Soon after graduating from college in 2005, I was hired as a clerk with my hometown newspaper. As part of that job, I was tasked each week with developing story ideas for our weekend entertainment guide. Most weeks, it was easy enough to suggest fairs, festivals, and other events that might pique the interest of our diverse readership.
But one autumn afternoon, a few colleagues and I huddled to fill a mid-October gap in our coverage. After what felt like hours of brainstorming, one of our team members suggested local fall foliage destinations. Most of the team nodded along, but I recall nearly snorting hard enough to rupture my sinus. My eyes bulged, the whites of my eyes the size of beach balls.
I could only sputter, “Are we sure there isn’t paint drying somewhere that we could also write about?”. As a snarky 20-something who knew everything about everything, I couldn’t believe we’d lower our standards to covering, of all things, leaves.
After all, I grew up in a suburban neighborhood with a 75-foot maple tree in my front yard; to me, fall foliage didn’t mean vibrant pops of color or the dawn of a new season—it meant raking leaves on soggy October Saturdays when I could have been playing video games inside. Understandably, I was overruled.
The rest of the team loved the idea, we ran the story, and several readers would chime in with gratitude afterward. Still, I silently fumed—knowing in my heart of hearts that we could have written about grass growing and would have been just as well off. And then I started hiking in 2006.
At first, I spent that spring admiring wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge. (Speaking of vibrant pops of color …) That summer, I spent time on Mount Hood and at the Oregon Coast, trying to escape toasty temperatures in the Portland area.
And that autumn, I wandered into the mid-Willamette Valley—where, at last, I understood the obsession with fall foliage.
I walked through forests of ash around Willamette Mission State Park, their leaves an electric yellow. I hiked at Silver Falls State Park, where vine maple covered the forest floor in bursts of orange and red.
And I found other trails around Salem that offered a quieter experience than what I’d experienced elsewhere over the previous few months; the views might not have been quite as dramatic, but I enjoyed watching wildlife and breathing in the fresh forest air whenever possible.
So if you’d like to enjoy that outdoor experience this autumn, here are 10 ways to embrace the magic of fall in the mid-Willamette Valley—from dramatic fall foliage hikes to quiet nature walks and quick escapes from the big city.