Every fall, salmon return to their native Puget Sound rivers and streams to spawn. Two excellent vantage points for the spectacle are the Cedar River Trail in King County and the Foothills Trail in Pierce County.
I happened to visit both these trails this past week to enjoy our sunny autumn weather. Once we had stopped pedaling, however, we realized that some of the waterways alongside the trails were chock-full of migrating salmon.
Both trails are extremely family friendly.
The Cedar River Trail runs alongside the Cedar River between Renton and Landsburg for most of its length. We started at Ron Regis Park and planned an easy trail ride for 5 miles upstream to the Cedar Grove Road crossing.
Except for a couple of bleached salmon carcasses visible from the trail as we passed, we didn’t see any evidence of salmon until we stopped at a small King County Natural Area just north of Cedar Grove Road.
The river runs shallow across gravel bars in this area. Within seconds of stopping, we noticed the dorsal fins of salmon breaking the water’s surface as the fish struggled upstream. We mostly saw bright red sockeye salmon, although I might have spotted a few coho in the bunch.
Naturalists who are knowledgeable about salmon and their epic battle to return to their home spawning grounds are available along the length of the Cedar River every weekend in October.
They’ll be stationed at the Renton Library, Cedar River Park, Cavanaugh Ponds, and Landsburg Park and Dam from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29.
More information is available at the Salmon Conservation and Restoration website.
On Thursday, I traveled to Pierce County where I was intent to show my friend the awesome views of Mount Rainier that are visible from several areas along the Foothills Trail.
And that’s just what we enjoyed due to the crystal clear skies that day. But when we stopped our bikes alongside the trail past Orting, we witnessed another phenomenon — hundreds of salmon splashing in the water as they battled upstream through the riffles.
Leaving Orting, we passed some fishermen along the Carbon River trying their luck in the river that runs chalky white from glacier melt. We came across the salmon about 4 miles past Orting on a clearer Carbon River tributary, the South Prairie Creek.
Fishing is prohibited along this wild stream, so there weren’t any fishermen to tip us off to the salmon migrating upstream here.
When we stopped, though, we readily saw the tell-tale dorsal fins and humped backs of the salmon heading upstream. When we skittered down the bank to the rocky shoreline, we got to see the salmon up close without disturbing them in their single-minded journeys. In the pools along quiet sections of the stream, we could see hundreds of salmon schooled up, waiting for the another assault on the next section of riffles.
South Prairie Creek is said to be the most important spawning stream in the Puyallup watershed. Chinook, chum, coho, cutthroat and steelhead spawn here. The creek passes through a wildlife preserve.
The Foothills Trail is a busy trail with lots of people using the Orting-South Prairie section for recreation. Whenever we stopped, we always drew a few curiosity-seekers who were surprised at what was going on in the stream only a few feet from the trail.
In addition to the trailside viewpoints along the Foothills Trail, the bridge over South Prairie Creek behind the fire station in the town of South Prairie is said to be another good location for salmon spotting.
If you’re visiting, the best places to start would be the park in downtown Orting or the trailhead in South Prairie.
Because of construction on the western end of the Foothills Trail, the McMillin Trailhead is about as far west as you can start. A section of the trail between Puyallup and McMillin is closed for utility work, and the promised temporary parking lot on 96th Avenue is unavailable now that pumpkin farms in the area are using it.