Salem, Oregon Shamrock Tour®: Over the River and Through the Woods

Salem, Oregon Shamrock Tour®: Over the River and Through the Woods
Dense stands of old-growth conifers line ribbons of smooth asphalt that climb from the crashing waves and rolling fog of the Pacific Ocean to the desolate lava fields and craggy peaks of the Cascade Range. Despite 30-degree temperature swings, the weather is perfect. Welcome to Oregon.

Early on a July Sunday morning, four travelers on three motorcycles roll out of Oregon’s capital city of Salem. Over the next four days, we will delve deep into the state’s vastly divergent landscapes to discover all that Oregon has to offer. Florian leads the way on a 1978 Honda Gold Wing. Right on his tail, I’m riding a bright red vintage BMW R 65, and bringing up the rear are long-time RoadRUNNER readers Mel and Patti Cearley on a big shiny Honda VTX. All three bikes belong to Mel, who’s kind enough to let us borrow them.

Taking in the salty air and stunning Pacific Coast views off Hwy 101 near Lincoln Beach.


From Salem, we slowly wind south along Hwy 223 through the small town of Dallas and the rolling, thickly forested hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the state’s most populous region. At Highway 20, we turn west toward the Central Oregon Coastal Range and the Pacific Coast. Brilliant blue skies and warm temperatures mark summer in Oregon—the famous rain comes mostly in the colder months.

Riding through rural Oregon with the Cascade Range in the distance.

As we descend into the town of Newport, we’re greeted with stunning views of Yaquina Bay and its namesake bridge, the second to last in a series built in the ‘20s and ‘30s to carry U.S. Route 101.

Lodging: Best Western Plus Mill Creek Inn

From the moment you walk into the attractively decorated lobby with its relaxing waterfall, you know you’re going to enjoy your stay. Of course, the inn features all the amenities you expect from a modern hotel; Wi-Fi, heated indoor pool and steam room, exercise room, laundry facilities, and much more. The hotel shares its parking lot with a Denny’s restaurant, and instead of the usual continental breakfast, your stay includes vouchers for a nice hot breakfast at Denny’s. If you happen to bring a furry companion along for the ride, you’ll be happy to know that the Mill Creek Inn is pet friendly. The Inn is conveniently located near I-5 and Highway 22 and close to downtown Salem. Find it at 3125 Ryan Dr SE, Salem, OR (503) 585-3332.

In Newport, we feast on fish sandwiches and clam chowder at Mo’s before following the coastline north. On our left, the turquoise and sapphire waters of the Pacific crash against the rocky brown coastline carving endless variations of shapes into the hard rock. Seagulls float on the stiff breeze coming off the water. The air is cool with a sharpness that instantly makes us feel a little more alive. It’s breathtaking. Long sweepers trace the boundary between land and sea while, around each bend, a new vista threatens to tear our eyes from the road. At Lincoln Beach, we turn around to take it all in again, this time from the seaward side.

Motorcycles & Gear

1984 BMW R 65
1978 Honda Gold Wing GL1000

Helmets: Bell RS-1, Shoei GT-Air
Jackets: Tourmaster Coaster II, REV’IT! Defender GTX
Pants: Draggin’ Jeans, uglyBROS Riding Jeans
Boots: BiLT Pro Tourer, Shift Shoe
Gloves: Racer Short Sport, Racer Guide

Continuing south past Newport along 101, we reach Waldport. From there, we follow the Alsea River inland. The route closely mimics the river’s twists and turns and makes for an invigorating afternoon ride. We work our way northwest to the city of Corvallis, home of Oregon State University. From there, we turn almost due north back to Salem. Tomorrow we head east—and up.

Jagged lava rocks line the road through the Willamette National Forest, home to seven major Cascade Range volcanoes.

Three Sisters

After a hearty breakfast at the Denny’s adjacent to our hotel, Highway 22 leads us out of the city and into the quiet evergreen forests at the foot of the Cascade Mountain Range. As we probe deeper into the foothills, the mountains rise around us. The sun has not yet risen above the towering landscape; the road and trees are still covered in early morning shadow. To our right, the Santiam River stays mostly out of sight at the bottom of its gorge. Without warning, the massive concrete wall that is the Detroit Dam rises from the valley floor to corral the Santiam’s waters into Detroit Lake. The dam, which was dedicated in 1953 and built by the Army Corps of Engineers, supplies power and water to Salem and the surrounding areas.