Scanning for salmon & steelhead at Milo McIver (2013)
If you’re an angler, you’ll want to widen your net of usual fishing spots to include Milo McIver. The park offers two boat ramps on the Clackamas River and miles of riverbank from which you can cast for hatchery-raised steelhead (oceangoing rainbow trout) and Chinook—the most prized type of salmon.
But even those who don’t fish can still enjoy this unique habitat and Pacific Northwest tradition. If you’ve got younger kids, you’ll want to take them on the ¼-mile Dog Creek loop trail in the southern Riverside day-use area. The flat trail is an easy walk to a bridge where, starting in the March and April, you can look for the colorful Chinook salmon and steelhead fighting their way upstream to spawn. Be sure to read the interpretive panels to learn more about their life cycle.
Like the fish, you’ll probably end up at the Clackamas Fish Hatchery, located in the park and operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Each year, it raises more than one million Chinook salmon and over 160,000 steelhead by collecting, fertilizing and incubating eggs. This process maintains stock for sport and commercial harvest. The salmon are marked by having their fins clipped to distinguish them from wild fish, which are put back to preserve the diversity of the population.
After they’ve grown, the smolts (juvenile fish) are released into the Clackamas River for their long journey to the ocean via the Willamette and then the Columbia. Before they go, however, the fish “imprint” on the river: its unique mineral profile will help them find their way back to the Clackamas years later.
If you find yourself heading for the Clackamas, you can take advantage of a boater parking lot, two seasonal group camping sites (named Steelhead and Chinook, naturally) and a group picnic area near the hatchery. The best time to watch for salmon and steelhead at Milo McIver is March through September, but there are fishing opportunities year-round. After all, the river never stops flowing.