falls are nearly as spectacular as the falls themselves—and short, too. You can hike to all four stunning viewpoints, have a picnic, and get back to the coast for the sunset. From the parking area at the end of a long, windy road (sorry, no RVs), there are three trails you can take—each of the two outside ones take you .3 miles up Silver Creek and Glenn Creek to spectacular views of the falls from below. Silver Falls, the smaller of the two falls at about 150 feet, is known for the dome of bedrock the creek falls over. It’s better seen later in the season when the water level is lower.
The other outside trail follows Glenn Creek to the base of Golden Falls, which plummets nearly 200 feet onto massive boulders. Look up at the cliff to the left of the top of the falls. That’s your destination.
Interestingly, there is neither gold nor silver at Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area. Golden Falls got its name from a famous tourist, Charles Golden, the Grand Chancellor of the Oregon Knights of Pithias, a fraternal organization founded in 1860.
After you’ve soaked in the view (and the mist), head back to the parking area and then take the middle trail to another view of the base of Silver Falls.
If the trail ended here, it would still be worth the trip. But it gets better. Way better (unless you have a fear of heights). Take a right before the terminus of the trail and head up to the top of Golden Falls. First you enter a dense old-growth stand of huge Douglas firs and cedars, plus myrtles, maples, alders, moss and a fresh carpet of ferns.
This trail was actually an old homesteading road. A century ago, several families lived in a remote valley a few miles up the creek. This was the pack road they took to and from the coast.
As you emerge from the forest midway up the canyon, examine the cliff face for evidence of support cables for the old road. It’s hard to believe that this was once a thruway for carts and even cars. The road and a bridge over Glenn Creek were both removed in 1958.
The best view of the day is just up ahead. As you approach the top of Golden Falls, the sound becomes deafening. Look over the edge and imagine yourself standing above a prehistoric world. You can physically feel the power of the water thundering over the edge and echoing through the canyon.
Safety: Be very careful on the top of the cliff, which can be slick near the edge. Keep a close eye on kids and pets, as any fall would most certainly be fatal. There are also bears and mountain lions in the area, so keep your pets on a leash.
Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area is located 25 miles northeast of Coos Bay. The route is a bit tricky out of town, so use a map or GPS. From Highway 101 in the southern end of Coos Bay, head east on the Coos River Highway, following signs for the town of Allegany (about 15 miles from Coos Bay). Then follow the state park signs another 9.5 miles to the park’s entrance. The final five miles are unpaved and narrow, not suitable for RVs.
Golden and Silver Falls State Park is in Coos County, Oregon
No fees. No camping. Porta-potty and picnic tables at the parking area.
Park Service Website: http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_96.php
This park is included in just about all of the regional hiking and waterfall guides.
NewmanImages Photography is Jay and Sue Newman, two weekend wanderers from Ashland, Oregon.