hike: Buck Mountain – Howard Creek loop at Silver Falls

While camping at Silver Falls State Park over the New Year’s holiday, I explored trails in the park’s backcountry. There are no waterfalls in this part of the park, but there is plenty of beauty and solitude.

distance: 7 miles (loop)
elevation gain: 600 ft.
difficulty: moderate
drive time from Portland: 1 hour 20 minutes
parking pass: Oregon State Park pass

The Hike

This loop hike at Silver Falls State Park combines several trails to make a loop. There are no waterfalls on this loop, which also means there are fewer people. Dogs are allowed on all of the trails for this loop, and mountain bikes and horses use some of these trails.

Signage is minimal and there were several times we were confused about which direction to go but figured it out using Gaia GPS. Due to this, carrying a map or using a hiking app is highly recommended.

Starting at the campground, we took the Rackett Ridge Connector Trail through a super mossy green section of forest. A group of friendly mountain bikers passed us on this section. The rest of the day, we only saw a few other hikers.

Silver Falls State Park - Buck Mountain & Howard Creek loop hike Silver Falls State Park - Buck Mountain & Howard Creek loop hike Silver Falls State Park - Buck Mountain & Howard Creek loop hike

Several times, we reached junctions with multiple trails and old roads and weren’t sure which direction to go. The easiest way to figure it out was to look at the Gaia GPS app while walking. In the photo below, the trail goes past the markers and crosses an old vehicle bridge.

Silver Falls State Park - Buck Mountain & Howard Creek loop hikeSilver Falls State Park - Buck Mountain & Howard Creek loop hike

At the junction with the Buck Mountain Trail, we veered right and began the steepest part of the hike.

Silver Falls State Park - Buck Mountain & Howard Creek loop hike

At the top, the trail is flat for a bit with tall trees towering above.

Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike

We took the Cutoff Trail to reach the Howard Creek Trail. This trail has one rocky section during the descent that made me wish I had remembered my trekking poles. Fortunately, it’s a short section.

Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike

Near the bottom, we crossed a bridge and were in a part of the park with cabins, a conference center, and the Big Leaf Coffeehouse restaurant.

Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike

The restaurant was already closed for the day, so we stopped and ate the lunches we brought with us at one of the picnic tables, then continued our hike. The Howard Creek Trail was in a marshy bottomland with mostly deciduous trees.

Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike

At the end of the Howard Creek Trail, we took the 214 Trail and the Nature Trail to make our way back to camp.

Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike

We passed this wildlife blind but we hadn’t seen any wildlife all day so we continued without stopping to check it out.

Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike Buck Mountain - Howard Creek loop hike

Overall, this was a great way to ring in the new year while exploring a new-to-me loop hike. 🙂