The delayed arrival of Spring weather has begun affecting the timing of the hikes that I’d planned for us this year. We had originally planned a wildflower hike for this weekend, but they are running at least two weeks behind so we turned to a pair of wildlife hikes instead. Our first stop was at the Snag Boat Bend unit of the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge.
This 341-acre unit is located a across the Willamette River to the East of the 5,325-acre refuge. The unit has several miles of trails although the amount accessible fluctuates due to flooding.
Not sure how “official” the writing is on the map, but it wasn’t wrong about the Turtle Loop being “closed” (high water).
The Snag Boat Bend Loop Trail begins as a boardwalk that passes over the North Beaver Pond. Oddly there wasn’t much, if any, water in this pond despite other areas later being flooded.
After the short boardwalk section the trail became a combination of grass/mud as it followed a swollen Lake Creek toward the Willamtte River.
A swollen Lake Creek
A third of a mile from the trailhead is a picnic table overlooking a former channel of the Willamette River that is now an oxbow lake filled by Lake Creek.
The oxbow lake.
The trail makes a hard left at the picnic table passing along the water.
Lots of water in the lake.
Woodpecker hiding in the trees.
Just under 0.2 miles from the picnic table, during low water, is said to be a path that makes it possible to connect the Snag Boat Band and Turtle Loop Trails.
Note the sign on the far side vs the closer sign barely sticking up out of the water.
A quarter mile from the picnic table the Snag Boat Bend Loop turns left at a junction. We stayed straight and visited the Observation Blind before setting off on the Blue Heron Trail.
Red flowering currant
Signs at the junction.
The observation blind.
There wasn’t a whole lot to observe from the blind since the morning fog limited visibility.
The Blue Heron Trail followed the boarder of the refuge and some private farmland.
It was approximately another quarter mile from the blind to a 4-way junction. Here the Blue Heron Trail began and finished a theoretical loop using the left most forks and the Turtle Trail split off to the right along a dike.
Blue Heron Trail to the left and Turtle Trail on the right.
We turned right onto the Turtle Trail and as we got onto the dike we could see that the area below, where a loop shown on the Oregonhikers page joined back up, was likely flooded. We followed the dike a quarter of a mile to another junction where the Turtle Trail made a hard right and descended from the dike into an open area where several rabbits were busy having their breakfast.
We followed this grassy track for a third of a mile back to the swollen Lake Creek where, during low water, the Turtle Loop would turn right along the creek and loop back around.
Another sign out in the middle of the water.
We turned back and returned to the junction with the Blue Heron Trail.
The start of a possible loop using the Blue Heron Trail. The fainter track on the right heading downhill was flooded just 100 feet or so away.
The flooded area where the loop would end.
I had gone down to the flooded section to see if there was possibly a way across without having to wade but there wasn’t. The good news was that my heading down to this spot had caused a great horned owl to move trees which allowed both Heather (on the other section of the Blue Heron Trail) and myself to spot it.
Since we knew that we would be able to make the Blue Heron Trail into a loop we followed it a half mile from the junction, making a sharp right near the 0.4-mile mark and decided to turn around. The trail had gone from gravel to wet grass and our feet were getting pretty damp which helped make the decision to turn around.
Cottonwood with red flowering currant, Oregon grape, and Indian plum blooming in front.
We were able to keep our feet dry on the gravel surfaces.
Hawk preparing for takeoff.
We had started to go past the turn for the Blue Heron Trail so this photo is as we headed back toward the turn. We came from the right-hand side so the path straight ahead would have been the “sharp right”.
Our turn around spot. The trail was beginning to bend back to the East here.
We headed back along the Blue Heron Trail following it to the Snag Boat Bend Loop where we turned right in order to finish that loop.
A chipping sparrow among the golden-crowned sparrows.
On the Snag Boat Bend Loop
The trail turned left to follow this gravel roadbed for the final third of a mile.
The gate in the distance is at the trailhead.
Our hike at Snag Boat Bend came in at 3.9 miles with maybe 50′ of elevation gain. Had some of the loops not been flooded it might have been a bit shorter.
It was a nice first visit though and we are now interested in returning in late Summer/early Fall when some of the flooded trails might be accessible. While the fog made it a bit hard to see we still managed to see a few ducks, a goose, several rabbits, the owl, a hawk, lots of smaller birds, and one bald eagle that flew overhead. From the trailhead we drove North to the city of Albany where we’d plan to visit a series of the city’s parks. The idea was to start at Monteith Riverpark and hike East along the Willamette River to Simpson Park and then continue along the river there past First and Second Lakes if the trail wasn’t flooded. If it was flooded, we could turn inland at Simpson Park and re-visit the Talking Water Gardens (post).
I had two reasons for putting this urban hike on our schedule. First it was close to home and secondly Monteith Riverfront Park sits at the confluence of the Calapooia and Willamette Rivers, and the Calapooia is one of Oregon’s rivers that we had yet to see on a hike. This 80-mile long tributary of the Willamette begins in the Willamette National Forest near Tidbits Mountain (post) and flows Northwest through Brownsville, OR before turning North to the East of Interstate 5. It was disappointing to arrive and find that the entire park was closed for a large waterfront project by the City of Albany. (Normally I would check the status of our destination prior to heading out, but I didn’t expect an entire city park to be closed, and after looking online when I got home, I’m not sure I would have found the information anyway.)
We wound up parking East of the Riverfront Community Center and hoping on the Dave Clark Trail there.
Less than 100 yards from where we’d parked we came to an observation platform that led out over the Willamette River. From this platform we could at least see the mouth of the Calapooia emptying into the Willamette.
The confluence ahead to the left.
Highway 20 passing over the Willamette to the left. Fun fact about U.S. Highway 20 – It runs from Newport, OR to Boston, MA and is the longest road in the USA according to the Federal Highway Administration. Click here for more information and an interesting write up of the drive from Boston to Newport by Boots on the Trail.
We followed the Dave Clark Trail East passing under both bridges of the highway and then later under the Union Pacific Railroad.
Orange crowned warbler. One of many small birds we saw along this trail.
We thought it was a little odd to see two occupied nests atop the railroad so close together until we realized that the occupants weren’t both birds of prey.
Canada geese were using one of the nests.
Might be the mate looking acting as lookout from the bridge.
Osprey occupied the other and appeared to be in the process of renovations.
We also encountered a beautiful male Anna’s hummingbird but for the life of me I couldn’t get either one of the cameras I was carrying to focus on the little guy so the only picture we wound up with was a cropped shot from Heather’s phone.
His bright pink head was more impressive in person.
After ducking under the railroad and passing some apartments the trail passed the Willamette Community Garden and climbed to NE Oak Street.
The community garden (not pictured) was on our right.
Pretty tulips at the sign.
Here the trail follows several blocks of sidewalk before reaching its end at Bowman Park. The official route of the trail turned right on Oak St for a block then left for 5 blocks NE Water Ave to Geary St where it turned left and descended 3 blocks to Bowman Park. We stayed straight on Front Ave NE though and followed it 3 blocks to Harrison St. NE where we turned right for a block to NE Water Ave to rejoin the Dave Clark Trail.
Not a lot to see in the residential neighborhoods but we did cross Pettyjohn Creek along the way.
Sign for Bowman Park at Geary St.
Bowman Park on the left and the paved path we took on the right.
A paved path led East from Bowman Park behind a new apartment complex where it turned to a wood chip surface.
Cormant in the middle of the Willamette.
At the far end of the apartment complex the trail suddenly turned into a slick, muddy single track.
Things got started getting interesting here, and not in the good way. We quickly started passing vacant and/or abandoned homeless camps and the trail surface was just a mess. At this point we were only about a half mile from the Simpson Park Trailhead though so we pressed on.
Seen near a homeless camp which sort of captures the situation. A combination of unaffordable house, drug abuse, and mental illness has created a crisis up and down the West Coast with no simple (or quick) answer.
We initially mistook all the footprints and bike tracks as a sign that the trail saw good recreational use.
According to the Oregonhikers.org Field Guide entry for the Albany Riverfront Hike there is a concrete bridge over Cox Creek near Simpson Park. We never made it that far though as after a quarter mile we came to small pond over the trail. There was no foreseeable way around and we didn’t want to do to much searching for an alternate route for fear of stumbling upon an occupied camp so we turned around.
Prior to reaching the impassible puddle we had already decided to forgo trying to hike further along the Willamtte from Simpson Park and had planned instead of visit Talking Water Gardens and return via roads instead of the muddy trail. Now that we’d been stymied though we trudged back through the mud and past the homeless camps to the apartments where we turned left on a path that led a short distance uphill into Eads Park.
We turned left and passed through this small park then turned right onto Burkhart St NE and began our second stint of neighborhood hiking. After a block on Burkhart we made a left on Willamette Ave NE and followed it 0.2-miles to its end at the Albany/Millersburg Water Reclamation Facility where we turned right onto Davidson St. NE. A block on Davidson brought us back to Front AVE NE and a sign for the Talking Water Gardens.
Front Ave became Waverly Dr NE and we followed it until we finally crossed Cox Creek three tenths of a mile later.
We made our way to the gated entrance to the Talking Water Gardens happy to see that the man-made waterfall in the Beaver Marsh was flowing this time.
We turned right and headed for the main sign board to get a picture of the map and decide on our route.
We decided to loop around the West Beaver Marsh and Central Oak areas before heading back.
There was obviously a lot more water present now then there had been in November and while there were less ducks present there was a larger variety of birds and best of all a bunch of western pond turtles.
View from above the waterfall.
The first set of turtles we spotted.
Western pond turtles.
Female red-winged blackbird
Yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon’s)
Another bale of turtles. (I had to look up “bale” because I had no idea what a group of turtles was called.)
Another man-made waterfall.
This had been full of ducks on our previous visit.
Yet another turtle.
Bench along the Central Oak area.
The first goslings we’ve spotted this year.
Very zoomed in shot of a hawk seen in the distance.
Final set of turtles.
Yellow-rumped warbler (Myrtle)
We took about an hour to hike a little over 1.25-miles through the gardens. There was a lot of stopping to watch the wildlife and attempt to get photos. After exiting the gardens we made our way back to Front Ave via Waverly Drive and this time followed signs for the Dave Clark Trail back to it.
We followed the Dave Clark Trail back to our car, but not before spotting a bit more wildlife.
A couple ahead of us on the trail spotted this guy for us.
Our Albany Parks hike wound up being just 6.3 miles with under 100′ of elevation gain bringing our total for the day to 10.2 miles and maybe 100 total feet of elevation gain. All the hiking on paved surfaces in Albany combined with having wet shoes and socks made it feel like more though.
At the end of the day we were glad that we wound up in Talking Water Gardens given how much fun wildlife we spotted there but I probably would not do the rest of this hike over. The Dave Clark Trail along the Willamette was nice enough and if I was in Albany for another reason and had some time it would be a fine place for a stroll but necessary neighborhood walk to reach Simpson Park/Talking Water is not nearly as nice as either simply starting at the Simpson Park Trailhead or hiking along Cox Creek from Waverly Lake as we had done in November. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Snag Boat Bend and Albany Parks