Hiking Salem’s Wilderness: River Road

This essay is part of an occasional series highlighting Phil Decker’s journeys hiking through what he calls the Salem National Forest. See his first journey for Salem Is here, or read about all of his adventures on his blog.

Welcome back to the River Road Trail! Recently I embarked on a quest to discover more awe-inspiring glimpses of the Willamette River. Yet what began as such an optimistic journey several sidewalk hikes ago has turned into a test of will and faith, piercing right through the commercial heart of Keizer.

I’ve been misled by signs of water along the way, such as decorative fountains, self-serve car washes and place names like “Keizer Creekside.” But lo and behold, while wandering behind the Albertson’s grocery store on the corner of River Road and Lockhaven Drive, I caught my first look at a well-preserved tributary behind tall chain link fences. I could almost smell, but not touch, the river.

01, photo by Phil Decker


With my spirits lifted, I woke up bright and early one foggy morning to explore the 1.0-mile loop north from Lockhaven to Manzanita Street and back. Come along for the hike. Let’s see if we can hit the jackpot: actually finding the river along the River Road Trail.

At this convenient trailhead by the 7-11 at the intersection of Lockhaven and River Road, you can get a small cup of Brazilian Bold coffee for only $1. Parking is free by the dumpsters …

02, photo by Phil Decker


and large crows are available to watch over your car.

03, photo by Phil Decker


As you hike north, take time to linger in the wide open fields bathed in the soft, gray morning mist, adorned with symmetrical bouquets of cattails and utility pole cables.

04, photo by Phil Decker


As you turn around at Manzanita, heading back south, duck into the dense woods on the side of the road to commune with a thin patch of nature, and to catch a glimpse of a tributary far below. (Tip: Be prepared to get your shoes and socks wet.)

05, photo by Phil Decker


Sojourn into the Inland Shores commercial complex, where closer creek sightings await you by the Salem Clinic. Don’t feel disappointed when forced to view the creek from behind bars; they serve as fantastic frames for elegant spider webs.

06, photo by Phil Decker


But to be honest, although I stumbled upon lovely creek after lovely creek, I really wanted to know, “Where the heck is the river?” I began to lose all hope.

07, photo by Phil Decker


Despondent, I decided to take a risk and sneak into a private lake spot in an upper middle class (at least) residential area, one that used to house a fancy Italian restaurant that is now out of business.

08, photo by Phil Decker


I sat down, took a few deep breaths, and found solace in knowing that river or no river …

09, photo by Phil Decker


we all love Keizer! After all, they put on a great Iris Festival and Parade each spring.

As I returned toward the trailhead, I peered at another creek behind bars …

10, photo by Phil Decker


and then climbed a stairway (lured by the bright blue handrails) up to Chase Bank’s parking lot. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all the time and energy I had invested in hiking the River Road Trail was about to pay dividends.

11, photo by Phil Decker


From atop a sidewalk bridge on the River Road Trail, I stopped in my tracks to absorb this misty marvel: an elusive waterway stretched out in all its glory, meandering through wild wetlands and fall foliage, curving around the ATM, trickling downstream to join its long lost cousin, the Willamette River … possibly.

12, photo by Phil Decker


Phil Decker, an elementary school principal in Salem, is also a documentary photographer and facilitator of the Salem Photo League. You can view his blog, “Hiking Salem National Forest,” at salemnationalforest.blogspot.com, or see his other photo essays at www.phildeckerphotos.com.