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Howard Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Avenue of hemlocks, Howard Creek Loop (bobcat)
Howard Creek, Howard Creek Loop (bobcat)
Alder swamp on Smith Creek, Howard Creek Loop (bobcat)
Tall Douglas-firs, Howard Creek Loop Trail (bobcat)
The Howard Creek Loop shown in yellow (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Howard Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Smith Creek Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 280 feet
  • High Point: 1,440 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



Silver Falls is Oregon’s largest state park at 9,200 acres and, it should be emphasized, offers more to the hiker than the popular and crowded canyon hikes to the waterfalls. The southern and eastern area of the park is a forested backcountry with a network of trails for hikers, bikers, and horses leading along mostly gentle slopes. This short loop skirts the edge of this backcountry as it winds above the salmonberry-choked bottomlands of Howard and Smith Creeks. An outstanding feature of the hike are the huge, ancient Douglas-firs you will encounter on both legs of the loop in this lush remnant of native streamside forest. You can also walk here from the South Falls Trailhead and do this as an add-on to a waterfall hike.

The trail sign is to the right of the information kiosk, which displays a large map of the park. Follow the trail in under tall Douglas-firs and past a watering trough. Reach the gravel entrance road to the horse camp, and go left. At a sign for the Buck Mountain and Howard Creek Loops, bear right and parallel a gravel track under stately Douglas-firs. Keep straight at another trail sign, and follow the gravel road track through a lush green carpet of sword fern, salmonberry, and salal. At the next junction, keep right and descend past a huge Douglas-fir to the Howard Creek-Buck Mountain Trail North Junction.

Here drop down to your right through a salmonberry thicket to cross Howard Creek. Then head up on a steep, gravel path to the Howard Creek-Buck Mountain Trail South Junction. Keep right here, and descend in a luxuriant forest of moss-draped Douglas-fir and western hemlock. You’ll reach the edge of the swampy Howard Creek bottomland, a dense expanse of salmonberry shaded by red alder and big-leaf maple. The trail undulates along the bottom of the slope, occasionally offering glimpses of the creek itself. Pass the two-mile marker as you alternate copses of vine maple with some massive Douglas-firs. Cross a couple of small creeks; in between them, there’s another imposing, straight-trunked Douglas-fir. Hike under mossy alders and reach the Howard Creek-Cut Off Trail Junction, the latter trail labeled as an equestrian route.

Hike down to cross Smith Creek on a footbridge, and reach the Silver Falls Conference Center dining hall. Walk straight from the footbridge, and then go right to reach a vehicle turnaround. Take a paved path here that leads north past some small cabins and reaches the expansive Smith Creek Trailhead.

Pick up the gravel footpath leading out of the parking area, going right at the junction with the connector path to the Smith Creek Trail. The trail runs only a few yards from the access road to the Conference Center along most of this section of the loop. Pass through an elderberry thicket and then an avenue of hemlocks. To the right, Smith Creek runs largely obscured by a dense thicket of salmonberry. Large thatching ant nests are a feature of this section of the trail. Hike between two imposing Douglas-firs, and reach the paved access road. Walk 70 yards along the road with an alder/sedge bog on your right. Resume the trail, which here runs along wide Smith Creek. Reach the Howard Creek-214 Trail Junction, and go right to cross Smith Creek on a footbridge.

Soon reach the gravel Horse Camp road. Go right and walk 100 yards to the entrance to the Howard Creek Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $5 day-use fee or $30 State Parks annual pass
  • Dogs on leash
  • Port-a-potty at Howard Creek Trailhead
  • Share trails with mountain bikers


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon's Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

More Links

Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.