I have been to Willamette Mission State Park on two previous occasions. When I think back to those spring days, the one thing that stands out in my mind is the great clouds of brilliant yellow goldfinches flying across the meadows and over Mission Lake. Willamette Mission Park is known for its vibrant and varied bird life. The 14th and last of the “Portland Area” hikes, Willamette Mission is only five miles for Salem. Despite being an easy and shorter hike, it is definitely worth the drive for us Portland people.
My 2.7 mile hike began with a little bit of hiccup. Once again, I found myself needing to reverse engineer a hike and start from a different trailhead then indicated in the book. While on the Powell Butte Hike my plans were sabotaged by construction; here my plans were sabotaged by Mission Lake, which rudely decided to overflow its shore and flood the main roadway into the park.
After paying my $5.00 parking fee only to discover a locked gate (and a ton of water) blocking the roadway, I pulled out the book and found an alternative trailhead a little further down the main road. Instead of parking at the main park, I parked on Wheatland Road in the ferry parking area. This is normally where the hike ends.
Heading into the park, I was a little apprehensive since the sign on the locked gate at the main park said, “Road and trails closed due to flooding and high water.” Part of me worried that the trails would be unsafe and I’d fall in a sink hole and drown or something. But mostly I thought, “I’ve already driven to Salem and paid $5 for parking: I am hiking this blasted trail, water or no.” Emboldened by my frugality, I soldiered on, passing the ferry dock on the Willamette River and to the first trail junction where I turned left to hike along mission lake. This trail junction is also where I first noticed sign noting that cougars had been sighted in that area and not to hike alone. I spent the next hour thinking every squirrel in the bushes was cougar waiting to eat my face.
I have long wanted to to see a cougar in the wild. However, while on this hike I was overcome with the intense desire NOT to see a cougar in the wild.
So far, this has been the easiest hike in the book. Though it did take me an hour and half, that was because I was dawdling and taking lots of pictures and watching the wildlife. With the main entrance closed, I had the park to myself and I took my time thoroughly enjoying the solitude and bird life on this lakeside trail.
Also, when you sneeze in an abandoned and silent hazelnut orchard in the middle of winter something akin to a scene from “The Birds” occurs. I think a terrified at least 300 birds, but it was awesome to watch them fly off.
There were tons of robins, dark-eyed juncos, mallards, Canadian geese, wood ducks, and spotted towhees. In addition, I saw both a Hairy Woodpecker and Red-breasted sapsucker. However the most exciting sights were at the ferry dock, where I saw a Belted Kingfisher sitting on the one of the ferry wires strung across the river. I also saw an Osprey take off from its nest near the ferry dock. Throughout the hike, and park, there are bird blinds and wildlife viewing areas. Summer and spring would be spectacular for bird watching.
If you’re not excited by thoughts of kingfishers and towhees, the park also boasts the oldest cottonwood tree in the United States.
And the site of one of the first missions west of the Cascades was once here.
Ability-wise, this hike could be completed by most people, would be a great place to picnic with children, and there are even barrier free options. There is no elevation gain, so even if you are very out of shape, this is a very doable hike. If I lived closer, I would hike here often. Bicycles and dogs are welcome, as are horses.
Plus, you get to take a ride on Oregon’s longest continually operating ferry when you are done.
And the farm goats:
Or you could just sit and watch the Willamette River flow by.