The 167-foot Big Baldwin Trestle Bridge over Baldwin Creek about 2.5 miles into the hike.
While my friends, Hannah and Emily, were visiting me in Portland, we visited the downtown Pearl District, explored Mississippi Avenue, and decided to hike the Upper Salmonberry River Trail. It’s not even a technical “trail” per say. It’s a set of 16-miles-long abandoned railway tracks in the gorgeous Tillamook State Forest that’s characterized by lush foliage, wood trestles, and a feeling of remoteness and like you’re somewhere you’re not really supposed to be. Today, the hike has Indiana-Jones-esque dark, damp, and dank tunnels, and bridges with rotten boards hundreds of feet above the ground.
In 2007, a two-day-long storm pummeled the area with intense winds and pouring rain and eroded the ground, damaged tunnels and bridges, and thus rendered the tracks impassable. Due to increasing costs, the railroad decided not to make the necessary repairs, and the rails have been unused and utterly abandoned ever since.
“These are scary places. You’re walking on railroad ties, so if it’s rained, it can be slippery. There’s no cell phone reception. I think it’s completely doable and safe, but just so people understand: The footing is weird. You’re going to have to walk along railroad that doesn’t have anything underneath it. This is not something that was designed for you to walk on it, and no one’s out there taking care of it, making sure it’s nice and safe for everyone.”
Since the tracks along the Salmonberry River Trail aren’t maintained, plants and and trees are sprouting up between the ties and encroaching the tracks and, within a couple of years, it is very likely that all the growth will render this place completely inaccessible.
We had read about the hike online and we were ready for a real honest-to-goodness adventure. How could we not take advantage of venturing out on this abandoned railroad? So, early one morning, we laced up our shoes, loaded into the car, and decided to find our way to this incredible hike.
After about an hour in the car, things got challenging and I can honestly say that we would not have been able to locate the trailhead without these directions – especially since we didn’t have any cell reception. We drove down tiny, unmarked, and winding dirt roads until this happened:
“What if another car was coming from the other direction … there isn’t any room to pass.”
“Let’s just be glad we are the only ones on this road.”
(5 minutes later…)
(Huge, gargantuan, elephantine, massive logging truck appears driving toward us.)
(Did I mention how gigantic it was?)
“It’s not stopping!”
Thankfully, it did stop. And Hannah did spectacularly driving backwards all the way until it was wide enough to let it pass, but still. Apparently this whole area could be closed at any time for logging so, go figure and be prepared for anything.
Against all odds, we found the trailhead. It was unmarked and there was one other car pulled off against the side of the road so we parked, and began our adventure.
There’s actually a bit of a path when you’re starting out, but that path doesn’t last long so don’t be fooled by the apparently easy walking – the trail vanishes. I promise.
Best hiking buddies.
If you aren’t trying to walk on the tracks any chance you get, then you aren’t doing it right.
The trail disappeared into oblivion just like that and we found ourselves walking on the tracks, through mud, over rocks, and through the plants that had swallowed up the path.
(Note: We were worried about poisonous plants. Even though we can identify poison oak and poison ivy, there was so much foliage, that there was no way to avoid it. Thankfully, I can report back that, after the hike, all three of us were happily itch-free.)
My hiking backpack – Fjallraven Kanken in Fog
About a mile into the hike, we came across the first tunnel.
To whoever left this sign here, you are an awesome human being.
Walking into this tunnel was one of the most surreal moments of my life. You know the feeling when you’re at Disneyland and you go on a dark ride that transports you to a different world so much that you feel like a completely different person? This felt exactly the same way, only we had to keep reminding ourselves that it was completely real. This wasn’t some fake and formulated place to simulate the feeling of adventure. This was the real deal. This was legit.
(Note: I’d recommend bringing a flashlight or using the one on your phone. The footing can be tricky without a bit of light.)
There is light at the end of the tunnel!
Not too far after coming out of the tunnel, we were able to cross some of the smaller bridges.
Larabars are the perfect hiking snack.
The old water tanks signal that the Big Baldwin Trestle Bridge is right ahead.
About 2.5 miles into the hike, we arrived at the Big Baldwin Bridge. This 105-year-old trestle was built in 1911 and stands at 167 feet high, and 520 feet long. Rotten boards and significant signs of aging turned a simple walk into an adventure with just the right amount of mystery and danger. I loved every second.
The boards closest to the edge are the most rotten so we stayed as close to the tracks as we could as we made our way across. With Baldwin Creek below us and a stunning view of the mountains and trees ahead, crossing this trestle bridge was, by far, my favorite part of the Salmonberry River Trail Hike.
Notes from hikers who had braved the way before…
We walked about another half mile after the Big Baldwin and turned around after about a three miles to make our way back for a total hike of six miles.
As we walked back to our car and left the Salmonberry River Trail behind us, it was a strange feeling of knowing that we would probably never be back to this Best Hike of Our Lives and, if we ever did make it back, the places that we had just tread might be completely impassable next time. If you are in the Portland area, and are in the mood for a true adventure, go on this remarkable hike while you still can. It might not be around for too many more years to come.