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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.
Oregon's Natural Wonder: Silver Falls State Park
Located 25 miles east of Salem lies one of Oregon’s most spectacular natural wonders Silver Falls State Park. The crown jewel of the Oregon State Park system, Silver Falls is the state’s largest park (9,000 acres) and home to one of America's most impressive waterfall hikes. The Trail of Ten Falls is a designated National Recreation Trail and lures photographers, hikers and waterfall enthusiasts alike. There are exactly ten falls on this 8.7-mile loop (which can be reduced via two cutoff trails) and many have natural pathways that allow hikers to walk behind the falls for a truly breathtaking perspective. Silver Falls also offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, picnicking, mountain biking and overnight camping. Campers can get cozy in an RV, tent, rustic cabin or yurt – some of which are also pet-friendly. (These lush surroundings served as a backdrop to some of the scenes in the first Twilight movie and the South Falls had a cameo in Yogi Bear.)
Visitors to Silver Falls will want to spend time in the historic town of Silverton - named one of America’s coolest small towns by Budget Travel Magazine in 2009. Enjoy a cocktail and casual fare at the Creekside Grill & Grotto Martini Bar or a fine dining experience at the award-winning Silver Grille Cafe. Silverton is also home to The Oregon Garden, a stunning 80-acre botanical garden. The Gordon House - the only house in Oregon designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright – also sits on the Garden grounds. Guided tours of both The Oregon Garden and the Gordon House are offered regularly.
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!