47 miles S of Portland, 40 miles N of Corvallis, 131 miles W of Bend, 57 miles E of Lincoln City
Although it's the state capital, the second largest city in the state, and home to Willamette University, Salem feels more like a small Midwestern college town than a Pacific Rim capital. Founded by a Methodist missionary, the city still wears its air of conservatism like a minister's collar. No one has ever accused Salem of being too raucous or rowdy. Even when both the school and the legislature are in session, the city barely seems charged with energy. The quiet conservatism does, however, give the city a certain charm that's not found in the other cities of the Willamette Valley. Although there are some interesting museums and the state capitol building to be visited here, it is the countryside surrounding Salem that is the real attraction. Within 20 to 25 miles of Salem, you'll find the Oregon Garden, Silver Falls State Park (one of the most beautiful state parks in Oregon), wineries, commercial flower fields, and several quaint small towns (Silverton, Mt. Angel, Independence, and Monmouth) that conjure up the Willamette Valley's pioneer past.
Salem's roots date from 1834, when Methodist missionary Jason Lee, who had traveled west to convert the area's Native Americans, made it the first American settlement in the Willamette Valley. In 1842, a year before the first settlers crossed the continent on the Oregon Trail, Lee founded the Oregon Institute, the first school of higher learning west of the Rockies. In 1857 the first textile mill west of the Mississippi opened here, giving Salem a firm industrial base. However, despite all these historic firsts, Oregon City and Portland grew much faster and quickly became the region's population centers. Salem seemed doomed to backwater status until 1859, when Oregon became a state and Salem was chosen as its capital.