Though it is sometimes easy to forget, Salem is a river town. On the western edge of downtown, you'll find Salem's Riverfront Park, which features a state-of-the-art playground, amphitheater, carousel, and meandering pathways. It is also home to the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village. Here in the park, you'll also find the dock for the Willamette Queen (tel. 503/371-1103; www.willamettequeen.com), a paddle wheeler that cruises the Willamette River. Cruises range from basic 1-hour outings to lunch, brunch, and dinner cruises. Prices range from $12 ($6 for children 4-10) for a 1-hour cruise to $48 ($28 for children 4-10) for a 2-hour dinner or brunch cruise. Reservations are required.
From the carousel, a stroll up State Street will take you past some of Salem's most interesting shops and boutiques. To see the work of local artists, stop in at Mary Lou Zeek Gallery, 335 State St. (tel. 503/581-3229; www.zeekgallery.com).
A Nearby State Park & Two Wildlife Refuges
Eight miles north of Salem you'll find Willamette Mission State Park (tel. 503/393-1172; www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks), which preserves the site of the first settlement in the Willamette Valley. It was here that Methodist missionary Jason Lee and four assistants established their first mission in 1834. Today there are 8 miles of walking, biking, and horseback-riding paths through the park, which is also home to the largest black cottonwood tree in the country.
If it's bird-watching that interests you, two national wildlife refuges in the area are excellent places to observe ducks, geese, swans, and raptors. Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge is 12 miles south of Salem off I-5 at exit 243. Basket Slough National Wildlife Refuge is northwest of the town of Rickreall on Ore. 22, which passes through the north end of downtown Salem. Fall through spring is the best time of year for birding here. For more information, contact the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex (tel. 541/757-7236; www.fws.gov/WillametteValley/complex).
Especially for Kids
The younger ones will likely enjoy a ride on Salem's Riverfront Carousel, 101 Front St. NE (tel. 503/540-0374; www.salemcarousel.org), which is a modern carousel with 42 hand-carved horses. The carousel has its own building in Riverfront Park and is within walking distance of A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village. June through August, the carousel operates Monday through Saturday from 10am to 7pm, and Sunday from 11am to 6pm; other months the carousel closes 1 hour earlier Sunday through Thursday. Rides are $1.50.
Every year between mid-May and early June, the countryside around Salem bursts into color as commercial iris fields come into bloom. During blossom time, the two biggest growers open up their farms to the public.
Cooley's Gardens, 11553 Silverton Rd. NE, Silverton (tel. 503/873-5463; www.cooleysgardens.com), which showcases more than 500 varieties of bearded irises each spring, is one of the world's largest bearded-iris growers. This farm is open daily from 8am to 7pm between mid-May and early June. To reach the gardens, take the Market Street exit and drive east to Lancaster Drive; at Lancaster turn left and drive north to Silverton Road, where you make a right turn. It's less than 10 miles on Silverton Road.
Schreiner's Iris Gardens, 3625 Quinaby Rd. NE, Salem (tel. 800/525-2367 or 503/393-3232; www.schreinersgardens.com), an equally impressive sight, has 200 acres of iris fields and a 10-acre display garden. To reach Schreiner's, take the Chemawa exit (exit 260) off I-5 north of Salem, drive west on Chemawa Road, turn right once you're west of the freeway, and follow signs to Volcano Stadium. Continue north past the stadium and turn right on Quinaby Road.
Also in the area are Adelman Peony Gardens, 5690 Brooklake Rd. NE, Salem (tel. 503/393-6185; www.peonyparadise.com), which has 8 acres of fields and sells more than 160 varieties of peonies. Bloom season is from May to mid-June, and during this time, the farm is open daily from 9am to 7pm. From the Brooks exit, go east on Brooklake Road.
From late March to early May, you can see more than 40 acres of tulips and daffodils in bloom at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, 33814 S. Meridian Rd., Woodburn (tel. 800/711-2006 or 503/634-2243; www.woodenshoe.com). Throughout the blossom season, there are wooden-shoe-making seminars, steam-tractor demonstrations, live music, and lots of other activities.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.