Find new ways to get across the Salem Region.
If you’re planning an outdoor adventure in the Mid-Willamette Valley this summer, chances are good you’re eyeing the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park. After all, more than 1.4 million visitors squeeze into the dramatic river canyon that hosts its lauded waterfalls each year—good for 95 percent of the park’s total visitorship.
Guy Rodrigue, park manager at Silver Falls State Park, points out that the Trail of Ten Falls comprises just eight of the 45 miles of trails that sit within the 9,000-acre park. “There’s quite a lot more to explore,” he says of the massive park, which hosts day-use areas, hiking and mountain biking trails, roughly 100 campsites, more than a dozen cabins, and more.
In particular, Rodrigue cites the park’s Nature Trail, just south of the campground, as a footpath that packs a lot into its one-mile length. “If you’re out for a good spring wildflower hike, or you don’t want to go on an extended day trip, that’s an awesome opportunity,” he says. “It’s so family-friendly; anyone can do it.”
Nearby, the park’s six-mile Catamount Trail draws mountain bike riders of all skill levels. “It has a little bit for beginner and intermediate riders, and some stuff advanced riders would consider fun,” says Dino Venti, owner and partner of Venti’s Restaurants and a founding board member of the Black Rock Mountain Bike Association. “It’s a beautiful stand of Oregon forest, and it’s just an amazing place to be if you like being in the woods.”
Those less-traveled trails demonstrate that there’s plenty of solitude (and new experiences) to be found throughout the mid-Willamette Valley—even in some of the region’s most popular destinations. Scenic hiking trails, heart-pumping bike rides, and relaxing rivers and reservoirs can be found throughout the forested Cascade foothills, the heart of the Willamette Valley, and the bucolic Oregon Coast Range.
So as you make plans for summer, we wanted to share a few of our favorite ideas for hiking, biking, and paddling your way through the Mid-Willamette Valley.
The Mid-Willamette Valley has it all: wide-open grasslands, towering fir forests, winding rivers, and more. No matter what kind of hike you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty to love about the Mid-Willamette Valley’s rich landscapes. Here are three of our favorite hiking destinations in the area.
Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge: Nestled between Salem and the Oregon Coast Range foothills, Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of easy hiking trails and scenic views. The two-mile Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop Trail, in particular, climbs Baskett Butte and shows off panoramic views of the wider Willamette Valley. Keep an eye out for more than 230 species of bird—including herons, bald eagles, and western sandpipers—that have been spotted around the refuge.
Silver Falls State Park: The Perimeter Trail at Silver Falls State Park begins near the ever-popular Trail of Ten Falls—but soon leaves the crowds for a solitary experience where 400-year-old Douglas fir trees crowd the path—and where wildflowers bloom into early summer. “Some days on the Perimeter Trail, you’ll hike your entire distance without encountering another visitor,” Rodrigue says. “If you want that quiet experience where you can have some reflection time, or if you want that experience where you can slow it down a little bit, that’s what you’ll find.”
Minto-Brown Island Park: Even longtime residents of Salem and the surrounding communities don't know that Minto-Brown Island Park is larger than Central Park in New York City. But it's true: The 1,200-acre park is the biggest in Salem—and is home to 29 miles of trail that make up nine loops. Those hiking and biking paths cover quiet river shores, wide-open farmland, thick forests, and more.
The Mid-Willamette Valley sits at the heart of landscapes that couldn’t look more different from each other: Rolling Oregon Coast Range foothills butt up against acres of storied farmland, all of which fans out from the scenic Willamette River—and that’s to say nothing of the Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock forests in the West Cascades.
Naturally, hundreds of miles of bike paths crisscross those divergent landscapes. So if you’re looking to hop in the saddle this summer, let these popular rides offer a little inspiration.
Riding the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway: The first official Scenic Bikeway in the United States begins in the mid-Willamette Valley—its northern terminus is at Champoeg State Park—before twisting and turning for 134 bucolic miles through hop fields, farmland, historic communities (including Salem), and more.
Road Cycling opportunities: The Stayton-6 Bridges Cycling Loop packs some of the mid-Willamette Valley's best-loved attractions into 57 scenic miles: Pastoral farmland, six historic covered bridges, and epic river views mean you’re never far from the next breathtaking moment. Elsewhere in the region, the (hilly) 45-mile Ritner Cycling Loopshowcases charming communities (such as Independence and Monmouth), popular wineries, a covered bridge, farmland, and more.
Mountain biking: Nestled in the Oregon Coast Range foothills, the Black Rock Mountain Bike Area offers some of the best free-ride trails not just in the mid-Willamette Valley, but in the entire Pacific Northwest. Berms, gap jumps, and other features keep even the most experienced riders on their toes. Venti cites what he calls “Oregon green” while trying to explain the stunning scenery in which the trail network is located. “The Pacific Northwest is arguably one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and we are lucky enough to call it home,” he says.
As summer progresses and the temperature rises, almost nothing sounds better than a day on the water. Fortunately, the mid-Willamette Valley is home to several bodies of water to scratch that itch. These are some of our favorite spots to paddle each summer.
Detroit Lake: Wildfires devastated the city of Detroit in September 2020—but Detroit Lake, which the town abuts, is ready to welcome paddlers and boaters in 2021. If you want to get on the water and enjoy Detroit Lake’s never-ending natural beauty in the West Cascades, rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, canoe, pontoon, or other watercraft from Detroit Lake Marina—or gather your friends and family and rent a spacious pontoon from Kane's Marina.
Willamette River: The Willamette River runs through the heart of the mid-Willamette Valley—so it’s only natural we’d suggest paddling a portion of the Willamette Water Trail in our neck of the woods. The quiet stretch between Independence and Salem, in particular, shows off the area’s farms, offers excellent bird watching opportunities, and passes through quiet wetlands. Salem’s Woodward Surf Co. rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, offers shuttle services for popular routes, and even hosts fun experiences—like the Neon Nights Shuttle, where paddlers can enjoy a nighttime paddle on the Willamette River in neon-lit kayaks.
Silver Creek Reservoir: The 65-acre Silver Creek Reservoir (also known as the Silverton Reservoir) is popular with anglers (who fish for hatchery trout and bullhead catfish), as well as paddlers who appreciate the calm (gas motors are not allowed) and natural beauty (towering forest surround the reservoir).