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Six Perfect Hikes in Oregon's Willamette Valley

Matt Wastradowski | 06/04/2019 | Outdoors, Spring, Summer, Trails

Birds are chirping all over the Willamette Valley; colorful wildflowers cover the region in swaths of yellow, red, and purple; and waterfalls, raging with winter snowmelt, flow at their most dramatic.

And with temperatures rising and sunshine creeping into the five-day forecast, there’s no better time to get out and explore some of the Willamette Valley’s natural beauty. So if you’re looking to hit the hiking trail this weekend and want to see some of the region’s seasonal highlights, here’s a round-up of six perfect hikes in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Getting Into Hiking Shape: Mary’s Peak

Distance and elevation gain: Varies by route; 11.3 miles of hiking trails, in all

Difficulty: Varies by route; easy, medium, and difficult trails available

More info: U.S. Forest Service – Siuslaw National Forest

Just 30 minutes southwest of Corvallis sits Mary’s Peak—the highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range. 

In all, five trails of varying lengths and difficulties connect with the summit, which boasts panoramic views of the Willamette Valley and Oregon Coast Range. Pick and choose your favorite trails to get there—and to get into hiking shape for the summer ahead; the 4.4-mile North Ridge Trail gains nearly 2,000 feet while traversing the northern slopes of Mary’s Peak, while the 1.5-mile Summit Loop appeals to casual hikers with less than 550 feet in elevation gain. (Best of all: You can park just below the Summit Loop for an easy trip to the top.)

Springtime Wildflowers: Mount Pisgah

Distance and elevation gain: Varies by trail (or trails), with 1,050 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult, depending on your choice of trails

More info: Mount Pisgah Arboretum

Really, Mount Pisgah is worth your time all year long: The 209-acre “living tree museum” hosts evergreen forests, sweeping oak savannas, and quiet riverside trails—but the real attractions every April and May are Mount Pisgah’s hillside meadows, covered in a colorful kaleidoscope of wildflower displays.

Some of the many wildflowers you might see along the trail include pink fawn lilies, white or pink trillium, purple iris, and Oregon grape—the official state flower. (Just be sure to steer clear of the three-leaf poison oak plants that bloom alongside the more colorful—and less painful—wildflowers.)

Chasing Waterfalls: Shellburg Falls

Distance and elevation gain: 2.8 miles, with approximately 400 feet of elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy, mostly due to distance and elevation gain

More info: Santiam State Forest Recreation Guide (PDF) and OregonHikers.org

Don’t get us wrong, we love Silver Falls State Park, but judging by the weekend crowds, so does everyone else in Oregon. So if you’d like to see a waterfall at its post-winter peak, consider a detour to the quieter Shellburg Falls trail in the Santiam State Forest (just outside Salem).

A pair of waterfalls enchant hikers along the path: the 40-foot, two-tiered Lower Shellburg Falls, and Shellburg Falls itself, which tumbles more than 100 feet over a basalt shelf. (Trails here lead to the base of the falls and to a cavern behind Shellburg Falls, should you want a closer look.) 

Soaring Cascade Views: Spencer Butte

Distance and elevation gain: 1.7-mile loop trail, 784 feet of elevation gain

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

More info: Travel Lane County

While the Cascades remain largely snowed in—and inaccessible to all but the heartiest hikers—consider the next best thing: Trek up Spencer Butte for sweeping views of those majestic peaks (and, not for nothing, the surrounding Willamette Valley).

The hike gains more than 700 feet in less than a mile each way, winding through a forest of Douglas fir, oak savannas, and fern-adorned hillsides. From the summit, you’ll spy the Three Sisters and Broken Top dominating the Cascades views to the west, as well as the sprawling Eugene cityscape to the north and the Coast Range to the west.

(Note: Spencer Butte offers amazing views but also can be awash in poison oak, so wear long pants, and steer clear of the three-leaf plants; the butte is also home to one of the Willamette Valley’s only concentrations of rattlesnakes, so stick to the trail and keep an eye out.)

Exploring the Willamette Valley Lowlands: Molalla River State Park

Distance and elevation gain: Varies, depending on your preferred trails

Difficulty: Easy, mostly due to distance and minimal elevation gain

More info: Oregon State Parks

If you’re itching to hike—but snow and seasonal closures conspire to keep you from treks at higher elevations—consider a low-key trail through the Willamette Valley lowlands. One local favorite is the three-mile trail at Molalla River State Park.

Molalla River State Park sits at the confluence of the Willamette, Molalla and Pudding rivers—and a popular trail traverses that floodplain. The mostly flat path invites hikers to watch for waterfowl, wander through forests of cedar and Douglas fir, and relax in sweeping meadows. And for a glimpse of regional history, pair your hike with a ride on the Canby Ferry—one of only three ferries still in operation on the Willamette River.

From the parking area, follow the Riverside Trail for a pleasant walk along the Willamette River; if water levels are low enough, the Peninsula Trail (off to the right) heads to the confluence of the Willamette and Molalla rivers.

For a Quiet Respite: Champoeg State Heritage Area

Distance and elevation gain: Varies, depending on your preferred trails (a loop trail to the park’s highlights cover about 3.5 miles)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, with occasional stretches of slight elevation gain

More info: Oregon State Parks

Did you know that Oregon’s first provisional government—created in 1843—wasn’t born in Portland, Oregon City, or Salem? Rather, it was formed on the banks of the Willamette River in what is known today as Champoeg State Heritage Area.

Several miles of hiking trails showcase the park’s myriad highlights, including a shelter near where the vote to form a government took place, the ambling Willamette River, seasonal wildflowers, and the Historic Butteville Store, which opened in 1863 and may be the oldest operating store in the state. And by hiking in spring, you’ll catch the wildflowers at their peak and miss the crowds that fill the park’s campground every summer.

If you’re looking to hit most of the park’s highlights, start at the Riverside day-use area (near the site of the original township), work your way east along the Riverside Trail, and start turning back toward your car (along the Bike Trail) at the Oak Grove day-use area. Numerous offshoot trails abound, so pick up a park map for more in-depth hiking.


Contributing article by Matt Wastradowski

Matt Wastradowski is a Portland-based freelance writer who loves exploring every inch of the Beaver State. He has written about Oregon's many wonders—its difference-makers, craft breweries, outdoor destinations, and more—for the likes of Outside, Northwest Travel & Life, the REI Co-op Journal, and1859. 


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