Polk County is full of stress-free outdoor fun with recreational opportunities for people of all skill levels and experience levels.
FALLS CITY, Oregon – Some of Oregon’s best spots are often as close as our own backyards; sometimes hidden in sight! We visit a nearby Oregon county blessed with stress-free fun through outdoor recreation with a mountain bike playground, a stunning waterfall you may have overlooked, and state parkland for wildlife along the Lucciamute River in Polk County.
The Luckiamute River cuts a straight line through the eastern flanks of the Oregon Coast Range before plunging in a deafening moment in Falls City.
Less than three miles away, a different kind of fall occurs when mountain bikers gather, ride, and take big breaths over a little patch of sky called Black Rock Mountain.
The volunteer organization that makes it all work is called The Black Rock Mountain Bike Association or BRMBA for short.
Longtime rider and BRMBA member Rich Bontrager noted that it all started with a simple dream: “I think we all have to help get people off the couch and out into the woods… to see that there are others out here.” Things like the sidewalk of the city or something computer game – that’s what attracts people – something new and different and exciting.”
BRMBA member Todd Glascow, also a longtime rider, said that “feature” ideas are really born from the experiences riders have on trails across the United States.
“Oh yes – we drive different areas, see different things and incorporate them into our own ideas and then shoot them. While some materials are purchased and others donated, much of the wood we use is fallen wood found in the forest.”
Whether it’s getting some big air or enjoying the freedom that comes from hurtling down a forest trail on two wheels, riders agree that Black Rock Mountain has something for every experience level.
“You’re out here in the trees and away from everything else,” Glascow remarked. “You are far away from everyday life. You can have a stressful day or a stressful week and you come here and ride your bike – everything is gone!”
Polk County offers more stress-free zones as the Luckiamute River flows into the Willamette Valley from the eastern flanks of the Coast Range.
Indeed, when you drive into Oregon’s very first state park named Sarah Helmic, Located off Oregon State Highway 99, you’ll discover a hidden gem.
“Oh yeah – it really is a hidden gem,” said Bryan Nielsen of Oregon State Parks. “It’s off the beaten path for sure, but the people who have been coming here for decades like it that way.”
It is an oasis of parkland dating back to 1922 when the Helmick family donated the land for future generations.
“Camping really took off in the ’50s,” Nielsen said. “Motorhomes were invented; Followers improved as technology changed. The economy improved and people had more free time. Parks like Sarah Helmick have really evolved and been valued for their peace and quiet.”
The park extends over 40 acres with numerous picnic areas and playgrounds under the shady branches of giant oak and maple trees.
“It’s a great place to get out and stretch your legs,” added Nielsen. “Simply enjoy a beautiful park landscape and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”
Less than 20 minutes east, the Luckiamute River meanders more slowly to meet the Willamette River on a course through a unique state park.
Luckiamute Landing State Natural Area is parkland with no rental cabins, trailer hitches, or play areas for the kids.
It’s a park where they turn back the clock to restore wildlife habitat.
Oregon State Parks’ Steve DeGoey explained that the goal is to improve nearly 1,000 acres for wildlife, including diverse birdlife and even endangered western pond turtles. It’s a parkland that invites hikers or river paddlers and awaits your exploration at any time.
“Since 2011 we’ve planted around 440,000 shrubs and trees, so be sure to bring your binoculars when you visit. We also have several kilometers of hiking trails! We have a variety of birds and in spring the wildflowers are in bloom too. Also, two ponds that are home to western pond turtles that like to warm themselves on the tree trunks. They can be a shy animal so be quiet and walk gently or they will jump into the water quickly.”
Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a storytelling session in which I share behind-the-scenes stories from four decades of travel and television coverage.
You can also learn about many of my favorite Oregon trips and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:
“Subsidies for short breaks I‘, photography by Steve Terrill
“Grant’s Short Breaks II‘, photography by Steve Terrill
“Grant’s Short Breaks: 101 Oregon Adventures‘, photograph by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Viewing in Oregon‘, photograph by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids‘, photograph by Jeff Kastner
Featuring hundreds of outdoor activities throughout Oregon, the collection promises to delight a kid of all ages.
my next bookGrant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures‘ will be released in November.