THE TRAIL: Established in 1965 as winter habitat for migratory Canada geese, Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge sprawls across a 2,800-acre floodplain dipping between the Willamette and Santiam Rivers south of Salem. This humid mix of wetlands, forests, ponds, and fields is a beacon for winged visitors like the threatened streaked horned lark. Witness this menagerie from a shaded boardwalk and a network of grassy, marsh-bordering dikes. The latter close annually on September 30 for wintering fowl, making this month your last chance this year to fully explore the refuge.
Access the highest concentration of walking trails from the well-signed Rail Trail Loop Area off of Wintel Road. Here, the mile-long wood-plank trail cleaves into a landscape seemingly grafted from an East Texas cypress swamp. Beyond the rails, a canopy of Oregon ash rises above a dark bog rippling with red-legged frogs and western pond turtles. At the three-quarter-mile mark, a bird blind peeks over Wood Duck Pond, offering hikers furtive glances at snowy egrets, Virginia rails, and other late-summer visitors.
Depart the Rail Trail onto seasonal options like the three-quarter-mile Dunlin Pond Loop, which traces a sunny path through reedy ponds and expansive marshes to link with the South Pond and Killdeer Marsh trail extensions. Expect Townsend’s warblers, red-winged blackbirds, and song sparrows flitting amid the cattails and cottonwoods. At toe level, witness another show, as dozens of large (nonvenomous!) garter snakes congregate in the late-summer sun.
POST-HIKE WATERING HOLE: At four-year-old Salem Ale Works—15 miles from the refuge near the Salem airport—tasting trays shaped like buzz saws await thirsty walkers. Tawny stumps and gleaming kettles line the newly expanded, hangar-size pub. Try the crisp SAW saison or a lightly hopped Sgnarly ale, paired with upmarket sandwiches like smoked wild chinook with capers and red-onion jam.