Fall Color in the Mid-Willamette Valley
In Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley, every season puts on a show, and fall is no exception. Take a walk through a park, visit a wildlife refuge, or sip a glass of wine while taking in fall’s brilliant colors near Salem, Oregon.
Discover a local park
One of the best places to find fall color near Salem is in one of the area’s dozens of parks. Riverfront Park is a great starting point as you traverse the river over two pedestrian bridges to cross into the connecting parks, Minto-Brown Island Park and Wallace Marine Park. On the banks of the Willamette River, you’ll spot abundant wildlife, including shore birds, deer and fish breaching the water’s surface to grab a bite to eat in the early mornings, while also enjoying the vibrant red, orange and yellow hues that adorn the trees on shore.
A walk through the forest beside Glen Creek in Orchard Heights Park is serene and beautiful in the fall, but the trail’s real treasure lingers just beyond the woods. On the back side of the park, a beautiful, large white oak stands alone on the hillside, where barred owls are known to hunt and raise their young nearby.
Around the corner from Orchard Heights Park, Straub Nature Park is one of Salem’s hidden gems. A wide variety of trees call the park home, which is perfect for a quick nature walk. The wooded area is ideal for those unexpectedly hot fall days, as the trees cast ample shade.
Located less than a mile from Straub Nature Park, Brush College Park provides more than eight acres of exploration among oak trees and wetland areas. A wooden bridge near the parking lot takes you over Gibson Creek and leads you along a forested trail that is sure to stun with fall color.
Sprague Skyline Park, in South Salem, puts you in close proximity to the Skyline Trail and Croisan Creek Trail. The distance you hike, bike or run will vary depending on the trail you select, with each trail donning a variety of trees, including Douglas fir, bigleaf maples and cottonwoods. Elk, beaver and rabbits have also been known to travel these trails.
Oregon ash, vine maple and Garry oak are among the trees that will grab your attention each autumn at Aumsville Ponds. The county park, near Aumsville, Oregon, is a natural heritage park site, where work is being done to restore some of the landscapes that greeted the area’s pioneers and sustained the Native American tribes.
Enjoy fall’s splendor by foot, bicycle or horseback at Willamette Mission State Park in Gervais, Oregon. On the shores of Mission Lake, located within the park, you’ll spot the nation’s largest black cottonwood, standing at more than 155 feet tall. Paddlers can access the park by water, starting at Wallace Marine Park or Spong’s Landing Park while taking in the spectacular fall colors that embellish the river along the way.
Another park to add to your list is Champoeg State Heritage Area in St. Paul, Oregon, where the state’s first provisional government was formed in 1843. The park is situated on the banks of the Willamette River, with acres of forests, fields and wetlands. Take a self-guided walk through the park to appreciate the park’s red and yellow leaf maple trees.
Nestled against Rickreall Creek, in Dallas, Oregon, Delbert Hunter Arboretum and Botanic Garden serves as a living museum of native plants. It showcases many species of plants and trees, including high-desert plants, rare shrubs and flowers. With several walking paths and benches throughout, the arboretum is a perfect place to connect with nature this season.
See wildlife at a national refuge
Continue your nature viewing at one of the area’s wildlife refuges, while respecting the seasonal closure of some trails. Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, in Dallas, is visited by more than 200 species of birds throughout the year. A hike through the park will reveal thousands of acres of forests, grasslands, wetlands and cropland with visiting seasonal birds, and a climb to the top of Baskett Butte will provide an excellent view of the surrounding valley’s autumnal shades.
Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, located south of Salem in Jefferson, Oregon, has two family-friendly boardwalk trails that are open year-round, leading you through ash woodlands and along marshes. While you’re here, you’ll also want to stop by the Ankeny Overlook to get a glimpse of the entire refuge and see how the different habitats change seasonally.
Tour a garden
Those looking for wheelchair or stroller accessible trails should visit the Oregon Garden, in Silverton, Oregon. Roam the garden’s paved paths on your own to discover plants that steal the show each fall, such as the crape myrtle’s bright yellow and orange leaves or the Hesperantha coccinea’s fiery red and pink blooms.
Harvest in the valley
Fall signifies the start of harvest in Oregon Wine Country. From September to November, wineries buzz with excitement as grapes reach perfection and are picked, crushed and aged into the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other varietals we all know and love. During this time, the vines will turn from summertime green to an eye-catching golden tone. Take in gorgeous fall views of the vineyards and encompassing valley at wineries such as Willamette Valley Vineyards, Left Coast Estate or Cristom Vineyards.
Take the scenic route
Sometimes the best way to find seasonal color is on a drive or bike ride through the valley. Travel through some of the area’s smaller communities to three of the 51 historic covered bridges that appear on the Covered Bridge Tour, Ritner Creek Covered Bridge, Gallon House Covered Bridge or Stayton-Jordan Covered Bridge.
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