It’s that time of year when the ski season is winding down, some days are in the 50s and others are in the 80s. Typical spring weather in the Pacific Northwest. This weekend was one of those, where the temperature in Portland was forecast to be an unseasonable 81 degrees. Last weekend I was skiing – this weekend was time to break out the backpacking gear. As an easy way to get back into the backpacking season – I decided to hit the Salmon River Trail. I’ve done this trail a few times – it’s an easy trail, at least the first couple of miles. It follows the Salmon River and is a super-easy way to kick off backpacking in 2021. Higher elevations on Mt. Hood are still covered in snow – but the Salmon River starts just outside Welches and stays at a pretty low elevation.

Getting there – and some preparation

I’ve been playing around with my gear all winter in preparation for my JMT hike. This was going to be a test hike for my foot after surgery and to test out some recipes. So not a lot of preparation was necessary outside of making a few meals. I planned just for a short overnight hike with Hunter, and John. One of the tremendous aspects of the Salmon River Trail is there is an abundance of campsites right by the river for the first two or so miles.

The Salmon River Trail is just off Welches at the end of E. Salmon River Road / E. Welches Road. Even though there is a good deal of parking – this is a really popular trailhead and fills up fast. Generally during the season, it’s a fee area. A North West Forest pass works well.

The trailhead is a little tucked away right on the left-hand side, right before the bridge crosses the Salmon River.

Short – but pleasant hike

Rather than start early, we decided to start late. Arriving at the trailhead around 4.30 pm. The idea was that many of the day hikers would have left and freed up some parking. This was indeed true and there were a few vacant spots. The plan was to hike in for 2-3 miles and then set up camp and then hike on maybe a mile or two more.

Campsites on the Salmon River Trail
One of many campsites

It was a perfect late afternoon for hiking. The trail is relatively flat, undulating a little here or there as it follows the Salmon River. Given it’s early season, the river was flowing fast. You don’t have to walk far in and you start to see great campsites between the trail and the river. Some small but plenty large enough for bigger groups. This is a favorite area for Boy Scout Troops to practice their backpacking skills.

Salmon River Trail - John
One of several bridges across tributaries

At times the trail is just 20 feet from the river and at times it meanders a little further away. Occasionally crossing tributaries on well-built bridges or little rock hops.

After about 1.5 miles or so is the sign for entering the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness. Mid May this is where you would have to fill in a permit card – but as this was early season, no permit was necessary. After entering the wilderness there is about another 1/2 mile where the trail follows the river, with more campsites. Just after this the trail veers of to the north of the river and starts to gain altitude.

There was no doubt there were a lot of folks out for some early backpacking. But we were able to find a nice camp spot, just above the river with easy access to the water. The campsite had a nice fire ring and enough space for both our tents and a small area around the fire ring.

I’m not usually a great fan of campfires – mainly because of the dangers of forest fires. However, this was very early in the season and so the risk was very low.

Short Add on Hike

Evening Light
Evening sun through the trees

One of the things to note about this trail is that it’s very much sheltered. So the sun will disappear quickly and being so close to the river keeps the area cool.

We set up camp and then headed out for another mile or so up the trail. This passed a few more campsites and then started to ascend away from the river. If you get here you’ve missed all the camping spots until you get to Goat Creek – which is about at mile 8.

We hiked for a mile and then returned to the campsite.

Some experimentation – meals

It’s always good to try something new – and on this trip, I decided not to have any Mountain House meals. I built a quick dinner and breakfast at home to experiment with.

Dinner – Ramen with dried vegetables, chicken base, TVP as protein, and some herbs to add flavor. This was also an opportunity to try out my new Jetboil Stash. This is an easy cook meal as you just need to throw in all the ingredients and heat the water to boiling for a couple of minutes. I did want to try soaking this all for an hour in advance – but that part i missed. Dinner worked exactly as expected – but not as flavorful as I would have liked. Next time I might add some olive oil for extra calories or maybe some butter powder for a little smoother flavor. I’m very happy with the performance of the Stash. I prefer the pot not being integrated and it boils water as well as an integrated Jetboil.

Hunter settling down

I’ve read a lot recently on the hiking groups about dog owners not looking after their dogs on trail. Either not picking up their poop, or leaving it bagged or not having them on leash. Hunter loves to hike and I’ll keep him on leash on all the trails. He carries a pack with him and packs out all his poop.

This trail is pretty busy and there were plenty of dogs – generally, all seemed to be on leash or well behaved – so hopefully everyone was having a good time.

Depending on the area – I’ll let Hunter off-leash in the campsite – this time he decided to have some crazy zoomies around the campsite – chasing himself from one side to the other, hurdling logs at high speed. And then he came back to settle down on his bed.

Camp Fire along the Salmon River
Small campfire

Later we had a small campfire. Very welcome as after the sun dropped, the temperature plummeted. That gave us a great opportunity to sit around the campfire and enjoy the evening. And unusually enjoy a shot of whisky or two.

Regardless of the season – it‘s always necessary and good practice to make sure the campfire is completely out before leaving it. This involves soaking it and then turning over all the embers and soaking again if needed until you can’t feel any heat with your hands.

The night was definitely colder than expected. I’m guessing it was in the 30s, as when we got back to the car in the morning – it was 41. Luckily we were all prepared so that was no big issue.

My second test meal was breakfast – similar to the Mountain House granola and blueberry, I made quaker oats, with added powdered milk (Nido) and cranberries with some sliced almonds. I just added some hot water. This was super good – definitely a keeper.

After packing up camp we headed the two miles back to the car and were back in Portland by 11 am.

Summary

The Salmon River Trail is a great beginner backpacking trail. It’s relatively flat with lots of great camp spots. It’s worth remembering the following thou:

  • It can get crowded so plan accordingly
  • Expect it too be cooler along the trail, the river runs in a steep valley and proximity to the water keeps this a cool trail in summer
  • After the first 2.5 miles camp sites are few and far between until you get to the Goat Creek crossing.

Statistics

You can easily see from the elevation change where we started to ascend. This is the point about 2.5 miles in where the trail leaves the river and you lose all the campsite opportunities.

Finally – my foot did well! It’s not that it’s completely pain-free – and stubbing it on a tree root was certainly bad. But I’m really pleased with the progress since my surgery 6 weeks ago. The range of motion continues to increase and I feel confident it will be ready for my JMT hike.

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