Cross-Cascade links such as Oregon State Highway 58, connecting Oregon’s pastoral Willamette Valley with the vast high desert, can be busy blurs unless you slow your pace and get out of the race from here to there.
We found riverside campsites, mountain bike trails and family adventures waiting for you in the Upper Willamette River watershed.
You’ll discover amazing secrets and a surprising amount of elbowroom for stretching out and playing at the Black Canyon Campground.
This is a splendid Forest Service area with 80 campsites for either trailer or tent, and it parallels the Upper Willamette River.
Here, the river has a swift, free-flowing character that is quite different from the broad-beamed, slow-moving waterway most downriver residents know so well.
Black Canyon is rarely full -- making it a dependable place for a short midweek -- or even longer -- stop.
It’s a fine campground with riverside sites and views to the water. For the youngsters, Black Canyon is a marvelous place to skip some stones, roast marshmallows, make s’mores, and tell spooky stories by a crackling campfire.
From this convenient base camp you can also explore a region that’s somehow been missed or forgotten by many travelers.
That’s certainly been the case for mountain bike adventurers Ben Beamer and Randy Dreiling.
“The mountain bike capital of the Northwest -- that’s the brand we use,” noted Dreiling, a leading force in the trek toward establishing this area as a mountain bike mecca over the past decade; part of the popular Oregon Cycling phenomenon.
An area that boasts five hundred miles of Cascade Mountain trails near Oakridge, Oregon.
Beamer said, “People come and experience it and they go tell all their friends and they’ll be back next week.”
Dreiling owns and operates “Oregon Adventures” a touring and shuttle company centered in Oakridge.
He said the blend of plentiful trails with the Cascade Mountain elevation changes offer something for everyone:
“You can really test your skills here; testing yourself to see how long you can ride, trying to improve, testing your skill sets to see if you can get better at rocks and roots and adapting to ever-changing terrain.”
Beamer added that the Oakridge area has become famous for cross-country rides that last all day and you never see the same terrain twice:
“We’re also known for having really ‘flowy’ trails that tend to be in really good shape all summer long – they don’t turn to dust because we have good moisture in our soils. For example, here on Salmon Creek - you can go ride on 40 miles of continuous ribbon of trail here and you just cannot do that everywhere.”
Near Oakridge, Oregon, explore another site you can’t find “just anywhere.”
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Willamette Salmon Hatchery is in the big business of raising fish -- specifically salmon -- and by the millions each year.
You’re free to roam the five-acre hatchery grounds and gaze into the raceways and other “show” ponds to marvel at ten-pound rainbow trout or six-foot-long sturgeon.
The real treasure in this neck of the woods is when you head indoors to learn about salmon and other wildlife at a unique museum on the state hatchery grounds.
Though small in size, the hatchery’s museum is large in scope with its varied information displays and exhibits that show off the hatchery’s history and the fish and wildlife of the region.
Huge plate-glass windows separate you from a diorama featuring nearly every small and large forest animal (mounted for the display) that can be found in the Cascade region.
The centerpiece is a 2,000-gallon aquarium that contains nearly every fish species you can find in Oregon. Here you can go eyeball to eyeball with rainbow trout, bass, Kokanee salmon and many others.
Dan Peck, the hatchery manager, modestly noted that visitors can now see fish from a fish’s point of view.
“When you’re looking down on a fish you can never see how truly beautiful the distinctive markings of a fish can be, since you only see their backs. The crimson bar of a rainbow, the red eye of a smallmouth bass -- all of those interesting characteristics are lost on us. We’ve tried to change that.”
Peck told me he wanted visitors to see fish and other “critters” they usually never see in the wild, but funding such a facility from his small budget was nearly impossible.
So, his staff donated materials and volunteered to create the entire remarkable museum:
“We wanted folks to have a better understanding of Oregon and the role that ODFW plays In Oregon’s outdoors. From fish hatcheries to non-hunted species, wildlife viewing opportunities and we’re hoping to educate in one area.”
Back out on the Salmon Creek Trail, Dreiling and Beamer agreed that the region has much to offer- whether afoot or rolling along so many miles of trails
In fact, Oakridge is so special a place, the town has taken center stage for two major summertime bike events called simply “Mountain Bike Oregon” and each event attracts hundreds of riders from across the entire country for the multi-day riding experiences.
“You could spend a month here and not hit every trail," added Dreiling. "There is that much here and when you have 62 trails to explore, it's pretty special.”