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Salmon River Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
The Salmon River valley from a viewpoint (bobcat)
Ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), Salmon River Trail (bobcat)
Lower section of the Salmon River, Salmon River Trail (bobcat)
At the crossing of Kinzel Creek, Salmon River Trail (bobcat)
Campsite where the Linney Creek Trail crosses the Salmon River (bobcat)
Upper stretch of the Salmon River east of Wolf Creek (there is a campsite here) (bobcat)
The footbridge over Mud Creek on the Salmon River Trail (bobcat)
The Salmon River Trail #742 from the west to the east trailheads (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Salmon River West TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Salmon River East Trailhead
  • Hike Type: Traverse with car shuttle
  • Distance: 14.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3005 feet
  • High Point: 3490 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: On the first two miles of the trail


Hike Description

Hikers seeking a long summer/early fall day hike with a car shuttle can traverse this isolated reach of the Salmon River's course. Alternatively, you can do this as a more leisurely backpack. There are plenty of campsites on the lower river (these tend to fill up on weekends); past Goat Creek the opportunities are sparser but far better situated for those seeking solitude. For example, there are great campsites on the Salmon River at the junction with the Linney Creek Trail, near Wolf Creek, and not far east of Wolf Creek right on the river. This is good backpack early or late in the season because the trail only gets over 3,000 feet at its far eastern end. Especially in spring and fall, start at the west end if you're not doing the shuttle in case you encounter windfall and snow higher up and can't reach the east trailhead. The entire trail is a designated National Recreation Trail.

From the west trailhead, the trail parallels the pristine, shaded Salmon River and cuts across a bend in deep woods. Then it swings out to the river again and cuts off another bend. After a small boardwalk, you'll note some large Douglas-firs and cross a plank bridge over a gully. Hike under a maple-cloaked cliff at another bend in the river, and pass a large cedar on the left. The route continues through lush woods of cedar, Douglas-fir and hemlock. Oxalis and sword fern are the main ingredients in the forest carpet. After crossing a bigger creek on a log bridge, you'll pass a wilderness permit box and map board and then the wilderness sign. From now on, spurs to the right lead to numerous campsites as you hike close to the river. Old-growth Douglas-firs dominate a stretch where you cross three small creeks and pass by a small boulder field.

Now you're high above the river, and you'll come to a split in the trail. The right track crosses an exposed meadow below the Salmon River Viewpoint and then switchbacks up to rejoin the main trail. On the return, you can take the "inland" trail, which prefers the shady woods with some detours to rocky viewpoints. After the trails come together, a spur right leads to a grassy viewpoint, and then you pass by a few seeps. Another spur trail leads down to a campsite as you come close to the Salmon River again. The trail turns into a drainage to cross another creek. After this, pass by a steep grassy meadow and promontory and look for a scramble trail that leads down to the canyon bottom for a view of Frustration Falls. From the meadow, the trail descends into the Goat Creek drainage and crosses Goat Creek in hemlock and Douglas-fir forest. There are trails down to several campsites on the right. After a level section of trail, a spur trail right leads to a view of Little Niagara Falls far below. Then the trail crosses another creek and passes a few campsites on the left. Cross one more creek and walk in shady forest to reach the Salmon River-Kinzel Lake Trail Junction.

From the junction, the trail descends to lovely Kinzel Creek, where a small waterfall splashes below the trail crossing. Large lady ferns overhang this cool enclave. From here, the trail ascends to a ridge crest and then follows the crest up to another cool creek. Past the creek, an old sign on a tree marks “Campsite 6” off to the right through the rhododendrons. Across the canyon, a trio of peaks, Peak 4701 (which screens Linney Butte behind), Hambone Butte, and rocky Salmon Butte, become visible. You'll then cross a stream below a waterfall splashing down a mossy face. Look around carefully in the deep, shady woods, and you may find a couple of ceramic line insulators still protruding from trailside trees as well as a stretch of old phone line (it led to the Devils Peak Lookout) being eaten by a Douglas-fir. Now back high above the Salmon River Canyon, you can listen for the sound of Split Falls as you pass above a dry, grassy meadow.

There's another glimpse of forested Peak 4701, which is just outside the wilderness boundary (and hence the clearcut on its slopes). The trail traverses on the level to reach a side path that burrows through vine maples to a waterless campsite on a grassy bench. Pass in and out of a deep salal-carpeted gully and cross a small meadow. Through the trees, you can see the sheer, almost white walls of the canyon as you traverse a steep slope. Somewhere down there is Stein Falls. Notice the old rotting burn snags in the forest – the residue of the Sherar Burn near the beginning of the 20th century. A very steep scramble trail leads almost straight down: this “trail” ends at a dangerous vantage point over a couple of short (and nameless) drops on the Salmon River and really isn’t worth the effort unless you have plenty of time on your hands. Cross a small creek as the Salmon River comes into view and you can look across to see its confluence with Linney Creek. When you reach the Salmon River-Linney Creek Trail Junction, you can take the Linney Creek Trail down to a great campsite near a swimming hole. (There used to be a bridge here. It is long gone and fords of the river are most safely achieved only in the months of August and September; there is another campsite on the south bank of the river below the Linney Creek Trail.)

Back on the main trail, you can see where the Salmon River braids around a large alder-shaded island. The trail rises gradually as you pass some impressive Douglas-firs that survived the Sherar Burn. After a descending traverse, cross another rocky creek and reach a bench above the river. From here, you'll rise to cross a dry, eroded gully and pass through rhododendron thickets. A spur trail leading right leads to a good campsite. Next, you'll step across rocky, tumbling Wolf Creek. The Salmon River Trail then passes along a wide, forested riverside flat overhung with thimbleberry, snowberry, and bracken. When you get to river level, there’s a bench to your right that shelters a large camping area, the last major campsite on the trail.

Above the campsite, springs spill across the trail, and you’ll get more views down to the river as you make an undulating traverse and rockhop two creeks. Now the trail moves away from the river, and you'll pass the junction with the abandoned Fir Tree Trail #674, which rises to your left. Cross a rotting footbridge to reach a lush and impressive expanse of skunk-cabbage where springs issue above and below the trail. The path then rises gradually past open scree, descends along a steep slope, and reaches a significant but nameless creek. Soon pass the eastern boundary of the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, and step over Fir Tree Creek for the first of three crossings. The trail rises and makes a sharp switchback on a dry slope of rhododendron and salal as you leave the Salmon River Canyon. You'll cross Fir Tree Creek again where the stream runs partially underground in a vine maple thicket near a scree slope.

The forest in these upper reaches is more mixed, with Douglas-fir, western hemlock, silver fir, noble fir, western white pine and even a few Engelmann spruce. Before your third crossing of Fir Tree Creek on stepping stones, you'll see the abandoned Dry Lake Trail #672 running up to the left. (Trailkeepers of Oregon has been working in this area to restore these trails.) The trail rises to a crest, the high point of the hike. (At the crest, you can make a detour about 40 yards to the left to a rockpile view of the forested slopes of the Salmon River valley.) Then you'll descend to cross Mud Creek on a single-rail log bridge in a skunk-cabbage/lady fern/willow/cedar bottomland. Huckleberry, rhododendron, and bear-grass fringe the trail as you rise to the Salmon River East Trailhead and the end of your hike.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • 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

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking Oregon by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • Best Hikes Near Portland, Oregon by Fred Barstad
  • One Night Wilderness: Portland by Douglas Lorain
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain

More Links


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.

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