hike: Salmon River Canyon

Hike beside the Salmon River through a mossy forest with old-growth cedar and fir, primitive campsites, and spring wildflowers to a canyon viewpoint above the river.

distance: 7.8 miles
elevation gain: 950 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: all year, depending on snow levels
drive time from Portland: 1 hour 15 minutes
parking pass: NW Forest Pass
hike description: OregonHikers.org – Salmon River Canyon

The Hike

Instead of heading to the snow in the mountains once the rainy season begins in the Pacific Northwest, I prefer to hike in the rainforest. I love how intensely green the forest becomes with moss and lichens covering almost everything in sight.

Due to the heavy rainfall we’ve been receiving lately, water levels in creeks were higher than I’ve ever seen, and there were ‘bonus’ waterfalls cascading down slopes that are mostly dry in the summer. Every creek crossing was wider and deeper (but all were do-able), and the river was moving fast with high levels of water in it.

Conditions were foggy when we started, and then the sun broke through and created rays of light in the forest with rainbow glows around the sun. We hiked to the viewpoint about 3.5 miles in and stopped for a lunch break before hiking back out.

THE HIKE

Salmon River Canyon hike

The Salmon River is a designated Wild and Scenic River, all the way from its beginnings at the Palmer snowfield on Mount Hood to 33 miles later, where it joins the Sandy River near Brightwood.

Begin this hike at the trailhead located right before a bridge going over the Salmon River. The first two miles of the hike have a relatively flat grade, skirting above the river bank several times, meandering through of an old-growth forest of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock.

Salmon River Canyon hike

Fallen trees become “nurse” logs, giving life to the young trees growing from them. Moss and lichens hang from the trees and cover interesting rocky structures. In late April and early May, spring wildflowers are abundant, including fawn lilies, oxalis, chocolate lilies, yellow violets and fairy slippers. The forest floor is covered with oxalis, changing to Oregon grape and salal as you climb up before reaching a rocky meadow section.

Salmon River Canyon hike

Along the way, you’ll cross two sturdy footbridges made of stripped logs, the second crossing a picturesque creek that cascades over mossy rocks before meeting the Salmon River.

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About 1-1/2 miles in is Rolling Riffle Camp, a small area of rustic camping spots between the trail and the river. A checkpoint for the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness is about 2 miles in. Shortly after, the trail begins to climb, sometimes steeply, and swings in away from the river several times to cross several small drainage areas.

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Once you climb out of the forested section, bear to the right and stay on the narrow, rocky trail to a spectacular canyon overlook. The river is about 600 feet below, and you can hear the roar of several unseen waterfalls. There are steep scramble paths below, but the rocky slopes are very slippery, and people have fallen off and died while attempting this, so stay on the main trail. Look for wildflowers in this exposed rocky area, including Indian paintbrush. After the canyon overlook, the trail is much steeper, so this is a good place to turn around and head back the same way you came.

Salmon River Canyon hike