Photo courtesy of WVVA
Editor’s Note: To help slow the spread of COVID-19, Oregon has enacted a four-tier risk framework for counties. Effective December 3, restaurants, bars & tasting rooms in Marion & Polk Counties can offer limited outdoor seating. Indoor seating is prohibited; take-out and curbside pick-up are encouraged. A joint travel advisory is in place for Oregon, Washington and California. To protect our communities, we ask everyone to follow Oregon's Safe+Strong guidelines: wear a face covering, wash your hands and maintain social distance. We’ll get through this together.
Salem is an ideal place for experiencing the natural wonderland that is Oregon, and each new season brings unique experiences – whatever your speed or ability level. It’s no secret that winter means lots of rain in the Mid-Willamette Valley - it helps keep our region lush and green - but it’s rarely too cold to spend time in the outdoors. As long as you have the right gear (basically a raincoat over warm layers and sturdy, waterproof shoes), you just may find that winter is the perfect time for outdoor adventure in the Salem region.
Nature Walks & Hikes
Head any direction from downtown Salem and you’ll find plenty of nature walks and hikes – many within the city limits. In Salem, the Fairview Wetlands Trail follows a 1.2-mile path, with stations on flora and fauna found along the trail. In West Salem, the Salem Audubon Nature Reserve is a 7-acre parcel of land ideal for wildlife viewing and fitness walking. For long walks and bike rides, visitors and residents can enjoy the many miles of trails at Minto-Brown Island Park. Minto-Brown is part of Salem’s three-park connected system that’s larger than New York City’s Central Park.
Just outside of Salem, Willamette Mission State Park in St. Paul offers a 2.5-mile education trail, 1-mile jogging loop and 5 miles of bike paths; it’s also home to the nation’s largest black cottonwood tree, which stands more than 155 feet tall. Visitors can enjoy walks along the trails that border the Luckiamute River, with plenty of birds and native plant life to investigate at the Sarah Helmick State Recreation Area south of Monmouth.
Bird is the Word
Oregon is a global birding destination, with nearly 500 species spotted across diverse landscapes and micro-climates. The state is home to 12 designated birding trails including the Willamette Valley Birding Trail, with loops that traverse the Salem and Mid-Willamette Valley region. Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge are ideal destinations, especially during the winter, when multiple species are in residence.
Savvy waterfall enthusiasts know that winter is the ideal time to experience roaring waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. At Silver Falls State Park near Sublimity, visitors can view up to 10 of them along the world-famous Trail of Ten Falls. (Insider’s Tip: Start your exploration early on a weekday and you may find you have many parts of the trail all to yourself).
Mountain Bike Adventures
Just west of Salem near the small town of Falls City sits Black Rock Mountain Bike Area - one of the best free ride mountain biking areas in the world. And while many mountain bike areas across the country are closed in the winter, the volunteers and riders who care for the Black Rock area say there’s no need to stay away over the winter, posting this to their Instagram account recently: “We would much rather see wet smiles, ruts, and skid marks. Shred on Y'all!”
Tips for Exploring Oregon’s Outdoors
- Use a face covering. Face coverings are required in outdoor areas where physical distance cannot be maintained (i.e. congested trailheads).
- Acquire the appropriate permits (a day-use permit is required in some areas).
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear (including sunglasses and sunscreen).
- Carry plenty of water and snacks.
- Bring a printed map (cell service is limited in some outdoor areas).
- Help preserve Oregon’s natural spaces by following the principles outlined in the Take Care Out There initiative.