Baskett Slough: Accessible sanctuary for all types of flying creatures

Road Journals Blog—Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is like a spa retreat for birds and butterflies, a resort for wintering waterfowl, a point of rest and respite for ducks, owls, and geese.

The main hike at Baskett Slough can be easily accomplished in an hour, but to best enjoy the area plan for a picnic and give yourself half a day to explore its more than four miles of trails for local animal watching.

Birds over Baskett Slough | George Gentry/USFWS

To get to the main parking lot at the middle of the refuge, drive past the marshes 10 miles west from Salem on Route 22, and take a right at Coville Road. You will cross Cackler Marsh (be sure to stop for a Dusky Canada geese concert if you’re there in winter) and come to the T in the road. Make a left.

When you get out of the car you will be standing on the wet prairie, once the most widespread natural habitat in the Willamette Valley and a flowering home to grassland birds such as the western meadowlark, streaked horned lark, and Oregon vesper sparrow. The refuge you have driven through encompasses 2,492 acres of farmed fields, rolling oak-covered hills, and shallow wetlands.

Moon over Baskett Slough | George Gentry/USFWS

Climb the trail (no dogs, horses or bikes) up the hill, edged by blackberry brambles to your left and prairie grass to your right. This particular trail was named after Rich Guadagno, a former manager of the refuge who died on Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. As the trail becomes steeper, follow it to the left to reach a stunning 360-degree overlook with a bird’s-eye view of the valley’s farmland and area vineyards.

To your left and right are managed native prairies filled with Kincaid’s lupine, a tiny, delicate, endangered prairie flower that is host and home to the Fender’s Blue Butterfly. You might catch a glimpse of this butterfly there in late May and early June; it was once thought to be extinct but now thrives at the refuge and similar sites throughout the valley.

Baskett Slough overlook | Emily Grosvenor

When you reach the lookout, you’ll also have a prime viewing spot for watching Canada Geese as they bathe and feed in the marshes below.

Head back down the hill the way you came; when the trail begins to curve, take the left fork toward the woods. Within minutes you’ll find yourself amid the gnarled oaks and shady ferns of an old-oak savanna. Here, the distant sounds of the highway are blurred out by croaking frogs, snapping of twigs under deer hooves, the rat-tat-tat of acorn woodpeckers and the chirping of the many bird species that nest here.

The trail snakes through the forest until opening up in prairie grasses, and again forks. There are two trails to the left, each about a mile—one leading down to Moffitti Marsh and one to the Morgan Reservoir. Turn right and you’ll head back in a loop towards the parking lot.

Whichever path you take, chances are good that you won’t be alone—and other hikers will have nothing to do with it.

Emily Grosvenor wrote about the Fender's Blue butterfly in Baskett Slough in the May/June 2011 issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.