Old Salmon River Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Old Salmon River Trailhead
- End Point: Salmon River Trailhead
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Hike Type: Out and back
- Distance: 5.0 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 200 feet
- High Point: 1,640 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Seasons: All Year
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: No
- Crowded: Summer Weekends
During the height of the post-World War II logging heyday, the Salmon River Road was built along the lower river, bypassing several miles of the old trail that once provided sole access to the upper canyon of the Salmon River. Somehow, the old section of trail paralleling the new road survived the logging era, along with some of the best old growth forests within easy reach of Portland. The trail has since been rediscovered, and once again maintained by the Forest Service for hikers looking for an easy, streamside ramble. This easy trail is usually open all year, and is ideal for beginning hikers, kids and hikers with somewhat limited mobility. The grades are always easy, stairways climb the few hills and rustic bridges cross the string of tiny streams along the way. The Salmon River is a constant companion, and the traffic on the Salmon River Road is light enough that you'll forget that it parallels the trail.
Because of the proximity to the road, there are five separate access points that serve as trailheads (see map, below). Any of these can be a starting point for your hike, and on busy weekends might be good alternatives if the first parking area is crowded. Since the hike is an up-and-back, you can start anywhere, and simply retrace your steps to complete your hike. It also makes for an excellent shuttle hike, if you've got a couple cars. For the purpose of describing the access points and trail, the five parking areas are designated here as areas A-E, though you will not find those designations on the ground or in Forest Service information. If you use the alternative trailheads, simply take a good look at the spot where the trailhead spur connects to the main trail, so that you don't miss it on your return!
Starting at the main, signed Old Salmon River Trailhead, designated as "Trailhead A" on the map below, the trail quickly descends into deep forest, makes a switchback and soon traverses above a quiet stretch of the Salmon River, crossing a string of log bridges over tiny, mostly seasonal streams. At 0.4 miles, pass the unmarked junction with the spur to "Trailhead B" and an especially attractive pool in the river that makes for good summertime swimming. The trail soon reaches a stairway, and passes the first grove of enormous old growth cedar and Douglas fir. The size of the trees is astonishing. At 0.8 miles, pass the spur to "Trailhead C" and continue along the river, crossing more footbridges and ancient stands of cedars. The trail pulls further away from the road for the next half mile, following pretty stretches of river and "Trailhead D" at 1.2 miles before curving back and meeting the road at the 1.4 mile mark, and "Trailhead E". This is a good turnaround point if you're hiking with small children and want an easy 2.4 mile round-trip.
If you decide to continue farther, walk along the edge of the paved road for 200 yards where it borders the river, then look for the trail to duck back into the trees beyond this narrow section. After a half-mile of traversing along the river, you'll pass the Green Canyon Campground, on the left. This is a fine place to camp on hot summer weekends, and provides access to both the Old Salmon River Hike and the more demanding Green Canyon Way Hike. There are also toilets and water here.
Beyond the campground, the trail soon curves up to the main trailhead for the popular Salmon River Trail, known as the Salmon River Trailhead, at the 2.5 mile mark. This is the turnaround point for the hike, or the end of the hike if you're doing a one-way shuttle. There's a beautiful beach in the shade of big cedars just downstream from the Salmon River Trailhead and also a large bridge over the Salmon River at the main trailhead that kids will want to visit.
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Guide books that cover this hike
100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon by William L. Sullivan
- Photos from 1963 and 1983 expeditions to the Salmon River Gorge
- Photos from the fourth known kayak descent of the Salmon in 2001
- Splintercat (Tom Kloster) (primary)