Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s new COVID-19 guidelines mean for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible.
One of the best remedies for the isolation of social distancing is exploring the outdoors, and with spring in full swing, it’s a great time to satiate yourself with the beauty of the Salem area. Whether you enjoy hiking around stunning waterfalls, cycling on quiet country roads, paddling through tranquil waters or just basking in the allure of Salem’s botanical gardens and wildlife refuges, the state capital provides plenty of opportunities to revel in Oregon’s world-renowned outdoors safely.
Visiting Silver Falls State Park should be mandatory for any hiking enthusiast. Considered the crown jewel of the Oregon State Parks system, Silver Falls offers more than 35 miles of backcountry trails that are not just great for hiking but mountain biking and horseback riding as well. You can also find vast green spaces and off-leash areas for your dogs, guided horseback-riding sessions and ample camping options.
While there is plenty to see along the trails, the main event is the South Falls. The 177-foot waterfall is part of the nationally recognized Trail of Ten Falls, a 7.2-mile loop through dense forests and rocky canyons. The South Falls offers the unique experience of walking behind the waterfall. Where else can you do that? For safety purposes, pets are allowed only on Silver Falls’ Rim Trail, bike path and Perimeter Trail; they are prohibited on all other Trail of Ten Falls trails.
Visit early on a weekday to beat the rush, or consider other falls in the region as a backup. Head west on Highway 22 past Salem, Rickreall and Dallas to the community of Falls City, where Falls City Falls is located on the Little Luckiamute River, via a short jaunt through old-growth forest trails. Or take the scenic drive southeast on Highway 22 past Detroit to reach Marion Falls, scheduled to reopen May 15, 2021 after wildfire damage restoration. This less-crowded 5-mile out-and-back leads to a gorgeous two-tiered falls in the midst of the lush Santiam State Forest.
Whatever adventure you choose, reward yourself with gourmet takeout from the nearby Main Street Bistro, housed in the historic Wolf Building in Silverton, and grab a pick-me-up at Silverton Coffee Station, a former gas station, where children’s Umpqua ice cream cones are a dollar every Friday.
Cyclists will appreciate riding a chunk of the mostly flat Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which starts at Champoeg State Heritage Area and stretches south for 135 miles through small towns, along agricultural roads with views of hop farms and vineyards. A great 30-mile round trip starts at Champoeg and goes to Willamette Mission State Park in Gervais and back. You can even try bikepacking — carrying your camping gear with you — to rest and refuel overnight at either state park. South of Gervais, tackle another 28-mile section of bikeway stretching south to the town of Jefferson.
Stop for lunch or a snack at any of the bike-friendly businesses along the way, such as the new Lively Station in South Salem. Pick up a house-made cinnamon roll or lunch to go from the locally curated market, or sit down with a smashburger and a local brew in the gorgeous greenhouse-turned-beer garden patio space.
While getting a taste of fresh air is great for the spirits, getting on the water is sometimes even better. Salem offers plenty of raft, paddleboard and kayaking opportunities along North Turner, Detroit and Foster lakes, as well as the Silverton Reservoir and Willamette River. No matter how you choose to spend your time on the water, Woodward Surf Co. in North Salem and Salem Summit Co. in downtown Salem have all the equipment you need to rent or purchase, plus friendly tips and expert advice from the pros. Salem Summit Co. also offers classes like stand-up paddleboard yoga.
Perhaps you want to enjoy the water but don’t want to do all the paddling? Take a relaxing ride on the Wheatland and Buena Vista ferries. Whether you arrive on foot, by bike or by car, you can enjoy the view on this short trip across the Willamette River.
Need your coffee before or after your aquatic adventure? Just across the street from Salem Summit Co., pop into Isaac’s Downtown for a specialty coffee drink. In addition to quenching your palate, you’ll also be supporting the owner’s mission of training, mentoring and employing divested youth.
Hiking, biking and paddling are all great ways to play outdoors in beautiful Salem, but sometimes a leisurely nature walk is just right. The state capital is filled with luscious gardens, including Gaiety Hollow and Bush’s Pasture Park Rose Garden, as well as the Oregon Garden in Silverton. (Note: The garden is temporarily closed due to storm damage; check for updates on reopening.)
There are also a variety of opportunities to spot local wildlife and a variety of birds, including Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center in Salem, which cares for injured and orphaned wildlife in the Willamette Valley; Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, with its scenic loop trails in nearby Dallas; and Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, 12 miles south in Jefferson. Other natural areas to explore include the Salem Audubon Society and Fairview Industrial Wetlands, with its scenic trail that borders a lake and blooms with bright wildflowers in spring. Don’t forget your binoculars, to spot great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and dozens of other species.
If You Go:
When you’re visiting Salem, why not stay awhile? Find an abundance of lodging options, including hotels and motels, bed-and-breakfast establishments, resorts, campgrounds and RV parks.
Do more exploring along the Great Oaks Food Trail and Marion County Farm Loop, with dozens of spots for food, drink, farmers markets and hands-on farm experiences. Check before you go to see what’s in season and confirm visiting hours.