The Salmon River is one of the most beautiful waterways in the area, and that’s saying something. It meanders gracefully through untouched forests, plunges off of hidden waterfalls, and swirls into deep inviting pools. Sitting comfortably in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, the Salmon River National Recreation Trail parallels the Salmon River for roughly 12 of its nearly 70 miles. Within that 12-mile stretch is some of the most wondrous and scenic old-growth forest in the Portland area. On top of that, the trailheads are easy to access and the path itself gains elevation in very small, palatable chunks until leaving the river and launching into the wilderness. For these reasons and more, the Salmon River Trail is ideal for families of all hiking levels and abilities.
The central portion of the Salmon River Trail boasts several day use areas and campgrounds that provide a healthy number of hiking and backpacking opportunities. Two great options for exploring the area with kids are a short 4-mile, 200-foot-elevation-gain hike and a 7-mile, 900-foot-elevation-gain hike.
Colossal Doug fir, hemlock, and western red cedar trees stand on guard while the trail accompanies the river. Quite a few fallen giants line the path as well, serving now as nurse logs for a variety of flora. The trail is open year round and is a delight in any season. My daughter loves the leaves in fall, the snowy branches in winter, spotting Calypso orchids (a.k.a. fairy slippers) in spring, and soaking her feet in summer.
To get there take Highway 26 east for 42 miles to Salmon River Road (just before a Subway). Turn right and travel 5 miles to a pullout on the left side of the road, just before a bridge. The trailhead begins at the end of the parking lot closest to the bridge.
From the trailhead hike 2 miles to the Rolling Riffle Camp. There will be a “Toilet Area” sign pointing to an area off to the left. If you’re interested in the easier 4-mile hike, continue another 0.2 mile to a scenic bridge before turning around. If you want the full 7 miles, continue another 1.5 miles. The trail soon leaves the river and ascends steeply to a sweeping viewpoint marked by a “Stay on trail” sign. Head back the way you came.