Ever wanted to sleep 280 feet above the ground in an old-growth tree?
That’s the newest experience at Silver Falls State Park this summer from outfitter Tree Climbing at Silver Falls.
Starting this month, guided trips not only take people into the canopy of Oregon’s largest state park, but they’ll also have the option to sleep in a tree hammock or hanging tent system known as a portaledge — beds that mount on trees with aluminum frames.
“You watch the sun set, the stars come out and then watch the sun rise again with a 360 degree view,” owner Leo Rosen-Fischer said. “It’s an incredible sensory experience with the sounds of the forest — owls, bats and birds — and just the way the light changes from twilight into night into morning.”
But what about restless sleepers?
“There’s no way to roll out,” he said with a laugh. “There’s lots of straps. And even then, people are connected to a sleeping harness in two different places.”
The trip — which includes using ropes and harnesses to climb the tree, then staying overnight at the treetop campsite — costs $699 for two people, or $350 per person. Dinner and breakfast in the tree can be added for an additional $30 a person. The experience lasts around 16 hours.
“It might seem a little pricey, but it’s a very personal experience and we have to pay for a guide to be with people 100% of the time up in the tree overnight,” said Rosen-Fischer.
Day climbs, which run a few hours, cost $149 per person while sunset climbs go for $175 per person. Both will be offered all summer.
Expanding experiences at Silver Falls
Tree-top camping marks a notable expansion in the partnership between the outfitter and Silver Falls, as the park begins a bit of an “expansion era.”
The park, established in 1933, is building a new visitor’s center, campground and trail system over the next three years to address the growing number of people visiting. But parks officials have also sought to add new and different experiences.
In the past decade, that’s included a large network of mountain biking trails. Two years ago, they tried a pilot project that allowed tree climbing in the park’s backcountry with ropes and harnesses.
Rosen-Fischer, who had run a guided tree climbing business for a decade in Washington, earned the first pilot program permit in 2021 to bring people up. The permit was expanded in 2022 and this year, camping was added. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department takes a cut of Rosen-Fischer’s revenue for allowing him to operate within the park.
“The waterfalls and Our Trail of 10 Falls is our main attraction and most people do that,” said Chris Gilliand, Silver Falls manager. “But if you are local, you may want to do something beyond the main trail, so I think this will offer that additional experience. We also have summer campers that come here for seven to 10 days, you can only do the same trails so many times, and sometimes you want some variety.”
Adding capacity in the treetops
Part of the reason for the expansion into tree camping, Rosen-Fischer said, is the park’s campground and lodging is often sold out.
“The limited availability of camping at the park makes it hard to find lodging for our clients,” said Rosen-Fischer, who noted trees can safely hold plenty of campers.
“I think it will be an exciting new industry for parks and public lands, which already lack camping space,” he said. “In the space of a single tenant, we could easily sleep 10 tents worth of people in a single old-growth tree. They are like natural non-invasive highrises of ancient forests.”
From the treetop campsite, Rosen-Fischer said views extend from the Cascade mountains to the Willamette Valley. Anyone 7 and over can participate. The season runs now to Sept. 30.
Keeping the trees safe
Park officials go through a detailed process to pre-approve the trees for climbing or camping. They’re mostly located in the less-trafficked Howard Creek area of the park, Gilliand said.
The park requires Rosen-Fischer to use non-invasive equipment, which doesn’t dig into a tree. All anchor systems use webbing tied around the trunk. And the trees are carefully monitored.
“Every year, our natural resource team comes in and assesses the trees,” Gilliand said. “Its our biologists, our forester, and we see if there’s any additional damage, or if there’s a pair of birds that moved in or something like that.”
If any threatened species are identified near the climbing area, the climbing must immediately cease, the permit says.
Always under review
The current permit for tree climbing at Silver Falls runs through 2024. At that point, OPRD can reevaluate the permit.
If park officials decided tree camping is not the right fit, the agency could cancel that part of the permit.
“The tree camping option will be evaluated to determine if this is an offering we want to have available for visitors after this year,” Gilliand said.
More details on the trip
How do you go to the bathroom?
If nature calls high up in the tree, what can climbers do?
“We have specialized equipment for men and women that we bring up the tree with us,” Rosen-Fischer said. “Before the climb we will teach you how it works. We also practice preventative techniques so hopefully it becomes not necessary to use the bathroom while up in the tree over one night. Most people do not need to go No. 2 while up in the tree.
“(But if you do) … basically you are pooping into special bags and peeing into bottles. It works basically the same way in rock climbing. We carry everything out in something called poop tubes, and properly dispose of it after the experience.”
Here’s a video breaking it down: youtube.com/watch?v=73aMK1dTCjY.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter in Oregon for 15 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. Urness is the author of “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and “Hiking Southern Oregon.” He can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.
Charles Gearing is an outdoors journalism intern for the Statesman Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.