From coasting on scenic country lanes to legendary off-road mountain rides, the Mid-Willamette Valley offers nonstop fun for cyclists on road, dirt trails or gravel. In Salem Minto-Brown Island Park has 29 miles of biking trails on nine loops that roll through lush, woodland areas. North of Salem, Willamette Mission State Park offers cyclists 5 miles through the region’s agricultural heritage, passing hazelnut orchards, hop fields and farmland.
The 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, the first of its kind in the country, starts at Champoeg State Heritage Area, located about 30 miles north of Salem. The park’s popular family-friendly bike path winds through 4 miles of lush forest with Willamette River views and the option to stop for ice cream at the historic (circa 1863) Butteville Store. During the month of August, Eola Hills Wine Cellars offers guided Bike Oregon Wine Country tours that include wine tastings, a ferry ride, a covered bridge crossing, and 45- and 70- mile route options.
If a two-wheel off-road adventure is more your style, the Salem Area Trail Alliance maintains four mountain biking locations, including the Geer Bike Park & Trail Facility; Croisan Creek and Skyline Trail; and one of the state’s newest rides, the Spring Valley Trail, with three short loops through native woodlands.
The alliance also maintains the Catamount Trail, which meanders through the lush evergreen forest of Silver Falls State Park near Silverton with turns, berms and rock features that are exhilarating yet still approachable. The connecting beginner-friendly Newt Loop provides skill stations and mild climbs along the packed dirt single-track. For smooth, fast rides through Douglas fir and hemlock trees, check out the August Mountain Trail and the Shellburg Falls and Creek Trail in the Santiam State Forest. Get set to catch some air in the spectacular coastal range riding the Black Rock Intro Loop — it’s a paradise for freeride mountain bikers with a series of summiting trails that include well- designed jumps, berms and wooden features.
TRAILS AND WATERFALL HIKES
The Mid-Willamette Valley is a wonderland of waterfalls and evergreen old-growth forests. Whether you like your hikes draped with magical cascades or traveling through glorious spruce and ponderosa pine forests, there’s a hike near Salem to explore. For one of the most enchanting hikes in the state, head to Silver Falls State Park, a lush, temperate rain forest east of Salem. Wind along the mossy and fern-draped Trail of Ten Falls, a famous 7.6-mile trek that passes 10 magnificent waterfalls from the shimmering 177-foot South Falls to the elegant Winter Falls.
In the nearby Santiam State Forest, a quieter trail peppered with mossy maple trees leads to the smaller but equally captivating Shellburg Falls. Follow a natural path that curves behind the Upper Falls for a misty view that stimulates all the senses.
On the popular Opal Creek Trail, Cascade de Los Ninos plunges into an emerald pool surrounded by ancient Douglas firs, western red cedar and western hemlock trees. For a hike with stunning views of snowcapped peaks, Triangulation Peak Trail near Detroit Lake leads to lookouts of Mt. Jefferson and the Cascades. The 4.6-mile forested trail bursts with pockets of wildflowers in summer.
Try the Willamette Mission Trail for an easy riverside loop that visits the nation’s largest black cottonwood tree, nearly 300 years old. Check out the nearby Wheatland Ferry for a novelty river crossing (pedestrians ride free). The ferry landing is the oldest in Oregon and dates back to 1944.
In Salem the Fairview Wetlands Trail spotlights native flora and fauna on a family-friendly 1.2-mile loop, while the 1.5-mile Salem Heritage Trees Walk explores four of the city’s ancient heritage trees throughout the downtown area. Take in the region’s picturesque wine country at Left Coast Estate in Rickreall, where you can pair award-winning wines and hiking (some call it “wiking”) with a 1.5-mile trail that winds through vineyards, forest and native oak savannah.
FISHING AND RAFTING
Wild rivers and hidden fishing holes are a common theme for a classic Oregon adventure. Near Salem, the mild rapids of the North Santiam River offer plenty of splash and scenic splendor for kayaking and rafting excursions.
Check out Oregon River Experiences and River Drifters for guided half-day and full-day whitewater- rafting trips. Or paddle the North Santiam River by kayak with a guide from eNRG Kayaking, one of the top paddling schools in the Northwest. Design your own paddling tour by renting either a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from husband-and-wife-run Woodward Surf Co., and sign up for their shuttle service that runs from various locations along the Willamette River near Salem. On their guided Buena Vista to Independence float, you can pull your kayak out at Rogue Farms to enjoy a beverage before continuing down the Willamette River to Riverview Park in Independence.
Anglers, take note of the many pristine freshwater lakes and glacier-fed rivers in the Mid-Willamette Valley. Top spots near Salem to try the zen-like art of fly-fishing include the North Santiam State Recreation Area, one of the state’s top spots for prized native steelhead trout. Beginners or those who just want to tap into local expertise (with all gear included) should consider hiring a guide such as John Elder Fishing Guide Service. The native Oregonian offers personalized drift-boat trips for salmon and steelhead on the South Santiam River, and you get to take your catch home to cook.
Head southeast of Salem to Detroit Lake for the chance to reel in ample rainbow trout along with kokanee, landlocked chinook salmon and brown bullhead catfish. You can also fish from a 2017 Thunder Jet boat on Detroit Lake with Bait-N-Wait Fishing Charter, a guide with more than 40 years of fishing experience.
BIRDING AND WATER FEATURES
It’s no secret: Oregon is a global destination for natural wonders. When exploring the state’s diverse landscapes from pristine freshwater ponds to alpine forests, one of the easiest ways to connect with nature is to slow down and look up. From herons and egrets to majestic red- tailed hawks, nearly 5,000 feathered species soar and roost across Oregon.
The state boasts 12 designated birding trails, and three itineraries of the Willamette Valley Birding Trail are within the Salem area. Catch wonderful spectacles of nature in flight at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, where an extensive network of trails meanders through wetlands, upland prairies and forest. Notable birds found here include the black-necked stilt, western sandpiper, great horned owl and a host of migrating wonders like the regal American white pelican. At Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, established in the 1960s to provide winter habitat for the dusky Canada goose, more than 200 species call the vast wetlands and fields home. The popular preserve draws bird-watchers year-round for a peek at the cackling acorn woodpecker, American wigeon and tundra swan.
Imagine sunrise over an emerald-green lake or reading to the sound of water lapping ashore — whatever the activity, it’s always more memorable by a body of water. A trip to Detroit Lake Marina will delight adventure seekers with plenty of sporty water activities, from fishing boat rentals and pontoons to ski boats, kayaks and paddleboards. Head off the beaten path and explore the pristine waterfalls, streams, lakes and pools in Opal Creek Wilderness, one of the last great old- growth forest reserves in the Cascade Range.
Or wind down with a trip to Breitenbush Hot Springs, set in the Willamette National Forest, where you can soak in one of the many naturally fed hot-spring pools (clothing optional). For a picture-perfect urban stroll, head to Salem’s Riverfront Park and meander along the Willamette River.
Leave No Trace
Whenever you’re out adventuring, make sure to follow Leave No Trace principles — if you pack it in, pack it out; leave the natural beauty you discover behind for others to enjoy; and respect wildlife and all trail users. If you bring Fido on the trail, keep her on leash where designated. Weather in the Willamette Valley is generally mild but sometimes wet and chilly, so don’t forget to wear layers, sturdy shoes and sunglasses, and bring plenty of water. Before you go, check to see if your site requires a day-use parking fee or permit. Learn more at OregonStateParks.org and visit MyODFW.com for details on licenses, regulations, stocking tables and family fishing events.