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Trails: Salmon River

Near Welches, Oregon, a little over an hour from downtown Portland, there is a beautiful trail along the Salmon River.

I went into this idyllic swath of forest for a 10 mile run, arriving around 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The sun was shining, the road was clear, and the trails were ripe for a good run.

There are multiple starting options: two official trailheads and many pull-off areas in between where you can pull over, park, and hop on the trail.

If you’re interested in starting with flat, winding river trails, park at the first trailhead that you find off of E Salmon River Road about 2.5 miles south of Highway 26. This is called the Old Salmon River Trailhead.

If you’re interested in more varied terrain, or getting the most incline for your miles, then drive another 2.5 miles on the same road to the Salmon River West Trailhead. (It’s where Google Maps took me when I searched for “Salmon River Trailhead.”) There is parking at this trailhead, but no water or restrooms.

The first trail section that takes you from the "Old" trailhead to the "West" trailhead is a fairly flat, packed dirt trail along the quiet river. Trotting along, I felt like I was in the middle of a forest, not a mere 100 yards from the asphalt road. This was peaceful and verdant.

Upon arriving at the West Salmon River Trailhead, the terrain takes on many different forms to keep your brain (and ankles) engaged.

It starts out with mixed packed dirt and some rocky terrain for about a mile. There is some incline over the first few miles, some flatter stretches, and then more incline.

My favorite part of the trail was the stream crossings. Some are on narrow timber bridges, but many are a skip and a jump over some rocks. In April, the streams were shallow and easy to cross, but I still chose to keep my socks dry by hopping on the rocks.

The natural surroundings change from woods to meadow around 4 miles in; you’re presented a beautiful view over the Salmon River and the nearby hills.

At about 4.5 miles from the West trailhead, I was stopped by a fallen tree on the path. Due to the drop-off on the sides and my tired legs, I chose to turn around rather than clamber over the tree. If you’re looking for a really long run, however, the trail continues all the way to Devil’s Peak Lookout, about a 30-mile round trip.

I would recommend arriving early—before 8 if you can—to avoid congestion on the trail. If you have poles, they could be useful on some parts of the trail that have uneven footing alongside steep slopes. The majority of the trail was shaded, and sunglasses felt unnecessary even on a clear day.

You do need a Northwest Forest Pass permit to park in the area.

You may want to refuel before driving home. About 15 minutes east in Rhododendron is Al Forno Ferruzza wood-fired pizza restaurant with outdoor picnic table seating. The No. 3 hit the spot for me after the long run. Without going out of your way, there’s also a bakery, coffee shop, and wine bar at the intersection of E. Welches Road and HWY 26.

Directions: Very straightforward. Take Highway 26 east from Portland. About 17 miles east of Sandy, turn right (south) onto E. Salmon River Road. The first trailhead is 2.5 miles from this intersection. The second trailhead is an additional 2.5 miles away.



Julie Baker is a former collegiate swimmer who runs for the Portland Running Company Race Team. She lives in Portland with her husband and two small children. Email