The Salmon River rises on the south slope of Mount Hood, fed by the melting ice of the Palmer Glacier. From its alpine beginnings, the river flows swiftly south down the flank of the volcano, carving a maze of steep canyons in the soft pumice and ash that makes up the smooth south slopes of Mount Hood. At the southern base of the mountain, the river slows as it meanders through lush alpine meadows, first through marshy Red Top Meadows, and then the sprawling Salmon River Meadows. From here, Mount Hood towers above the stream, the meadows having formed over the centuries where a massive, ancient pyroclastic flow buried this part of the Salmon River canyon with hundreds of feet of volcanic debris. The meadows of today are where the river meandered across the flat surface of the debris.
Soon, the Salmon River enters deep forest at the south edge of the meadows, and turns west, as it enters the Salmon River Gorge. At first, the river rambles through the upper gorge, rushing over boulders, and picking up tributaries along the way. Then, at Linney Creek, the gorge suddenly deepens. The river plunges into a steep, spectacular canyon, with black basalt cliffs rising hundreds of feet above the stream. Here, the Salmon River enters the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, and roars over six named waterfalls, and several unnamed cataracts as it flows over the ancient bedrock of the Old Cascades. The forest becomes rainforest here, with sheer cliffs coated in thick green mats of moss and ferns, and massive old growth conifers soaring above the stream.
Below the gorge, the river becomes wider, with sweeping bends and deep pools where the stream rushes over wide gravel bars and slides over smooth bedrock. Here, the ancient forest spreads out, with lush woodlands sweeping up from the river into the surrounding mountains. At the junction with the South Fork, the river leaves the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, and rambles past forest campgrounds and summer cabins before joining the Sandy River, another glacial stream that originates on Mount Hood.
The Salmon was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1988, and is home to endangered Steelhead and Chinook salmon. The river offers one of the few spawning habitats in the Columbia basin that is unimpeded by dams, and special restrictions on fishing are in place here, as a result. The Wildwood Recreation Site, located on Highway 26, along the lower reaches of the river, has a unique underwater salmon viewing exhibit that is also accessible to disabled persons.
This web site is a tribute to the waterfalls of the Salmon River Gorge, one of the most spectacular, and least explored places in the Pacific Northwest. This is surprising, given that the Salmon River Gorge is just 40 minutes from Portland, and only a few miles from busy Highway 26. This is because the Salmon River National Recreation Trail, which traces much of the river, is built high above the Salmon River Gorge, barely within earshot of the thundering waterfalls hidden below. Though a number of faint use paths follow side streams and ravines to the river, few visitors actually reach the falls of the Salmon River. This site is a virtual tour of these little known waterfalls, and the story of how they were named in 1963.
Visiting the waterfalls of the Salmon River is both difficult and dangerous. Only skilled hikers should venture into the gorge, and then only if equipped for survival emergencies. The most accessible viewpoints, above Final and Frustration falls, have been deadly for careless visitors, and are characterized by extremely exposed, unstable slopes. Though the falls are most spectacular during spring runoff, this is also the most dangerous time to visit them.
A final note on viewing these pages: they are image-rich, and may be slow to download, depending on your web connection. Be patient - you'll enjoy the images! For a tour map of the Salmon River Gorge, click here.
This tour is organized into three sections that can be visited by clicking the images below:
1963 OGNB Naming Expedition to Final and Frustration Falls
1983 Anniversary Expedition to Final and Frustration Falls
1983 Anniversary Expedition to Stein and Split Falls
Click Here for a Tour Map of the Salmon River Gorge
Click here for kayak pioneers of the Salmon River Gorge
For more information on how to visit the Salmon River, contact:
Mt. Hood Information Center 65000 E. Highway 26 Welches, OR 97067 (503) 622-4822 or toll-free 1-888-622-4822 FAX (503) 622-3163 or visit their web site at: http://www.mthood.org/ Mt. Hood National Forest Headquarters Office 16400 Champion Way Sandy, OR 97055 Visitor Information: (503) 622-7674 or visit their web site at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mthood/
Unless otherwise credited, photos on this site are ©Tom Kloster 1983, and may not be used without permission
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