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Salmon River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
The Salmon River Gorge (Tom Kloster)
Pool along the Salmon River Trail (Tom Kloster)
Footbridge near Rolling Riffle Camp (Tom Kloster)
Ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), Salmon River Trail (bobcat)
Trail section high above the Salmon River (Tom Kloster)
SalmonRiverTrailMap.jpg
  • Start point: Salmon River West TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Salmon River Viewpoint
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 7.8 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 950 feet
  • High Point: 2,490 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Late spring through late fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes - young kids to Rolling Riffle Camp, older kids beyond
  • Backpackable: Yes - camping at Bighorn, Rolling Riffle and Goat Creek camps
  • Crowded: Weekends from Spring through early Fall


Contents

Description

The first two miles of this popular route is a trail for all seasons, and is usually open all year. This section of the trail rambles along the Salmon River through classic old growth rainforest - some of the most accessible in the Portland region. Beyond the riverside segment, the trail climbs to a sweeping viewpoint of the vast Salmon River Canyon, with unseen waterfalls roaring in the depths below. It’s hard to imagine that in the 1960s, the Forest Service planned a paved highway up this canyon, connecting to Highway 26 as an alternative route to the current highway. Thankfully the canyon was included in the 1984 legislation that created the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness and will forever be protected.

From the trailhead, climb steeply at first, and then traverse above the river briefly before passing along a rocky ledge above a huge island. The island is a wide peninsula cut off from the shore by a small, meandering fork that splits from the main river. The massive trees on the island are a preview of the old growth ahead along the main trail. Soon you will reach the point where the fork splits from the main river. Notice how easily the river could rearrange a few logs and send the main branch of the river through the smaller fork! This is a fine example of how stream channels can abruptly change over time.

The trail passes a deep eddy along a rock cliff, and then plunges into extremely lush old-growth forest, briefly pulling away from the river. Many unmarked side trails drop to the right, usually marking favorite fishing spots. In April, this first mile of trail is lined with white trillium and showy groups of fawn lily.

At the 1.5 mile mark, begin to pass periodic campsites, including one that used to be formally known as Bighorn Campground. A footbridge once crossed the Salmon here, leading to the Hambone Trail on the opposite shore. After another half mile, reach the Rolling Riffle Campground, another longtime camp spot, where one site still retains a decaying picnic table. Signs mark this campground, and this is a reasonable spot to complete if you don’t want to tackle the climb to the viewpoint. These campsites are usually full on weekends, so if you plan to spend the night, arrive early.

From Rolling Riffle, the trail crosses a side stream on a bridge and soon reaches the wilderness boundary and registration box. From here, the trail begins climbing away from the river, curving in and out of three side canyons with small streams before reaching a high bluff. At an unmarked fork, take the trail on the right, which quickly leads to a rocky viewpoint of the canyon and a small waterfall on the river, some 600 feet below. This is a good spot to stop for lunch and soak in the view. A scramble path drops below the trail here, but resist the temptation to follow it: the views are no better, and these are dangerous cliffs that have been fatal to several careless hikers.

From the viewpoint, the narrow path curves across a steep, exposed slope before entering woods and climbing through two switchbacks to the main trail. You can continue upstream here for another mile to campsites and water at Goat Creek. But if you are day hiking, you’ve already had the best views that can be reached safely, so turn left and follow the main trail back to the trailhead. A safer way to see the waterfalls is to visit the links below, where you can view photos from trips to the bottom of the gorge by foot and by kayak.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Salmon River Trail #742 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Government Camp, OR #461 and High Rock, OR #493
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood Wilderness
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guide books that cover this hike

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • One Night Wilderness: Portland by Douglas Lorain
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • I Heart Oregon (& Washington) by Lisa D. Holmes
  • Oregon Hiking by Matt Wastradowski
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill & Matt Wastradowski
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking Mount Hood: A Year-Round Guide by Eli Boschetto
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • Best Hikes Near Portland, Oregon by Fred Barstad
  • Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair
  • Oregon's Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Hiking Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes with Children: Western & Central Oregon by Bonnie Henderson
  • Hiking Oregon by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 62 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 105 Virtual Hikes of the Mt. Hood National Forest by Northwest Hiker
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.