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Smith Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Smith Creek in the dead of winter (bobcat)
Nursing Douglas-fir, 214 Trail (bobcat)
View to Howard Creek, Silver Falls State Park (bobcat)
Tall Douglas-firs, Howard Creek Trail (bobcat)
The Smith Creek Loop shown in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: 214 TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Howard Creek Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 9.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1420 feet
  • High Point: 1,985 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



This hike in the southwestern quadrant of Oregon's largest state park leads mostly along gentle slopes through quiet secondary forest. The loop skirts the edge of the true Silver Falls "backcountry" as it winds above the Silver Falls Convention Center complex and the salmonberry-choked bottomlands of Howard and Smith Creeks. An outstanding feature of the hike are the huge, ancient Douglas-firs you will encounter along the east bank of Smith Creek and above Howard Creek. While dogs are not permitted on the waterfall trails in the park, they can accompany you on these almost deserted trails although they must be kept on leash. In spring, forest wildflowers will brighten the verges of the trails, but this is also a good option for gloomy winter days when a hike under a forest canopy is just the ticket.

The 214 Trail, a wide gravel tread for hikers, mountain bikers and horses, begins across Lookout Mountain Road from the parking area. Head down in secondary forest, mainly Douglas-fir and western hemlock with vine maple, sword fern, and salal as an understory. Aluminum diamonds on trees mark the way. Hike alongside a huge fallen Douglas-fir which acts as a nurse for whole communities. Hemlocks and red huckleberry sprout from large old stumps. Descend past a salmonberry thicket and huge snags. In an open area of salmonberry, alder and hemlock, come to a junction with a fire road. Keep straight (right) and pass above a forested spring on your left. The road keeps up under larger Douglas-firs. The gravel ends and the trail descends as a wide dirt track. Arrive at the Smith Creek-214 Trail Junction, which has a map sign.

The 214 Trail goes left, but you head downhill and right on the Smith Creek Trail, color-coded yellow. Switchback down and cross a small creek on a track paved with alder leaves. At a junction, a fire road leads off to the left: this is the tie trail to the Smith Creek Trailhead. Ascend on the foot trail to the right under big-leaf maples, all moss-draped. Walk above the Upper Smith Creek cabins in deep woods with old growth Douglas-fir and hemlock. The trail switchbacks down. At a junction marked by a huge hemlock, a fire road leads off to the left to reach the Upper Smith Creek Trailhead. Keep right and come to an old road bed. The Smith Creek Trail continues up the road bed to the right. Pass through a salmonberry thicket and reenter Douglas-fir/hemlock woods, passing huge springboard-notched stumps. At a map sign, the path crosses Smith Creek, shaded by alders and salmonberries. Make a wide switchback up the hill under mature Douglas-firs and hemlocks. Pass through a small clearing and look to the left to see some bigger trees. Finally, come to the Buck Mountain-Smith Creek Trail Junction and go left.

The trail heads down in ridgetop forest of Douglas-fir, hemlock, salal, and sword fern. Reach the Buck Mountain-Cut Off Trail Junction and head down the Cut Off Trail. This path descends through a mossy dell of hazel and vine maple and then wends by some sizeable Douglas-firs. Pass between stacked planks and then the trail becomes rocky and eroded and very wet as it plunges down under big-leaf maples with a creek on the left. You can see the Silver Falls Convention Center complex below. Come to the Howard Creek-Cut Off Trail Junction, and go right on the Howard Creek Trail, which doubles as a jogging trail for conventioneers. Walk through mossy Douglas-fir/western hemlock woods, passing some very large old growth trees and crossing small creeks. Find yourself just above Smith Creek, choked with alders and salmonberry. Large stumps nurse hemlocks, some of them rather tall. The trail veers right to parallel Howard Creek above its confluence with Smith Creek. Pass MP 2 of the jogging trail, and head up to the Howard Creek-Buck Mountain Trail South Junction. Go left and descend through a salmonberry thicket to cross Howard Creek. At the Howard Creek-Buck Mountain Trail North Junction, go left to follow signs for the Howard Creek Trailhead. Look for fresh elk tracks here and admire the massive old growth Douglas-firs in these woods. At the next junction, also go left. At a third junction by the overnight horse camp road, keep left and come to the entrance road to the overnight horse camp. Walk left down the road and past the gate, which is closed in the winter. The Howard Creek Trailhead (day-use horse camp parking) is on your right. Keep walking up the entrance road about 100 yards to peel off on the trail to the left just before an open gate. The trail passes over a footbridge over wide, alder-shaded Smith Creek to reach the Howard Creek-214 Trail Junction.

Cross the paved road to pick up the 214 Trail and find yourself with a forested hillside to the left and a wetland thick with salmonberry and wild rose to the right. A couple spurs lead right to join the Campground Trail, which runs next to the 214 Trail around the wetland. From one of these, you can walk to an observation blind over an old beaver pond. Rejoin the 214 Trail, which rises through tertiary Douglas-fir and hemlock woods. Cross an elk trail and switchback twice to head steeply uphill through a ground cover of salal. There is a short descent to the Smith Creek-214 Trail Junction, and from here you go right and head 0.85 miles back to the 214 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 trail with mountain bikers


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Mountain Biking Oregon: Northwest and Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes With Dogs: Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • 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.