The 2,492-acre Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1965 and is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and their habitats, specifically the Dusky Canada geese. It is comprised of shallow wetlands, grassy-farmed fields and rolling hills of Oregon white oak. It is maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Dept and many trails are closed from October 1st to April 30th to reduce the disturbance to migrating winter waterfowl.
Summer is a great time to visit the refuge, as all the trails are open and it is abundant with birds including hawks, wrens, chickadees, sparrows, blackbirds and more. We have even see fawns running with their mothers in the grassy foothills. The refuge is also known to have one of the largest surviving populations of the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly, once thought to be extinct.
At the kiosk in the parking area, there is a free checklist of all the birds that have been seen in the refuge. There is also a free map with trail desriptions. I would recommend picking up both when you arrive. If you do not want to keep them, you can return them when you leave.
One word of caution, stay on the established trails, for Baskett Slough is loaded with poison oak. In some places, it even hangs over the trail, especially in the oak woodland area. If you are not familiar with poison oak, look for woody shrubs/vines with small oak shaped leaves in clusters of three. Leaves can be bright green in the spring, yellow-green to reddish in the summer, and bright red or pink in the fall. When I was a child, my parents always said “leaves of three, let it be”. It was good advice.
We have visited Baskett Slough many times. I like it especially because it is close to Salem, a very quiet retreat, and once again, hardly anyone is there when we visit. This last trip was the same as others. We parked at the trailhead on Coville Road and headed off towards the observation platform that overlooks Cackler Marsh. The beginning of the trail is lined with old apple trees and wild rose bushes and songbirds fluttering about. It is a well graded trail, a very gentle, gradual climb and when we came to the first junction we veered to the left.
We saw a small Coopers hawk circling over the grassy butte probably in search of a rodent and soon after that, saw a snake that was basking in the sun on the trail, until we showed up and it slithered away. At the second junction we veered left again and headed up the grassy knoll to the observation platform where there are great views of the marshland to the south and the coast range to the west.
We went back down the trial and at the first junction headed straight, towards the oak woodland. The trail winds through a mixed forest of big leaf maple, Oregon white oak, doug firs among others. The understory is lush with ferns and poison oak and in the wet spring you must be very careful not to step on the the newts that share the trail with you.
The trail comes to a T-junction where your choice is to turn right and and head back to the parking area or for a longer hike, turn left and head towards Moffitti Marsh and Morgan Lake. This longer trail can be done as a loop and is open May 1 to September 30. After a short stroll up the grassy slope of Baskett Butte, the trail descends down to Moffitti Marsh where you can see beaver-like nutria swimming in the shallow marsh and redwing blackbirds and swallows zooming about. Here would be a great location for a bench, just to quietly sit and watch the wildlife, but there isn’t one!
The trail skirts the west bank of Moffitti Marsh and loops to the right along a mowed pasture. It comes to a second parking area for the refuge located on Smithfield Road. From here the trail is part of an old service road and leads to Morgan Lake. The lake is lined with cattails and we have often seen mallards and cinnamon teal ducks. The trail continues on, bordering a farm field as it loops up the backside of Baskett Butte and returns to the junction and heads back to the parking lot.
How to get there:
From Salem, head west on HWY 22 for 10 miles. Take exit #16, HWY 99W, and head north towards Monmouth/McMinnville. After approximately 2 miles, take a left onto Coville Road and drive slowly on the gravel road for another 1.5 miles till you reach the trailhead parking area on your right. Here, you’ll find restrooms and an informational kiosk with maps of the trails throughout the refuge.
Distance and elevation gain:
There are roughly 5 miles of walking/hiking trails, ranging in distance from the 1-mile Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop to 5 miles connecting with the Morgan Lake Trail. Elevation gain is minimal, only 260 feet.
Fees and permits:
There are no fees to park here and trails are open sunrise to sunset. There is no fishing, hunting and dogs are not allowed on the trails. It’s a wildlife refuge.