Salmon Creek Area 03-24-2024

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Salmon Creek Area 03-24-2024

Post by happilyretired » March 24th, 2024, 3:24 pm

I spent a few hours this morning tramping around just east of Oakridge. As usual for this area, some of the trails show on various maps, some are on the National Forest web site - and some aren't. But broadly speaking, I went up the north side of Salmon Creek and came back on the other side. Most of this is pretty easy trail, with only mild elevation changes and a few muddy spots - though there is one stretch that throws in some "hard" just to make things interesting. More on that later.

I parked at the Dead Mountain trailhead (lots of parking, and I was the only car both when I started and when I came back) and crossed FR 24 to get to the Salmon Creek Trail trailhead. Or at least one of the trailheads. A short spur starts here and ends at the trail proper. I turned left and headed upstream. This chunk of trail is trapped between FR 24 and Salmon Creek, and you can hear the creek the whole way - fortunately there wasn't enough road traffic to hear cars the whole way. It starts off as a well-packed and maintained walk through the river bottom lands, with plenty of grass to the side of the trail.
Walking through the bottom lands
The trail continues to head upstream. Or rather, the trails do - this is more of a skein of bike routes than a single trail. Add in lots of little side trails that go down to the river or up to the road, and you can meander quite a bit. I generally turned towards the creek when I had a choice, and eventually got some pretty good views of quick-flowing water.
Salmon Creek
This first stretch also includes some views towards the top of Aubrey Mountain, where I'd been on a previous hike. In general the hills on the south side of the creek are much steeper than those on the north side, and in some spots rock cliffs come right down to the water. It was difficult to see how the south side trail would tackle those spots (that's called foreshadowing).
Aubrey Mountain
It's pretty clear that Salmon Creek is active when the snow melts higher up. There are quite a few sizeable logs piled along and across it, and the banks are actively being eroded. In a few spots this made the trail sort of dodgy, and I sometimes had to backtrack and take another parallel trail.
Trail segment that will need re-routing soon
After a while the trail hits some dirt road, and in a few spots it runs right along FR24. As you go upstream, things are less swampy and more forested. The trail ends at Salmon Creek campground, which is currently closed for the season (though you can still walk in this way). Continue through the campground another hundred yards or so to get a view of Salmon Creek Falls. You can climb down to the bottom, climb down to the top, or just admire it from above. An old intake pipe and some concrete foundations suggest that this was tapped for hydropower at some point, though the drop is only around six feet.
Salmon Creek Falls
From the falls, I backtracked my route about a mile to FR 207, which provides a bridge to cross Salmon Creek. Half a mile or so is the well-marked trailhead for the South Salmon Creek trail. It's well-marked on the ground, but I don't see it on the Forest's web site anywhere. The trail on this side of the river is somewhat less maintained, but it still clearly gets plenty of use.
South Salmon Creek Trail trailhead
And here's how the trail gets by some of the cliffy areas to the south of the river - in the next half mile or so it switchbacks up about 700' along one flank of Aubrey Mountain, traverses west for a bit, and then switchbacks down just as quickly to get back to river level. There were a few mildly sporty parts of this section, including some crumbly off-camber parts and one nasty blowdown, but it wasn't bad enough to make me feel more than mildly queasy. Along the way there are occasional glimpses of the river below.
There's a river down there somewhere
There continue to be more wildflowers every time I come back to the area - not in great profusion, but small patches where the first few are blooming. Some of these I recognize and some I don't.
Skunk cabbage
No idea
This south side trail has had some bridges and boardwalks built, but it was quite some time ago. The footing is pretty insecure on many of them, and I actually felt more unsafe here than on the top of the cliffs.
About half of these treads are loose or rotten
The South trail officially ends just past the railroad bridge, where there's also a dam and a diversion canal, further evidence of hydropower past. You probably could cross the river on this bridge but I wouldn't recommend it; in half an hour I saw one passenger train and two freights barrel through.
Railroad bridge and dam
Instead, follow the dirt road south. This road doesn't show on Google Maps, even though you can see it in satellite view. But it's hard to go wrong, since it's really the only way away from the trailhead. In half a mile or so this crosses a Forest Service interpretive trail with some signs that I didn't explore) and that also doesn't appear on the Forest's web site, or anywhere else online that I can find.
Road walk south from the railroad bridge.
Eventually this road hits the back side of the local fish hatchery, where a sign informs you that you've been on the Salmon Creek Trail all along.
Signs, signs, signs
Turn right to stay on the trail pasty the hatchery. Eventually this comes out at Fish Hatchery Road, where a short road walk takes you on a bridge back to the north side of Salmon Creek (there is fortunately plenty of shoulder for safe walking on this bridge). Look to your right just past the bridge and you'll find another trailhead...for the Rigdon Bike Path.
And one more trail for good measure.
So I guess somewhere in here it stops being the Salmon Creek Trail? Whatever, follow this path (variously gravel, asphalt, and mud) back upstream. It goes back under the railroad bridge and eventually gets to the FS Flat Creek Work Center, where a side spur leads to a parking area and gazebo that I think is the official west trailhead for the Salmon Creek Trail. Maybe. From there it's less than a mile back up the stream to where I parked to start the whole adventure.

Overall, I did just over twelve miles in this loop. I met one other person (and a very friendly dog), and got done just before the rain set in, so I count the day as a success. And the Salmon Creek campground looks like it'd be a nice place to spend a night or two, though I wouldn't be surprised if it gets crowded in the summer.

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