South Falls

Marion County, Oregon

Detailed Info

South Falls is the highlight of Silver Falls State Park, and due to its proximity to the city of Salem, is likely one of the most popular waterfalls in Oregon outside of the Columbia River Gorge. The falls are produced where South Silver Creek plunges 177 feet over a huge overhanging basalt cliff with a large pool occupying the bottom of the amphitheater. While South Silver Creek isn't nearly as voluminous as North Silver Creek, South Falls will still swell to impressive volumes during the wet season and is without question the most powerful waterfall in Silver Falls State Park during the high water season.

Like all the other waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park, South Falls is formed where the creek has eroded away at layers of lava flows. The stream bed above the falls is flat and very gentle and this allows the stream to spread out over a considerable width, similar to several of the other waterfalls in the park. The bedrock constricts ever so slightly at the top of the falls such that the majority of the water does funnel into a much narrower plume as it drops over the falls, but during high water periods the falls may still expand to as much as 50 feet in width, but nothing quite as pronounced as either Lower South Falls or Middle North Falls.

South Falls is one of four waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park which features a trail passing behind the falls. Unlike at the other three waterfalls where this occurs, the overhanging cliff at South Falls is immensely tall, so it doesn't so much feel like walking through a cave as it does taking shelter under a high forest canopy. In several places where the trail does approach overhanging rock, there are many "skylights" visible in the rock, which were formed where the lava enveloped trees. As the lava cooled it hardened around the trees and then over time the wood decayed away, leaving empty holes in the cooled lava flows where they once stood.

Visitors should take note that the pool below South Falls has been closed off from access following the 2005 death of a 14-year old boy who was apparently pulled under by the current generated by the falling water. Please observe the signs posted around the park which indicate the areas which are closed to travel.

History and Naming

South Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.

The waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park were discovered and named by local photographer June Drake in the late 1880's. South Falls was likely named such because it is the primary waterfall along South Silver Creek.

Photo Tips

The key to shooting South Falls is moving around. The trail circumnavigating the falls provides literally dozens of different compositions, however there may not be a lot of variation of subject between one spot and another. Additionally, because of the trails which encircle the falls there may be man-made elements in the frame (such as temporary safety barricades which were in place on our most recent survey. South Falls is an exceptional location for fall foliage photography and will see peak color around the last week of October. The falls face north, and though the exposure is wide open the large amphitheater will prevent direct sunlight from striking the falls outside of the longest months of the year. This also allows the sun to remain behind the falls, providing ample opportunities for shooting sun stars through the trees above the falls. Spray can be a serious problem here as well, so ensure you have lens cloths handy.

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   44.87878, -122.65886
Elevation:   1218 feet
USGS Map:   Drake Crossing 7 1/2"

Silver Falls State Park straddles Highway 214 east of Salem and can be reached from either the north or south. From Salem, exit Interstate 5 onto Highway 213 eastbound and proceed 10 miles to Silverton. In Silverton turn right (south) onto Highway 214, following signs pointing to Silver Falls State Park, and drive another 15 1/2 miles to the South Falls area of the park. Alternatively, from I-5 in Salem drive east on Highway 22 to its junction with Highway 214, then follow Highway 214 for another 16 miles to the South Falls area. From the parking lots, the trails to South Falls are very well marked and will lead to the top of the falls in under one quarter of a mile. The loop around the falls will add an additional third of a mile or so.

View this location in Google Earth
South Falls is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.

Other Nearby Waterfalls

Additional Waterfalls which occur within 5 miles of South Falls
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By The Numbers

The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.

Total Height

The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.

Tallest Drop

The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.

Num of Drops

The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.

Avg Width

The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.

Maximum Width

Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.

Pitch

The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.

Run

The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.

Form

The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.

Watershed

The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.

Stream

The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.

Avg Volume

The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.

Source

If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.

Flow Consistency

A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).

Best Flow

A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.

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Key

Cataloged Icon
Cataloged
Waterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
Confirmed Icon
Confirmed
Confirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
Unconfirmed Icon
Unconfirmed
Unconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
Unknown Icon
Unknown
Waterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
Inundated Icon
Inundated
Inundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
Subterranean Icon
Subterranean
Though not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
Disqualified Icon
Disqualified
Waterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
Posted Icon
Posted
Posted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.
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