If you find yourself needing a leg stretch while traveling around Willamette Valley Wine Country, look no further than the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, 14 miles west of Salem. Don’t be fooled by the kiosk just off Oregon Route 22 where most people stop, take a quick look, and drive away. There is far more to this protected area than just the viewing platform on the side of the highway.
Established in 1965 as part of the Willamette Valley NWR Complex, Baskett Slough provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation. Populations of several endangered and threatened animal and plant species can be found across the refuge, although the primary management goal is to provide wintering habitat for dusky Canada geese. As such, a number of trails are closed during the offseason to allow all of their homemaking to transpire unfettered. But even in the dead of winter, there’s some wonderful hiking to be had there, including the excellent 1.5-mile hike around Baskett Butte via the Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop Trail, which was named after a longtime U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee who died on United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed outside of Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.
From the trailhead, begin with a steady but inviting climb up a wide gravel path toward the summit of Baskett Butte. At a junction with an interpretive sign, stay right and continue toward a mixed coniferous forest that includes Oregon white oak. In spring, listen for the showy vocal gymnastics of migratory songbirds like the ruby-crowned kinglet and Bewick’s wren.
As the trail ascends, views of Mount Jefferson can be had off to the east—weather permitting, of course. The path stays on the fringe of the tree line until it reaches an unmarked junction, just after a half-mile total of hiking. If you’re visiting the refuge between April 1 and Sept. 30 and you’d like more exercise, feel free to continue straight toward Morgan Lake and the Moffitt Marsh. For the winter version of this hike, make a left at the junction and head into the oaks.
The path winds and climbs through a very attractive native forest with a surprisingly lush understory. You’ll gain on the summit before bending around the west side of Baskett Butte and emerging into an open savanna. The trail descends to a saddle and a three-way junction. Continue straight and make the brief ascent to the Rich Guadagno Memorial Observation Platform. Here, take in a sweeping view of the wetlands that encompass the southern part of the refuge—and a few of those aforementioned wineries. It’s also a prime spot to catch thousands of migratory waterfowl in winter.
Walk back down to the previous junction and make a right. The path continues downward, meeting up with the original junction. Make a right here and walk the final 0.2 mile back to the trailhead. If you’ve worked up a thirst, the Left Coast Estate, Andante Vineyard and Van Duzer Vineyards have the slough surrounded.
Distance: 1.5-mile loop
Difficulty: ☀ out of ☀ ☀ ☀ ☀
Drive time from Portland: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Directions: Take Interstate 5 south for roughly 40 miles, taking exit 260-A for OR 99E. Continue 23 miles and take a right onto OR 22W. Drive 9.4 miles and take exit 16 for OR 99W. At the stop sign, take a left and drive 1.8 miles to Coville Road. Make a left onto gravel Coville Road and drive 1.4 miles to the trailhead parking area for the Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop Trail on the right.
Restroom availability: There are portable toilets at this trailhead.