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Grant's Getaways: Wildwood Recreation Area

You’ll want to bring your camera to capture the steady stream of color along the Salmon River that flows through the BLM’s Wildwood Recreation Area near Welches.

PORTLAND, Ore — Just in time for the weekend that finds most of us preparing to Fall Back - Grant’s Getaway offers an adventure at a place to enjoy hiking trails framed by crimson-colored fall leaves, plus a riverway chock full of fall spawning salmon, and it’s all within easy reach of Portland.

You’ll want to bring your camera to capture the steady stream of color along the Salmon River that flows through the BLM’s Wildwood Recreation Area near Welches, Oregon.

It’s a sprawling site that may find you wondering: “How is it I’ve never heard of this place before?”

After all, the Salmon River is born from glaciers atop Mount Hood and it is Oregon’s last undammed river that flows unhindered from the mountains to the sea.

The Salmon River cuts a beeline through more than 500 acres of designated public recreation land at Wildwood.

Adam Milnor said that most people are in a big hurry to reach Mount Hood or Central Oregon and overlook Wildwood.

“Mt Hood beckons to everyone who lives in the Portland area and that’s understandable,” said Milnor. “It’s a popular summertime draw, but not so much this time of year. A great place for families to introduce their children to the outdoors with a rushing river, salmon and fantastic trees in a beautiful forest.”

The trails that wind through Wildwood are marvelous opportunities to explore the parkland.

The Wildwood Wetlands Trail is a one-mile loop of gravel and paved foot-paths plus more than 1,000 feet of elevated boardwalk that gives you access to the heart of a vast wetland area where many different wildlife species live.

Observation decks extend into the wetland at several locations and allow closer inspection.

The habitat is wild and natural so don’t be surprised while hiking the boardwalk if you see blue herons, mallards, teals, turtles or any number of small songbirds.

Pay special attention to the many interpretive signs that describe the wetland habitat and the critters that live here.

“A wetland eco-system is something you have to really see up close to get really fascinated with it,” noted Milnor. “Building this structure really allows you to get up close and personal to it in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise.”

There are more than 1,000 feet to the boardwalk on the Wildwood Wetlands Trail that was built four feet off the ground to keep hiker’s feet dry and limit access onto the sensitive wetlands.

Beginning in mid-October, the boardwalk area explodes to life with a colorful show of brilliant reds, oranges and yellows from vine maple, big leaf maple trees and alder trees.

The Cascade Streamwatch Trail is a barrier-free and paved, three-quarter-mile trail adjacent to the Wild and Scenic Salmon River. Interpretive displays describe points of interest.

The most remarkable highlight of this trail is a stream-profile viewing chamber where you gain an underwater “fish-eye” view of a small stream and salmon habitat.

The chamber -- 10 years in the making -- drops 12 feet below the water surface and allows you to see through two large windows more than 12 feet across and seven feet high where the baby salmon live.

I enjoy just watching the behavior of the three-to-four-inch salmon fry and how they use logs, branches, and even rocks to hide. As a bug floats on the current, a fish jets out and picks it off, then retreats to its shelter.

“We love the fish and we want to protect the baby fish,” noted Donna Hansen, Wildwood Park Ranger. “If visitors go to the river and they come at the right time of year, they actually get to see adult fish too. The salmon spawn throughout the Salmon River from October through November. People like to see that.”

The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset from mid-May through November. However, during the off-season, you may park at the gate and access Wildwood and Cascade Streamwatch by foot, walking the entrance road to the trailhead or other facilities.

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast as I relate behind the scenes stories from nearly four decades of television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of our favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including “Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” “Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” and Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promise to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.