Three Hikes To Check Out Before Summer Ends

Panoramic of McDowell Creek Falls. (Photo: Angela Scott)

The smoke has cleared as summer creeps closer to its end. So here at the Commuter we encourage you to head outside to enjoy all that the local area has to offer before heading back to school.

Whether you’re new to the area, you’re just getting into hiking, or you’re looking for new trails, we hope we can help you find what you’re looking for.

Trail near the lower trailhead at McDowell Creek Falls. (Photo: Josh Stickrod)

McDowell Creek Falls
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Length: 1.7 Miles
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes, Provided they are on a leash

Located off of highway 20, north of Sweet Home is a local hiking gem— McDowell Creek Falls County Park. It features a fun, family-friendly, dog-friendly hiking loop that is teaming with greenery and enjoyable sights.

From the three calming waterfalls that cascade down McDowell creek, to the lush, well-kept, low-elevation forest trail, this spot is about as relaxing as it gets. The trail is surrounded by a temperate rainforest, with high moisture and humidity creating the green forest canopy that hikers venture under through the park.

It has an abundance of sturdy lookout decks and bridges above the creek and falls, giving hikers several close-up views of all the great sights the park has to offer.

The park also has three convenient parking and picnic areas. One corresponding with Lower McDowell Falls, one at the midway point of the trail, and another at the very north of the park by Majestic Falls. In addition to making great picnic areas, they also act as effective jump off points into the park’s mile-and-a-half long loop.

Personally, I recommend starting from the Lower McDowell falls parking area and then make your way up to Majestic Falls but it’s nice to have a couple of different options if one area seems too crowded.

However, the downside to the three parking areas means that a road runs directly through the park. This isn’t too terrible, but on a busy afternoon, having cars constantly pass by while hiking along the trail can be a bit frustrating to hikers looking to completely escape into nature.

I went at around 8 a.m. on a Wednesday and had the trail all to myself for nearly the entire time, so consider getting up early to check this one out.

The park is pretty easy for experienced and newer hikers alike. With the exception of some of the mid-trail slopes that can get decently steep but still not too bad.

Overall McDowell Creek Park is a fun hike, with plenty to see and I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.

A path leads the hiker behind Shellburg Falls. (Photo: Josh Stickrod)

Shellburg Falls
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Length: 5.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes, Provided they are on a leash.

Another great waterfall hike, this one located just north of Mehama, Oregon on Fern Ridge Road Southeast off of highway 22. It‘s just a few miles south of popular hiking spot Silver Falls (which you should also check out if you don’t mind a crowd).

There’s a notable amount of distance from the parking area to the trailhead however, so be prepared to hike about an extra mile along a gravel service road. This service road also goes through private property so don’t go off the road under any circumstances. Don’t walk on any trails until you reach a trail marker that says Shellburg Falls.

But don’t let these initially strange circumstances discourage you, because once you get past the extra walking leading up to the trailhead, this hike is amazing. It’s a well-kept hiking loop with lots of greenery and the view of the waterfall is simply indescribable.

Hikers can venture behind the falls and up above it to explore several trails that loop around the area as well. There’s also a camp ground that is first-come first-served, equipped with restroom facilities for those interested in finding a decent camping spot.

Be sure to adhere to the campers and hikers checklist posted at the trailhead if you intend to check out this park because bears and mountain lions have occasionally been spotted in the area. I didn’t see one during my experience but hikers and campers should still be safe and be prepared when going to Shellburg Falls.

There is some foot traffic but I got there at about 9 a.m. on a Sunday and despite the parking area being packed, I rarely saw anybody.

Shellburg falls is a moderate to easy hike as it is five miles in length with some steep inclines but nothing too daunting. If you don’t want to do the entire hike, you could still just walk up to the falls and back. The view is that good.

A bird watching blind at Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Josh Stickrod)

Ankeny Wildlife Refuge
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: None
Dog Friendly: No

Ankeny Wildlife Refuge is located west of I-5 between Salem and Jefferson. While the refuge has a few different lookouts and hikes, I focused on the Rail Trail. This hike is located in the southern portion of the park, with the trailhead parking lot off of Wintel Road Southeast.

Hikers walk along a boardwalk through forest and marshlands with a front row seat to interesting plant and wildlife. I mostly saw pacific chorus frogs and various different species of waterfowl like the wood duck, but Ankeny is known as a great spot for bird watching, so keep an eye out.

There is no elevation gain and the rail itself runs just under a mile so the hike is a breeze for any skill level. You do have the option to loop around to the trailhead on a grass path around the marsh but be sure to watch your step as there are a few holes along the way that could turn your ankle if you’re not careful.

There are also no dogs allowed on this trail. This is to help preserve the wildlife as even the best behaving canines can disturb the creatures in the refuge. Of course, the age old saying “leave only footprints, take only pictures” applies here, so respect the wildlife and just look.

It doesn’t contain a lot of amazing sights like the previous two hikes but it’s a twenty minute drive from Albany, it’s fun no matter your skill level, and it’s not very crowded.

Story by Josh Stickrod

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