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Oregon features some of the most scenic wild areas in the United States, and the Willamette Valley is no exception. You don’t have to venture far from Salem to find rolling green hills, waterfalls, old-growth forests and wetlands.
One must-see is Silver Falls State Park. Located an easy 25-mile drive east of Salem, the park’s forest canopy is filled with Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar, and an understory of ferns and native plants. (These lush surroundings served as a backdrop to some of the scenes in the first Twilight movie and the South Falls recently had a cameo in Yogi Bear.)
The park boasts 10 waterfalls, some rushing from dizzying heights, others conveying a delicate spray. Each is spectacular in its own way. The most visited is the South Falls, which plunges 177 feet. The park includes 25 miles of trails that vary from an easy stroll to a strenuous hike. Ambitious hikers will enjoy the Trail of Ten Falls, which loops past each waterfall in the park. The nine-mile hike takes about four hours to complete, winding along the canyon and forest floor covered with ferns, moss and wildflowers. Overnight camping in tents or in rustic cabins is available.
Don’t miss the rustic South Falls Lodge. Built in the late 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Lodge was handcrafted with raw materials from within the park. The original tables, hewn from two massive myrtlewood trees and designed by Margery Hoffman Smith (who also decorated the interior of Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge) are still in use. Pull up a chair in front of the stone fireplace and enjoy mug of cocoa, a cold drink or snack.
For a more substantial lunch, try O’Brien’s Café in Silverton, a local favorite with a homey atmosphere and comfort food. Don’t miss the buttery marionberry cobbler topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
The Oregon Garden lies on the outskirts of Silverton and includes thousands of plants displayed throughout 20 themed and specialty gardens on 80 acres. Explore on foot or take a narrated tram tour through the displays of drought tolerant plants, native plants, sensory garden, wetlands, and a unique display of conifers. Don’t miss the garden’s majestic 400-year-old oak. Families will enjoy the Children’s Garden with interactive features, including an in-ground Hobbit house, tree fort, and furniture filled with colorful annuals, perennials and other kid-friendly plants. The garden hosts classes and special exhibits year-round and a summer concert series.Looking for additional recreation information? Check out our natural attractions and parks pages on our website.
Nature in downtown Salem and beyond
If you’re short on time, nature is still close at hand. Accessible from downtown, Salem's Riverfront Park meanders along the Willamette River and features flat, paved trails that make for an easy and picturesque stroll. Enjoy a delightful old-time carousel and the Eco Earth Globe, made up of 86,000 colorful tiles.
At the north end of the park, the Union Street Railroad Bridge, built in 1912-13 and recently refurbished for pedestrians and cyclists, offers clear views upstream and downstream while connecting to Wallace Marine Park in west Salem.
Stock your daypack with lunch from Croissant & Company — where you’ll find sandwiches, salads and pastries — and take the short drive to Salem’s 900-acre Minto-Brown Island Park. With a network of paths along the Willamette River and through a varied landscape of abandoned filbert orchards, pastures, woods and wetlands, it’s a prime spot for bird watching. Keep your eyes peeled for large osprey nests.
West of Salem lies the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. The 1,000-acre sanctuary, carved from cropland, forests, grassland and wetlands, is home to wintering geese, great blue heron, hawks and eagles, along with many other types of wildlife. In spring, when the refuge is awash in wildflowers, you may even catch a glimpse of the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly. Hiking and walking trails zigzag the refuge, with wildlife observation platforms providing a vantage point for taking in the scenery.
After a day of exploring hill and dale, you’ll have worked up a hearty appetite. Sate it with Adam's Rib Smoke House. Known for their outstanding slow-smoked barbecue meats, homemade side dishes and uncompromising commitment to service. Thirsty? Their tap room boasts over 30 beers and growing!