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GOLDEN AND SILVER FALLS STATE NATURAL AREA
What: A small state park east of Coos Bay in the Coast Range, home to two scenic waterfalls.
Hikes: Three short hikes to views of the waterfalls, totaling 3 miles.
Hike-in: Due to a washout on the main access road, Glenn Creek Road, you must park at a pullout on the road and hike the final mile and a half to the park. That adds a total of 3 miles out-and-back of hiking.
Difficulty: The trails are generally easy. The one that climbs to the top of Golden Falls does gain some elevation.
Waterfall size: Golden Falls is 200 feet tall, while Silver Falls is 130 feet tall, according to Northwest Waterfall Survey.
Tale of two silver falls: This park is often mistaken for the larger Silver Falls State Park east of Salem, but they are two very different places. Silver Falls State Park gets almost 1 million visits per year; Golden and Silver Falls gets about 15,000.
Directions: From Coos Bay, follow Coos River Highway 241 to the small town of Allegany. Continue on East Fork Road and Glenn Creek Road, heeding the many signs for the state park, where the dirt road is blockaded and the hike begins.
ALLEGANY — Tell someone from the Willamette Valley that you’re headed to Golden and Silver Falls State Park, and there’s a good chance you’ll get a blank stare in response.
“Um… you mean Silver Falls State Park, right?”
Although it shares a strikingly similar name with the largest and one of most popular parks in Oregon, Golden and Silver Falls is its own unique place.
Tucked deep in the Coast Range east of Coos Bay, this state park is smaller and attracts a fraction of the crowds compared with its famous counterpart.
But when it comes to the beauty of its waterfalls, Golden and Silver Falls play second fiddle to no place in the Pacific Northwest.
The 200-foot Golden Falls and 130-foot Silver Falls have been called the two most impressive waterfalls in Oregon’s Coast Range, and when you see them after a heavy winter rain, it’s difficult to argue.
Golden Falls roars into a box canyon with so much ferocity, it kicks up mist that plumes upward like smoke from a wildfire. Silver Falls, in contrast, spools off a rounded dome like gray hair falling off a balding head.
The park is a four-hour drive from Salem (or one hour from Coos Bay) and best visited as part of a multiday trip along the Oregon Coast.
It’s a detour that’s certainly worthwhile, especially in winter.
And, for those who value solitude with their waterfalls, consider this stat: While Silver Falls State Park attracts just short of 1 million visits per year, Golden and Silver Falls brings in 15,000.
Lemons into lemonade
There is one other obstacle to visiting Golden and Silver Falls besides the long drive.
A washout on Glenn Creek Road — a dirt road that accesses the park — means you have to park at a pullout and hike the final 1½ miles.
I wasn’t looking forward to the extra 3 miles of hiking (out and back) when I visited in December, since roads don’t offer much in the way of scenic value.
But this road is an exception. It follows Glenn Creek as it tumbles down rapids and small waterfalls through lush second-growth forest. It was muddy and made for a longer day, but I thought the extra trek improved the experience by allowing time to appreciate a creek I would have missed in a car.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said it’s working with Coos County to get the road fixed, but there is no timetable, so don’t expect it to happen soon.
In the meantime, the park bathroom will remain closed and the trails will receive limited maintenance.
The history of this area stretches back well more than 100 years.
Homesteaders lived in the valley above Golden Falls as far back as 1880. To get around the dangerous escarpment the waterfall drops off, they used a steep pack trail until 1901, when they blasted out a route through the rocky bluff above Golden Falls.
That route became an auto stage that transported passengers between Allegany and Scottsburg from 1912 to 1916. During World War II, the route transported lumber from a sawmill 2 miles above Golden Falls.
In the 1950s, a torturous road crossed the base of Silver Falls and followed a narrow ledge to leave the park above Golden Falls. The bridge is gone, the road is no longer passable, and the roads have become the park’s current trails.
What’s in a name
The origin of the name for Silver Falls is straightforward, since it’s fed by Silver Creek.
The name of Golden Falls is more interesting.
It’s not named for valuable minerals nearby, the yellowish rocks around the waterfall or the creek that feeds it (Glenn Creek). Instead, it’s named for Dr. C. B. Golden, first grand chancellor of the Knights of Pythias of Oregon and an early visitor to the park.
According to its national website, the Pythias were established in 1864 and are “dedicated to the cause of universal peace.”
The beauty of the waterfalls certainly contribute to that worthy cause.
Back to the trip
After hiking Glenn Creek Road for a mile and a half, we arrived at the normal park entrance and found three short hiking options.
It’s a short hike to reach the base of Silver Falls and Golden Falls, while it’s longer (almost 2 miles) to reach the top of Golden Falls. All three are worth exploring.
I visited on a sunny day after almost four days of heavy rainfall.
Both waterfalls were at their best, booming with fury. Moments of sunshine brought rainbows into their mist, creating memorable scenes for my family and camera lens.
It was a long day with my daughter, wife and dog. With the extra hike in, we estimated that we covered about 6 miles.
But considering the views, the small handful of people visiting and the surprisingly fun road hike in, it was well worth the time.