The Oregon coast offers a wide variety of hiking opportunities for people of all experience levels. Yes, there are some challenging trails at places like Cape Perpetua and Cascade Head, but enjoying the outdoors while hiking doesn’t have to mean a strenuous effort.
Such is the case with Alder Island Nature Trail at the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge just south of Lincoln City. It’s a very family friendly, level, half-mile gravel trail. The parking area and trailhead are just off of Highway 101, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy some fantastic views of nature. The trail features a forest of alder trees, an excellent view of the mudflats and looks at the Siletz River. But perhaps its biggest draw is the birdwatching opportunity it offers.
“It’s a beautiful trail,” said Dawn Harris, a recreation coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Alder Island Nature Trail as part of the Oregon Coastal Refuge Complex. “Because its short, and flat, it’s popular with families and older people — anybody, really, that wants to hear songbirds, watch bald eagles and see the natural wonders of a tidal marsh.”
OregonHikers.org states that the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a relatively new addition to the national refuge system, with the first acres of tidal salt flats being donated in 1991. The refuge has grown to 568 acres of the Siletz River delta and adjacent areas on Siletz Bay. Much of the delta had been ditched and diked to create pastureland for dairy cows, but in 2003, a major project on Millport Slough began the restoration process to provide habitat for salmon and steelhead. In 2017, the Alder Island Nature Trail was opened that allows foot access to this area. In addition to bird sightings, you’ll get views up the wide Siletz River and perhaps even glimpse some elk.
A kayak/canoe launch allows access to the water and a colorful kiosk map displays the attributes of this section of the wildlife refuge. Continue walking down the old route of Highway 101, with a tidal slough to your right and a thicket of willows on your left. You’ll make a sharp right over a massive culvert to reach the junction for the loop.
Heading left, you’ll find yourself walking on a gravel path next to the main channel of the Siletz River. A few Sitka spruce live on the island, but the principal tree is the red alder. Tall elderberry shrubs also arch overhead. The island, once a tidal marsh, became a dumping ground for construction debris; it was decided not to restore the marsh here so it could host this short trail for refuge visitors. Rotting wood pilings, once used to secure log rafts, protrude from the river, and forested slopes rise steeply on the opposite bank. Reach a bench at a viewpoint upriver, where the Siletz emerges from the dark coastal hills. The trail, now an avenue of alders, returns along a narrow slough, where you can look for herons, egrets, ducks, mergansers and cormorants. Close the loop and return to your vehicle.
The Alder Island Nature Trail is open from sunrise to sunset. Access to the parking area and trailhead is off of the east side of Highway 101, about halfway between milepost 120 and 121. Parking is somewhat limited, and dogs are not allowed on the nature trail.