Natural Wonders: The Pacific Northwest's Salmon Run

Every year the salmon of the Pacific Northwest return to their birth place to spawn. See this natural phenomenon and a river of fish on an easy hike through tall pines.

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The Wonder

Every fall, Pacific salmon head inland, covering up to thousands of miles as they swim upstream to spawn in the exact location they were born. How do they find their way? One theory is smell. Another is that their brains have a magnetically sensitive homing instinct. In preparation for the journey, the salmon bulk up on smaller fish during the summer, taper off in fall, and stop eating altogether when they reach freshwater. The salmon die after spawning, becoming an important winter food source for bears, eagles, minks, and river otters.

The Way

From Sandy, Oregon (an hour southeast of Portland), take US 26 to Welches. Turn left on Salmon River Road to a parking area (on the right) for the Old Salmon River Trail. It's a mostly flat, 4.6-mile out-and-back along the Salmon River, with one section that climbs to sweeping views of Salmon River Canyon. Douglas firs and knee-deep clumps of ferns surround the well-maintained trail. Wild chinook and coho salmon spawn here, as well as steelhead. Look for them resting in eddies behind large boulders.