: The Oregon Garden

4 Ways to Play Outdoors Around Salem

April 6, 2021 (Updated June 20, 2022)

Though the region is spoiled with natural beauty all year, the warmer months are 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.

The Trail of Ten Falls is the most popular attraction at Silver Falls State Park, but the park offers more than 35 miles of trails in all. (Photo by Taylor Higgins)


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. 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 a gourmet meal at the nearby Main Street Bistro, housed in the historic Wolf Building in Silverton, and grab a morning or afternoon pick-me-up at Silverton Coffee Station, a former gas station that serves espresso drinks and Umpqua ice cream cones.

Sunny days call for riding a section of the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which winds through small towns, along agricultural roads with views of hop farms and vineyards. (Photo by Russ Roca)


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 and along agricultural roads with views of hop farms and vineyards. A great 30-mile round trip ride 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 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.

The Willamette River is a great place to paddle or float in the warmer months. Also check out North Turner, Detroit and Foster lakes and the Silverton Reservoir. (Photo by Joey Hamilton)


While getting a taste of fresh air is great for the spirits, getting on the water is sometimes even better. Salem offers plenty of rafting, paddleboarding 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, Salem Summit Co. in downtown Salem has all the equipment you need to rent or purchase, plus friendly tips and expert advice from the pros. Kayakers can rent gear from Salem Kayak Rentals — or better yet, sign up for a guided tour such as the picturesque sunset tour.

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 a coffee or snack before or after your aquatic adventure? Just across the street from Salem Summit Co., pop into Isaac’s Downtown for a specialty coffee drink, pastry or sandwich. In addition to quenching your palate, you’ll also be supporting the owner’s mission of training, mentoring and employing divested youth. 

Soak up the fragrant blooms at Bush's Pasture Park Rose Garden, one of several stunning spots for a nature stroll in the Salem area. (Photo by Jonathan Butler)

Nature Walks

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. 

There are also a variety of places 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 Wetlands, with its scenic trail that borders a lake and blooms with bright wildflowers in spring. Don’t forget your binoculars so you can spot great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and dozens of other species.

Lively Station in South Salem is one of many bike-friendly businesses along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. (Photo by Erick Durano)

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 culinary stops of the Great Oaks Food Trail and the self-guided Marion County Farm Loop, each 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.

Start planning at TravelSalem.com.

About The

Bruce Poinsette
Bruce Poinsette is a writer, educator and organizer based in the Portland metro area. A former reporter for the Skanner News Group, his work has also appeared in the Oregonian, Street Roots, Oregon Humanities and We Out Here Magazine, as well as projects such as the Mercatus Collective and the Urban League of Portland’s State of Black Oregon 2015. In addition to writing and teaching, he also hosts the digital series "The Blacktastic Adventure: A Virtual Exploration of Oregon's Black Diaspora." (Photo by Intisar Abioto)

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