SILVERTON, Ore. — As Rylan Peters stood in the spray-filled cavern behind 177-foot South Falls on a recent weekend, wearing a rain poncho and holding a hiking stick, he echoed the sentiment of so many children who visit Silver Falls State Park.
“This place is awesome!” the 8-year-old said, taking a moment to explore into a small, satisfyingly dirty cave with his 6-year-old brother, Noah.
As the rain and snow season descends on the Northwest, the options for parents seeking to get their children into the fresh air diminish. But around Western Oregon it’s not hard to find excellent trails open year-round that lead to waterfalls eliciting the same “this is awesome!” response.
Yes, it might be raining and cool. And yes, mud is always a given.
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But rain and mud and waterfalls are the stuff childhood is made of in this region and — if the hike is short — it won’t be long until you’re back in the car drinking hot chocolate.
Here are five kid-centric waterfall hikes, open year-round except during the worst snowstorms:
• Butte Creek Falls
These two waterfalls just outside the tiny hamlet of Scotts Mills are both stunners — though in different ways — and require only a quick and easy hike.
A 1.5-mile loop heads into temperate rain forest and, starting the loop going left, reaches 78-foot Butte Creek Falls dropping into a small pool viewed overhead from the trail.
Just beyond, staying left on another side trail, Upper Butte Creek Falls drops small (26 feet), wide (40 feet) and pretty into a small splash pool. Paths lead behind the falls into the deep grotto.
• Henline Falls
Expert father-with-kids hiker Eric Gjonnes called Henline Falls Trail No. 3348 the perfect rainy-day hike.
It’s not hard to see why.
The hike is two miles round-trip, climbing just 200 feet through evergreen forest carpeted with ferns and moss, to the 126-foot vertical curtain of Henline Falls.
Stay left at a junction on the trail at mile 0.5 until you reach the falls plunging into a shallow emerald pool.
The abandoned Silver King Mine is just to the right of the falls.
• Shellburg Falls
The overlooked little brother of more famous Silver Falls State Park is home to three waterfalls (including one 100-footer), small crowds and dog-friendly trails.
The trek begins on an old gated road, passing farmland that usually has a few cows grazing, before winding up into the dense, temperate rain forest, where wildflowers can be found in spring.
At mile 1.3 the old road passes over a concrete bridge and just above lower Shellburg Fall’s 40-foot plunge.
Turn left and you’ll shortly arrive at the main attraction, Shellburg Falls, a 100-foot waterfall where you can hike behind the falls in a narrow, dark cave. A side trail brings you down to the grotto at the waterfall’s base.
It’s a roughly 3-mile hike out-and-back.
• McDowell Creek Falls Park
Whether it’s the lack of notoriety or remote location, the feeling you get arriving at McDowell Creek Falls Park is that of stumbling upon a hidden gem.
Located 10 miles north of Sweet Home, the unassuming park is home to four spectacular waterfalls found on an easy, fun, trail home to unique bridges and viewing platforms. Dogs on leashes are welcome.
The 1.8-mile loop passes Royal Terrace Falls, Majestic Falls and Crystal Pool.
There’s a map at the trailhead and the trails are well maintained.
• Silver Falls State Park
Oregon’s largest state park deserves accolades. The Trail of Ten Falls negotiates a canyon where 100-foot waterfalls seem to grow from the basalt walls.
The full 10-mile trail is probably too much for most kids, so consider a few different options.
The loop from the main parking area, down behind South Falls, across the wooden footbridge and back up is about 1 mile. Another option is continuing to Lower South Falls and coming back up for a 3-mile loop.
A final easy, kid-friendly hike is starting at the North Falls Trailhead and heading down to enjoy a waterfall that launches itself off the cliff like a thick white rope, then heading upstream to check out Upper North Falls.
Make sure to warm up from your winter adventures at South Falls Lodge.
Not that bribing children is necessary to get them on the trail, but the promise of hot chocolate and a cookie following the hike is a nice incentive.
Especially if it’s raining.