Destinations: Willamette Valley
This summer, a vacation doesn’t necessarily mean taking a week off of work or coordinating around the kids’ busy schedules. It can mean just getting away for a sunny afternoon day trip to Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley where you’ll find hidden gems and family fun adventures from Molalla to McMinnville, Salem to Eugene, and many points in between.
Locally grown food
Unlike the larger farming operations in other agricultural regions around the nation, the Willamette Valley has a unique ability to produce a variety of crops on small parcels of land. Buying plants and produce from local family farms puts a variety of locally grown food on our tables while also supporting the local growers. Plus, getting food straight from the source not only tastes better but it’s fun! The Willamette Valley is dotted with farmers markets, produce stands, U-pick fields, and plant nurseries to visit during the growing season.
Less than 50 miles from Vancouver in Clackamas County is the Molalla Farm Loop (molallafarmloop.com) with 12 farm stops offering local foods to try, wines to taste, friendly farm animals to pet, artisan crafts for purchase, and nature trails to stroll. For a longer loop go a little farther south to the Marion Farm Loop (marionfarmloop.com) for a route with 23 stops in and around the Salem-Keizer area where you’ll become immersed in the rural community of family farms and country business operators. The southern Willamette Valley around Eugene and Springfield with its abundant farm-to-table scene is a true foodie destination for culinary adventure. Go to www.eugenecascadescoast.org to find guides to local tasting trails and food tours to taste the bounty of the local fields and vineyards.
With fertile soil and temperate climate, the Willamette Valley has gained world recognition as a premier wine producing region. More than 50 years ago a few pioneer vintners defied the popular opinion that wine grapes can’t grow here. They gave it a try and planted Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other cool-climate grapes on the overgrown rolling hillsides of the Willamette Valley with great success. Today most Willamette Valley vineyards continue this personal, handcrafted approach and many employ sustainable winegrowing practices in order to preserve the tradition for future generations.
You’ll find more than 500 wineries in a span of about 150 miles between the Oregon Coast Range and the West Cascades. Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Salem, and McMinnville. Vineyard tours can be a couple’s afternoon getaway in cozy boutique tasting rooms, a sophisticated metropolitan experience for a group outing, or a whole family adventure stomping grapes, playing with resident dogs, and learning first hand how grapes are grown. Go to www.oregonwinecountry.org to plan your taste adventure.
Scenic Highways and Bikeways
With a combined 3,000 miles of beautiful roadways, Oregon has the most National Scenic Byways in the nation. These routes have distinct landscapes and historical and cultural landmarks at nearly every turn which make amazing day trips to explore year round.
Between Corvallis and Eugene is the Over the Rivers & Through the Woods Scenic Byway which takes sightseers from the Willamette Valley going east through five ecosystems as it climbs the foothills into the West Cascade Mountains following portions of the Santiam Wagon Road all the way to Tombstone Pass at 4,236 feet. Heading east from Eugene, the McKenzie River Scenic Byway is a 34-mile riverside auto route and recreational trail for hikers and mountain bikers which zigzags the bank of this beloved fly-fishing river with family farms, picnic areas, landmarks, interpretive centers, and quaint riverside communities to stop and explore along the way. For a truly breathtaking vista, follow the Willamette Valley to Marys Peak Byway west from I-5 through Corvallis and then southwest onto highway 34 and up Marys Peak Road for a 4,097 foot ascent past waterfalls and stonework lookouts all the way up to the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range. Go to scenicbyways.info for a complete map of Oregon’s Scenic Byways or call 503-986-3556 to order an official guide from Oregon Department of Transportation.
There are many treasured sights and wonders to stop and explore near and along all of Willamette Valley’s scenic byways, such as the famous covered bridges in Corvallis, the waterfall hike at Silver Falls State Park near Salem, and birdwatching and wildlife observation at the Ankeny and William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuges. There’s enough to see and do in the Willamette Valley to fill a whole summer with day trip itineraries.