Salem is fortunate to have three large central parks, Riverfront, Minto-Brown Island and Bush’s Pasture, that will appeal to almost anyone. Even during the winter, the paths in each of these parks are well-used by runners, walkers, and bikers.
All three of these parks highlight the beauty of Salem differently, with an array of plants and wildlife. These parks are within two miles of the capitol building and the downtown core. Whether you have 15 minutes to take a quick rejuvenating walk or two hours to explore, any of these parks offer much to discover in Salem.
200 Water Street NE, Salem
Riverfront Park is located along the Willamette River just west of downtown Salem. A reasonably flat, grassy site, visitors play sports and picnic throughout the park. There are wide paths for walking, biking, and skateboarding. In addition, the park is also the site of a carousel open year-round. The beautifully carved and painted animals are unique pieces and include many horses as well as a deer, beaver, duck, and even a dragon.
Riverfront Park boasts a large playground and an adjoining splash pad operating between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For older visitors, an amphitheater is used for musical events and summer movies, and the Willamette River Queen sternwheeler is fun to see. It’s a popular site for community events and festivals and can get extremely busy in the summer. During the winter, the park hosts a popular Christmas light display. In addition to its location between the river and the downtown core, the park includes a beautiful suspension bridge that links it to Minto-Brown Island Park.
Minto-Brown Island Park
2200 Minto Island Road SE, Salem
The largest and wildest of the three parks, Minto-Brown Island Park is accessed from Minto Island Road or by walking across the bridge from Riverfront Park. This 1,200-acre park is also a waterfowl and wildlife sanctuary. There are 29 miles of paved paths that wind through the park. It is a popular destination for serious walkers, runners, and bikers. The park includes forest, wetland, pond, and meadow areas. There are many possibilities for seeing wildlife in the park’s different ecosystems. Minto-Brown is also popular with dog owners — there is a 30-acre area where dogs can roam off-leash. Minto-Brown is a perfect destination year-round for those interested in being in nature close to the city.
Bush’s Pasture Park
600 Mission Street SE, Salem
One of Oregon’s most diverse (and oldest) parks, the 90.5-acre Bush’s Pasture Park has something for everyone. Designated as both a park and a botanical garden, wandering through the park takes you through formal gardens and historic groves of old oaks. The site of the Bush family land claim, the park still has the Bush family home, which operates as a museum. Adjacent to the house is a historic gazebo and greenhouse, both still in use. The barn for the house is also in use but converted into the Bush Barn Art Center. The park also contains Willamette University’s Track and Football Stadium and the only Soap Box Derby track west of the Mississippi River.
Bush’s Pasture Park’s botanical garden includes a large formal rose garden, a rhododendron garden, and a fruit orchard planted by Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, early renowned landscape architects. There are also multiple wooded areas with Oregon White Oak trees and grassy fields with native grasses and flowers. Visitors can access tennis courts, numerous play structures, a baseball diamond, horseshoe pits, picnic areas and walking paths throughout the space.
Bush’s Pasture Park hosts recreational runs and walks throughout the year, and the Salem Art Fair and Festival takes place there every June. The Salem Parks Department also runs camps in the park, and the Bush Barn Art Center offers exhibits and classes year-round. Willamette University’s track and football teams use the park for home meets and games in the fenced-off area. Bush’s Pasture Park has a great deal to offer anyone interested in a fun day at the park and accompanying activities.
People in Salem love parks, and these three are favorites. They are well-maintained and have good access. All three have lots of parking (unless there is an event) and easily accessible restrooms. Riverfront Park and Bush Pasture Park are also close to bus lines. These three parks are popular, with good reason. Each one offers something for almost everyone, no matter the season.