The Salem Area's Recreational Secrets
Oregon's capital city,
Salem, as well as the surrounding region of Marion and Polk
County are extremely diverse. Salem is known for state government, unique
historic museums, award-winning wineries and beautiful gardens. However,
the region also boasts outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities that
are a well kept secret.
Fun on the Water
Outdoor activities abound in and near Salem. With the
Willamette River flowing through the city, there are
many opportunities for water sports - from water-skiing to kayaking and
canoeing to fishing for trout and salmon. The North Fork of the Santiam
River, a major tributary to the Willamette, and many other smaller rivers
also offer fishing opportunities and fishermen and fisherwomen travel
here from around the world to test their skill against Rainbow Trout,
Cut-throat Trout and Steelhead (a trout that spends a part of its life
cycle in the Pacific Ocean).
Lakes in the region include Detroit Lake. The lake is
400 feet deep, more than nine miles long and has over 32 miles of shoreline.
This is the place to go for all types of water sports in a beautiful
mountain forest setting. The recreation area is open March through November
and includes campgrounds, a boat ramp and docks, a wildlife viewing
area, visitor's center and a store.
There are a number of outfitters and retail establishments
devoted to fishing in the region who can provide you with information
or guides to make your fishing excursion here a success.
Where Waterfalls Abound
Silver Falls State Park near Silverton is the state's largest
state park. Only twenty-six miles east of Salem, this park's trails
accommodate hiking, bicycling and horse riding. Here nature has carved
a canyon that contains ten magnificent waterfalls - all accessible through
a network of trails. The most visited falls is the South Falls, near
the WPA built lodge, this waterfall drops an awesome 177
feet. The paved trail loops behind the falls, providing a spectacular
360-degree view and unique experience. The Oregon State Parks' web site,
www.oregonstateparks.org, has information about trails, overnight and
day use accommodations and usage fees.
History and Nature
Willamette Mission State Park, north of Salem is the
location of one of the first settlements in the region. Methodist
missionaries established a mission here near the banks of the
Willamette River with the objective of bringing education
to the native population. Today the Willamette Mission State Park
is a place for picnics, horse rides, hiking or just enjoying a quiet
afternoon away from the city. An interesting side trip is a ride on
the Wheatland Ferry that crosses the Willamette River at the park's
Wildlife Viewing and Bird Watching
If bird watching is of interest
to you, there are an abundance of opportunities to
take your binoculars and hope to find an unusual or rarely
sighted bird. To the east of Salem is Baskett Slough, a wildlife refuge
area where birders are often found. A short twenty or thirty minute
drive from downtown Salem takes you to this national wildlife refuge
of grasslands, farmland, forest and shallow water wetlands. Although
the refuge is closed from October through April, winter viewing can
take place from adjacent roads and Baskett Butte Trail, the only trail
open year round within the refuge.
Over 200 species of birds have been identified
here - from the rare to the common. Canada
Geese winter over here, as well as ducks and other species of
geese. Bald Eagles and other raptors are present most of the year.
Look for Northern Harriers, Redtail Hawks and American Kestrels,
along with Peregrine Falcons, Cooper's Hawks and songbirds. Keep
your eyes open for blacktail deer, coyotes, beaver and nutria,
as well as raccoons and opossums.
Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, 20 minutes
south of Salem, also offers nature opportunities. Nearly 200 wildlife
species may be seen on the refuge including
many species of birds (herons, eagles, hawks, shorebirds, songbirds),
deer, reptiles and amphibians. The refuge has wildlife observation
areas and trails that meander through wetland and oak/ash forests
to allow visitors a close-up view. The Salem Audubon Society's
web page (www.salem-audubon.org)
will provide you with a birder's field list and other
information about Baskett Slough and Ankeny
Go Wild in the City
If hiking is what you enjoy, you will not be disappointed
in the region surrounding Salem - or within the city itself. Like most
cities in Oregon, the citizens of Salem enjoy easy access to nature.
Two city parks provide outdoor experiences that can be taken advantage
of on the spur of the moment. Both are just a few minutes away from
historic downtown Salem - one lying along the Willamette River, the
other nearly in the heart of the city.
Historic Deepwood Estate is a beautiful Queen Anne
home that is now a city park. While the grounds close to the house
are beautifully landscaped, much of the property lies in its natural
state and many city residents enjoy a stroll throughout the park's "Deep Woods" and
open meadow. Birds, raccoons, opossums and even deer reside here,
so keep your eyes open!
Minto-Brown Island Park contains 833 acres that lie
alongside the Willamette River. Named after its two original owners,
Isaac "Whiskey" Brown
and John Minto. The land originally was two islands bounded by the river
that were used for farming. Periodic floods have changed the landscape, most
notably great floods that occurred in 1861 (the greatest ever recorded) and
nearly a century later in 1964. Today the "islands" have disappeared with
the changes in the river's channel.
The park includes a leash-free dog area where dogs and their
owners socialize, over five miles of paved bikeways that
are shared by bicyclists, joggers and walkers, observation platforms for
wildlife watching and picnic areas. The pathways take you from open meadows
to dense brush and forest and past farmlands and wetlands. Through an agreement
with the Fish and Wildlife Commission, some of the farm crops remain unharvested
for waterfowl and wildlife - designating the crops themselves for recreational
use. Eagles, hawks, owls, songbirds, squirrels, deer, opossum, raccoons
and even coyotes all live here and can be spotted by the observant visitor.
Geothermal Hot Springs
To really experience nature in all its glory,
you need to go to the mountain forests. The Willamette National Forest
encompasses seven volcanic peaks, including Mt. Jefferson which can
be seen from Salem's hills. A part of the Pacific Ring of
Fire, the Cascade Range provides geothermal activity that
heats natural hot springs.
Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference
Center provides many amenities for those seeking physical and mental
solace. Whether you come for a day or rent one of the cabins for
an overnight stay, delectable vegetarian meals are available at
the lodge, massages can be obtained, and there are several hot
springs from which to choose to soak away your cares. At the hot
spring pools you'll find that some visitors are comfortable with
the "clothing optional" environment
while others choose to wear swimsuits.
Old Growth Forests and Wilderness Areas
Visitors have described
the old growth forests of the region like that found
in Europe's great cathedrals. Giant trees tower hundreds of feet above
the forest floor. Light streams through the canopy, touching beautiful
flowers in the undergrowth - trillium, orchids, rhododendron and ferns.
Old growth forests contain a diverse ecosystem that includes many species
of trees, underbrush and wildlife. The Northern Spotted Owl makes its
home here, as does the Golden eagle, Raven, jays, chickadees and many
other songbirds. Blacktail deer, Roosevelt elk, black bear, bobcat,
coyote, beaver and pika are among the forest's mammalian residents.
Native fish can be found in the streams and lakes.
The Opal Creek Wilderness, Bull of the Woods
Wilderness and Table Rock Wilderness all provide a wealth of hiking,
backpacking, and old growth forest experience. Whether you choose
to limit yourself to a day hike, take an extended backpack trek
or travel with horses there are many trails, lakes, and areas of
scenic interest from which to choose.
Opal Creek Wilderness is one of the last great
old-growth forest reserves in western Oregon.
The extensive trail network in this wilderness
provides access to the breathtakingly beautiful
Opal Canyon. This 35,000-acre watershed lies 42 miles northeast
of Salem. Here you'll find 45 miles of streams, spectacular waterfalls,
lakes and pools. While summer provides opportunity to delve deep
into the region's forests, cross country skiers
take advantage of winter snows by skiing three or four miles to
Elk Lake from the snow line on Road 4697. Only the Opal Creek Trail
is usually open year round. Other trails are generally snow free
from April through November.
Adjacent to the Opal Creek Wilderness is Bull
of the Woods Wilderness. The 68-mile trail system here centers
on the Bull of the Woods lookout tower. At an elevation of 5,532
feet this lookout tower's sweeping view encompasses the high country
from Mt. Hood to Mt. Jefferson and, to the west, the Willamette
Valley. This isolated wilderness encompasses over 27,000
acres with dozens of lakes and streams that have an abundant supply
Table Rock Wilderness is also easily accessible
from Salem. This rock outcropping is a remnant of a lava flow that
once covered the western foothills of the Cascades. Approximately
19 miles of trails provide access to this small wilderness area.
A relatively easy hike will take you to the summit of Table Rock
and a sweeping vista that includes Mt. Rainier far to the north,
Bull of the Woods Wilderness to the east and the Willamette Valley
to the south.
These three wilderness areas provide hikers with
day trips or longer two and three day hikes into mountain lakes
and areas of real solitude. Panoramic vistas, beautiful scenery,
an abundance of wildlife and a distinct lack of other people will
make your visit to these pristine areas truly memorable.
Remember if you are hiking in the woods or in wilderness areas
to plan ahead and be prepared, no matter how short a hike you plan
to take. Many hikers find themselves unprepared for weather changes
and every year some become stranded or even lost.
In planning and preparing for your trip let someone know where
you plan to go and when you plan to return. When in the woods, dispose of
your waste properly - pack your trash and carry it out with you. Remember
to leave what you find so that others may enjoy the wilderness for years
to come - don't be tempted to pick the flowers. Respect the wildlife, after
all it's their home that you're visiting. Remember to be considerate of others
who are there to enjoy the natural setting and might not appreciate hearing
cell phones ring, radios playing or noisy individuals who disturb the peace
and relative isolation that is sought here. And, above all, be extremely
cautious when using fire - check before you go for the fire conditions and
restrictions in the forest as many places forbid campfires.
Essential equipment to bring along - even for a short hike -
includes a map, compass, flashlight, extra food and clothing.
Include some rain gear, a pocketknife, waterproof matches, fire starter,
a first aid kit, sunglasses and sunscreen. And always check for current weather
and trail conditions before you head out. Information that can aid you in
planning and having a safe trip can be found at www.naturenw.org or at U.S.
Forest Service Ranger Stations.
Trip Planning Assistance
More information on outdoor activities in the Salem region can
be found at the web site of the Salem Convention and
Visitors Bureau at www.travelsalem.com or by calling (800) 874-7012.
Maps of wilderness areas and national forests may be obtained from
the U.S. Forest Service and many guidebooks have
been published that give detailed directions as well as descriptions
of parks and wild areas.
In the region surrounding Salem, Oregon you'll discover outdoor
activities year round for a wide range of interests and
levels of physical activity. Many city, county and state parks have
ADA compliant facilities to accommodate wheelchairs. Whether your
interests include bird watching, fishing, hiking, backpacking, bicycle
touring, water sports or an afternoon's solace provided by Mother
Nature, you'll find it all within a relatively short drive from Salem,
About the Author: Sharan Barnett is a native Oregonian who grew
up in a family that enjoyed camping and fishing. Much
of her childhood was spent in mountain wilderness areas,
as well as excursions to Oregon's coast and high desert
regions. Today she and her husband, photographer Frank Barnett, reside
in Salem and often enjoy nature's beauty that is so close to home.