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Finding Independence along the Willamette River

Nancy Dunn, left, Marci Morrill, Marcia Wilson, and Karrie Kurroda converse while waiting for the Buena Vista Ferry. Photo by Dan Shryock


This article originally appeared on / the Willamette Valley Visitors Association

By Dan Shryock 

Nancy Dunn and her riding companions rolled up to the stop sign to await the arrival of the Buena Vista Ferry. Their ride will take them from Salem across the Willamette River and north to Rogue Farms. From there, it’s an easy ride past farmland to the city of Independence, over the bridge and back to their South Salem starting point.

They’ve ridden these roads many times before, but it never gets boring, Nancy would say later.

“Crossing the ferry, that has a special place in my heart,” she said. “It’s so cool to take your bike on the ferry, cross the river and then continue your bike ride.”

The ferry, which glides back and forth between the Marion and Polk county sides of the river countless times each hour, is a memorable, entertaining break for cyclists exploring the Willamette Valley countryside. More than 50 riders use the ferry on a typical Saturday or Sunday. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of riders who come through on organized cycling events several times each summer.

The ferry is a local landmark on a 25-mile diverse backroad loop that starts and ends in Independence. Cyclists following these roads will enjoy a little of everything – farmland and river views, flat stretches on the Polk side and rolling roads in Marion County, open skies and tree canopies, wineries, a brewery’s own hops farm and even a national wildlife refuge.

“When we jump on our bikes, every single time, we say we have the best backyard in the world,” Nancy said. “This is beautiful countryside, especially in the summertime. It’s heaven for cycling.”

Where to go

Start in Riverview Park in downtown Independence. The park provides a good place to park your vehicle and it’s a convenient location once the ride is completed. The online map leads you south from Independence to the tiny village of Buena Vista and its famous ferry. Once across the river, cyclists merge onto the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway for 11 miles as it passes through the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge. Pace yourself as the route continues north over some short, small hills before riding downhill, under a narrow train trestle and into more farmland and blueberry patches.

Before long (another 2.5 miles), this route turns up and over the Independence Bridge while the scenic bikeway turns toward Salem. Follow the road under the bridge as it circles around for a safe right turn.

For easy navigation, follow this route using the Ride With GPS app on your phone. You also may print the map with turn-by-turn “cue sheet” instructions, if you prefer. The Ride With GPS app includes voice directions for each turn.

The Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

You’ll pass an area that serves as a winter home for dusky Canada geese and other waterfowl migrating up and down the West Coast. The nearby farmland gives the birds plenty to eat in the winter and protection from urbanization. By the time, cyclists roll through the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in numbers each spring, the birds have moved on. Other creatures live in the refuge year-round, but they are seldom seen.

A Hotel Suited for Cyclists

The Independence Hotel, a new boutique hotel is designed with cyclists in mind. The hotel, located adjacent to Riverview Park, features riverfront views, a cycling work room for repairs, wash stations for dirty bikes that had too much fun and hotel rooms designed so cyclists can roll their bikes right into the room. They actually

made the hallways and rooms wider for cyclists. Needless to say, this is a must-stay if you need an overnight retreat.

Stops Along the Way

Redgate Vineyard appears barely more than three miles into the ride. Ankeny Vineyard, meanwhile, is on the east side of the river just before the 19-mile mark.

Interested in sipping something cold at a picnic table? Take the short detour on Wigrich Road, pass by towering hops vines and pedal out to Rogue Farms Chatoe Tasting Room. A small tasting room features a variety of Rogue beers and a few food options.

Once back in Independence, there are options. You can drive back to the Rogue Farms or one of the wineries. Or, you can walk up to Brew Coffee & Tap House for some food and a variety of beers. Sit on the patio and relive the ride.

Be prepared for the ride

Track the Weather: The route also may be followed in reverse, passing over the bridge to start and riding south on the east side of the river. Be sure to check that day’s weather to know the wind direction. Exposed roads on the west side are more difficult when the wind blows from the north.

Safety first

Near the wildlife refuge traffic is light so you can join your fellow riders to enjoy some conversation. But as traffic picks up on other roads, return to safe riding practices and stay in single-file formation. That’s especially important leaving and returning to Independence as these are the busiest roads.

Watch, too, for the train trestle over Riverside Road South. The route map includes a caution icon at this location. Riders heading north should be cautious of the bumpy road on the fast downhill leading to the trestle. Slow down and watch for traffic in both directions as you glide under and through the narrow road opening. 

Check on the Ferry:

The Buena Vista Ferry service, operated by Marion County, may be closed if the river’s water level is too high or too low. A quick check online will confirm whether the ferry is in operation. There’s a $1 charge per bicycle and water is available for purchase on board. 







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