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A Great, Little-known Bike Trail in Salem

Updated: May 22, 2023


May 19, 2023—Portland has Forest Park; Salem has Minto Brown Island Park. Both are urban oases in major Oregon cities. I found myself in Salem today to try out a road bike to see if I wanted to order its more colorful version, so this gave me the opportunity to grab my bike and ride the more than 15 miles of paved trails that make up Minto Brown Island Park, Riverfront Park, and across the river to Wallace Marine Park. There are a total of 29 miles of paved and soft trails that make up nine loops within Minto Brown Island park itself.


Some of the trails run alongside the Willamette River, while others run under canopies of Douglas fir, big-leaf maple, alder, and other trees. And still other trails run along grassy fields where you might spot a black-tailed deer grazing or a hawk hunting. The different scenery users of the trails encounter is one reason the trail system is so popular with cyclists, joggers, and walkers. And because the trail system is mostly off the street with one small exception along the entrance road to the park, it’s an ideal place for young families to go riding.


Besides the chance at seeing deer, visitors may spot other wildlife as well in the fields, the wetlands, or in the woods. On a previous ride one cloudy morning, a barred owl flew right in front of me and landed on a tree branch overhanging the trail. He sat there for over five minutes, allowing me to get several pictures of him. Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my good camera and telephoto lens with me that day, so I couldn’t get any close shots of him.


The trails are in good shape, though some may be closed during the spring because of flooding from the slough and wetland on the island. Even when the flooding occurs, there are still plenty of riding opportunities on the island. There are some trail sections where roots have started to raise the trail. Some of those deformations in the trail are marked, others are not.


I started my ride from the parking lot close to the A.C. Gilbert’s Children Museum. It’s a large parking lot and usually has empty spaces. It is one of six parking lots accessible to the trail. A seventh parking lot is available at the off-leash area on Minto Brown Island, but that should be left for dog owners using the dog park.


Setting out from the parking lot, I rode south through Riverfront Park and crossed over the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge. The white-span bridge is located next to the large globe in the park. Once across the bridge, I passed a natural area restoration project. Bright orange California poppies were in bloom. It was early Friday afternoon, so the trail wasn’t as crowded as I have seen it on weekends. On sunny weekend days, the trail can be crowded, requiring cyclists to take it slow in some locations.


At a kiosk containing a map and with a porta-potty nearby, the trail splits. I took the trail to the right and hoped the trail wouldn’t be closed to flooding. I was in luck. Floodwaters had receded from a month ago when I couldn’t ride that section of the trail because it was under about two feet of water. I followed the trail, which eventually arrived at a large gravel parking lot and picnic area. Picnic shelters, a playground, and a small lake make this picnic area a popular spot for families with young children, paddlers, and fishermen. Anglers have a good chance of catching bass in this lake once the water warms up.


Most of my riding so far had been in the open. However, leaving the picnic area, I headed south into the woods. About a third of a mile the trail splits. I chose to take the trail to the right and ride over one of three wooden bridges within the trail system. The trail loops around the island and eventually winds up back where I chose to go to the right. Halfway around the loop, the trail comes out next to Homestead Rd. South. The trail is separated from the road by a guardrail, so riders still don’t have to deal with traffic. About a quarter of a mile past Homestead Rd. South and the small parking lot there, I came upon another wood bridge. On the opposite side of the bridge, the trail makes a short, steep climb, so I shifted into a lower gear before crossing the bridge. It was still a slow climb because of the trail’s steepness. This short stretch of climbing is really the only steep section along the trail.


I rode on and eventually arrived at where I had taken the trail to the right and rode back to the picnic area. There is a trail to the right in between where I earlier turned right and the picnic area that heads southeast toward a pond popular with fishermen.


Unfortunately, the trail has been flooded for the last couple of years and impassable. I decided to avoid that trail rather than ride out to the pond only to have to turn around.

Once back at the picnic area, I followed the trail as it runs next to the off-leash dog park and past an open field that parallels the entrance road into the park. Crossing the road near the park entrance, I took the trail to the right and crossed over a short wooden bridge. The trail does a short loop to a small parking lot near the park entrance. It's a good spot if someone needs to use the bathroom, as there are several porta-potties there. I looped around and rode along the entrance road to get back to the spot where I crossed the road.


I didn’t cross the road. Instead, I made a quick right and then a left to follow the trail that runs alongside a wetland. This wetland is another great spot to watch for wildlife. Thankfully the trail wasn’t flooded this time; it was flooded a month earlier when I visited the park. The trail loops around and eventually connects to the trail that takes riders back to the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge. I chose, however, to continue straight and then take the trail to the right that runs through an open field and back to the picnic area.


Riding alongside the dog park again, I crossed the road at the dog park parking lot and took the trail that took me back to where I had come from when I started the loop. This time, I took the trail to the left that took me back to the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge.


Once back in Riverfront Park, I rode north to the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Willamette River. The sternwheeler was out conducting a tour of the river for guests as I crossed the bridge over to Wallace Marine Park. There are many homeless people who have pitched tents alongside the river in Wallace Marine Park. I have never had any problems with the homeless in the park, but I won’t park in the lot there and leave my vehicle unattended for security reasons. Riders venturing into the park shouldn’t feel unsafe riding in Wallace Marine Park. I made a loop of the park before heading back over the bridge and returning to the parking lot from which I started my ride.


I only put in 13 miles during this ride, but I felt that I had accomplished a good ride.

It’s unfortunate that none of the cycling books that cover Portland, the surrounding area, or Oregon mention this trail system. I believe it’s better than some of the rides mentioned in those books. It’s definitely safer for riding than the Springwater Corridor Trail from Sellwood out to 102nd Ave.


If you want to know more about Minto Brown Island Park and the trail system, visit the following website: https://www.cityofsalem.net/Home/Components/FacilityDirectory/FacilityDirectory/122/599.

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