Salmon River. August 2015.
The final stretch of trail as it approaches Salmon Butte. June 2014.
Whether you're looking for an easy day hike, a short hike in to a riverside campsite, a steeper butte climb or a more substantial backpacking trip, the Salmon River trail is a great place to be--and it's not very far from Portland! Although a wonderful place year round, this is one of my favorite hikes on a damp day in spring or fall.
From the parking lot, the trail starts on the left/east side of the road and instantly parallels the beautiful Salmon River. Initially, you will climb steeply along cliffs for the first 1/4-1/2 mile before leveling out to more of a rolling ramble through spectacular, dense old-growth forest. There are many places to access the river from the trail, and rumor has it that salmon fishing here is lucrative in the fall.
After about 1.5 miles, primitive campsites are intermittently placed on the right side of the trail for the next couple of miles. I've heard these campsites can fill up fast on summer weekends, although I've never seen anyone camping there after numerous visits.
About 3 miles in, you will reach the self-issue wilderness permit station (this is free), as well as the last few campsites for a good while, as you enter the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. Unless you wish to continue up the butte, this is a good turnaround point because the trail leaves the river and begins ascending steeply up ahead.
If you're continuing up the butte, it's another mile long climb to views of the Salmon River Valley (~8 miles round trip all together for this destination). This viewpoint is very exposed--the trail is narrow and hugs very tall cliffs, so stay on the trail up here. There is a faint path down a hill from the viewpoint, but be advised, it is slippery, steep and doesn't go anywhere. Return the way you came--or, just over another mile past this viewpoint, you will reach Goat Creek campground, a good backpacking destination (continue straight/right at an unsigned junction with the Green Canyon trail shortly after continuing past the exposed viewpoint area). There are a couple of bridgeless creek crossings as you near Goat Creek.
For the thrill seekers, dare devils and advanced hikers who are comfortable with some steep scrambling, there are several user paths to hidden waterfalls (Final Falls, Frustration Falls & Vanishing Falls) between the viewpoint and Goat Creek campground. The sights are definitely worth the effort, but be careful and remember to use your best judgment on these side paths, especially.
This is a hike I've done numerous times and I still love it. I hope you enjoy it, too! Happy trails!
Difficulty: easy to moderate, with rather difficult side trail options to several waterfalls about 4-5 miles out.
1) From Portland, take highway 26 eastbound to the towns of Welches & Zigzag (about 18 miles east of Sandy)
2) Turn right (south) on East Salmon River Road
3) Continue about 5 miles to a gravel parking area on your left, just before a bridge over the Salmon River. Parking at this trailhead requires a $5 day-use pass or the $30 annual NW forest pass. Don't leave valuables in your car here--like many trailheads, this place is known for break-ins.