That’s a big area but there are a lot of options. It’s good that you say you’re not big city people, because the Willamette Valley is short on big cities but big on quirky smallish cities and towns.
Here are a few broad ideas about things you might like to see and do as you make your way from Portland to Eugene:
Wine/Beer Tasting: The Willamette Valley is particularly known for having wonderful wine, craft beer, and great food. In fact, it was named the #1 wine region in the world this year! If you’d like to do some wine tasting on your way down, I’d recommend taking Highway 99W south from Portland to Eugene. It will take you a little longer than staying on Interstate 5, but you’ll be driving right through the heart of the wine region. A middle of the week trip will be a good time to do wine tasting too, as it won’t be crowded–just make sure you check ahead with smaller wineries, as some may not be open on a weekday, although most are happy to accommodate with an appointment if they know you’ll be stopping by. You can find some wine touring ideas here.
Just like the Willamette Valley is big on wines, it’s also known for great craft beer; check out this site for some ideas of Willamette Valley breweries. If you take 99W south, about midway between Portland and Eugene you’ll hit Corvallis, which is a great spot in the microbrew scene.
Evergreen Air & Space Museum: Another spot to visit that’s just off 99W! This is a very cool museum all about the history of air travel and space flight. It’s home to lots of historic aircraft, including the Spruce Goose, built by Howard Huges in the 1940s, made entirely of wood, and still the largest airplane ever constructed.
Covered Bridges tour: Another fun thing to do as you’re making your way south would be to get off the beaten track with a covered bridges tour. One of the nicest loops to drive or bike, which will take you past half a dozen picturesque bridges, is just outside Albany.
Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway: The nation’s very first designated bike touring route runs through the valley. You could rent bikes and ride a portion of the bikeway if the weather’s nice. This has info about bike rentals and touring assistance: http://rideoregonride.com/resources/
Silver Creek Falls: One of the most famous hikes in Oregon, but it shouldn’t be too crowded if you go on a weekday in March. Plus it’s famous for a reason! You get to walk over, under, and behind 10 waterfalls on the Trail of Ten Falls.
McDowell Creek Falls: Another great waterfall hike that’s a little more off the beaten path. And if you go on a weekday in March, you probably will have the entire trail to yourselves. This is a good one to combine with if you do the Covered Brides tour, as it’s in the same area of the valley.
McDonald-Dunn Forest: This is the forest you’ll find me in most weekends. It’s an entire forest managed by Oregon State University for their forestry research, but it’s open to the public for everyone to enjoy. Truly a gem, with trails for hiking and mountain biking that criss-cross throughout it. If you’re driving south on 99W, you’ll literally drive right by it! Even if you just stop and do a quick loop to stretch your legs, it’s worth it.
B&B recommendations: Youngberg Hill or the Black Walnut are both gorgeous inns on the site of working vineyards. Another fun place that isn’t exactly a B&B is The Vintages, a place where can rent a vintage Airstream trailer for the night. The Hanson Country Inn is another good B&B that would be a nice place to stay if you were interested in checking out the Corvallis beer scene.
Glad you asked your question! Crater Lake is gorgeous in winter, and yes, March is still definitely winter there! Right now, you can still snowshoe, and I do recommend it; this is a great way to see the park in winter.
If you’re coming from the Klamath Falls area, I suggest you check out this Travel Oregon story (full disclosure, written by yours truly), which outlines itinerary ideas.
It’s written specifically for family adventures, but can be applied with or without kids in tow. For a guide, I recommend Roe Outfitters (in Klamath Falls) if you want a tailor-made day in Crater Lake National Park just for you. We have spent time with Roe and they’re fantastic.
You can also sign up for snowshoe tours directly at Crater Lake, provided you visit on a weekend. Go here to find out more. This is a great budget way to explore the park and be guided by a ranger.
If you’re snowshoeing on your own, and want a GPS tracker, I recommend the InReach or SPOT. You can see a comparison of the two here.
Always check for park closures and road closures before heading to Crater Lake in winter. I see that right now, the south entrance (which is usually open in winter) is temporarily closed due to heavy snow. Check here for updates.
You are in a win, win situation exploring Oregon’s many golf offerings.
The Oregon Coast
You are looking at 363 miles from California to Washington and 27 golf courses along the way. Your Oregon Coast golf experience is all about how much time you have and how much money you want to spend along the way. The most famous, internationally celebrated golf resort on the course is Bandon Dunes. It is everything that you have heard and more. Truly a great test of golf surrounded by the ocean’s beauty and a resort staff that is there to spoil you at every turn.
If you make it to the South Coast, Salmon Run Golf Course is one of those quiet gems……under new ownership, this course has the ocean views and fun zig zag holes crossing repeatedly the Jack River. Very cool.
Beyond the great food and drink, Portland has several great courses ranging from a variety of price ranges. A must is the famous Pumpkin Ridge. This celebrated public course has hosted the US Open, US Amateur, Champions Tour events during it’s storied history. It’s walkable and has pure Oregonian feel with tree lined holes and tight greens. It’s a must and about a 20-minute drive from downtown Portland.
Another great course that is more southeast from downtown Portland is Langdon Farms. This public course has great vistas where you can better appreciate the enormity of the Cascade mountains. It also has a complexity of holes where your tee to green range fluctuates with the hills in the course.
On the North Oregon Coast, Stephanie Inn in Cannon Beach is one of the coast’s most luxurious lodging options. Cannon Beach offers quick access to scenic areas including miles of sandy beach, Oregon’s iconic Haystack Rock and beautiful Ecola State Park. For a runner-up, the views of Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock can’t be beat from Hallmark Resort and Spa.
On the Central Oregon Coast, Overleaf Lodge and Spa is an upscale lodging property overlooking a turbulent section of the oceanfront in Yachats. It is just minutes away from the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area with attractions like Devil’s Churn and Cook’s Chasm with Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well. As a runner-up, the Heceta Head Lighthouse lightkeeper’s cottage is operated as a bed and breakfast just south of Cape Perpetua. The cottage overlooks a beautiful cove and the seven-course breakfast is famous.
On the South Oregon Coast, Sunset Oceanfront Lodging’s Vern Brown Addition offers some of the most stunning view rooms of Bandon’s oceanfront rock formations and beach. The day trip north to Cape Arago is one of the Oregon Coast’s scenic gems with three interconnected State Parks on the cape. A runner-up or alternative would be WildSpring Guest Habitat in Port Orford. The property is in a beautifully wooded setting with small cozy cabins that are richly decorated. You can explore the private grounds with outdoor art in every direction or soak in the ocean view hot tub. Port Orford is a scenic location and it’s easy to explore the stunning South Oregon Coast scenery all the way to the southern border on a day trip or you can venture north to Cape Blanco State Park and Bandon.
During winter, there are tons of activities you can do, from skiing or snowboarding, to snowshoeing, hiking and soaking in hot springs! You can camp in the national forests or wilderness areas, or there are some campgrounds open too, depending on where you want to go. There are also some fun places to stay, like a fire lookout or the Tilly Jane A-Frame on Mt. Hood, which would be more rustic and would require reservations in advance. Alternatively, you could book a hotel or vacation rental in one of our mountain towns, like Government Camp, Hood River, Sisters, Bend or Sunriver. We’re having a great winter in Oregon, so if you’re looking for snow, you can find it across the state!
Thanks for your question! Of course, ‘best’ is a subjective term, but I’m happy to give you my personal recommendations for Ashland and Medford restaurants, as a local. There are many we love!
In Ashland, I highly recommend checking out Brickroom for an upscale pub-like atmosphere; their cocktails and appetizers are their strongest suit, so they’re a good happy hour location as well. For a fine dining experience, Amuse gets my vote (it’s down in the Railroad District), and if you want the largest wine selection, Liquid Assets is a cozy wine bar right by the park.
You also can’t go wrong at Lark’s, located in the Ashland Springs Hotel. They’re another excellent cocktail location. For casual fare, check out Flip, a simple but delicious burger and fry place by the park…they’re owned by the same family as Amuse. Martolli’s is another solid causal dining option.
In Medford, our favorite pub and pasta place is Porters, located in an old railroad depot. They have a great happy hour menu with sliders, salads, and the like, and excellent cocktails. Lark’s also has a Medford location now, located in the Inn at the Commons. There are several fun breweries in Medford, including Walkabout and Bricktowne. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list. I also recommend Jasper’s burgers on Highway 99 between Medford and Central Point.
Hope this list gets you started!
Public transportation to small towns in the Willamette Valley is somewhat sporadic. Some towns have regular bus service, while others have none at all. Here are some of the best resources for public transportation in the Linn/Benton county area:
Linn-Benton Loop: The Linn-Benton loop will connect you from Corvallis to Albany.
Linn Shuttle: From Albany, you can hop on the Linn Shuttle. This will connect you with several small towns east of Albany: Lebanon, Sweet Home and Foster.
Coast to Valley: This bus service connects Corvallis and Albany to small towns on the way to the Coast, like Toledo and Eddyville.
Also from Albany, you can hop on the Amtrak train, Bolt Bus or Greyhound which will take you north to Salem or south to Eugene.
Once in Salem, you can connect with the Salem/Keizer bus system. This will connect you to many small towns such as Mt. Angel, Silverton, Woodburn, Dallas, Independence, Monmouth, Turner, Mill City and Gates.
If you go south to Eugene, you can connect to Lane County Transit, which will connect you to communities like Junction City, Coburg, Cottage Grove and Veneta.
Sadly, some of the small communities in Linn County are not on any public transit lines that I am aware of. Brownsville, Halsey, Harrisburg, and Scio are all difficult to get to without a car — in these cases a Corvallis or Albany-based taxi service might work.
Cascades West Rideshare is probably your best local transportation info resource. They might even be able to match you up with a local carpool or commuter that would allow you to reach some of these smaller communities.
Good luck with your writing research, and enjoy your travels around the mid-valley!
That’s a great question. Depending on the amount of snow we get this winter and how warm the spring is, much of the Oregon Cascades can still be under snow in June. It’s the time of year, however, when trails do start to open up and there will definitely be some trails free of snow. Late June is also a perfect time to start looking for wildflowers! The short answer to your question is that the lower elevation trails will be snow-free and the high alpine (say, above 6,000′) will most likely still be under snow. Also, trails on south-facing terrain will be less likely to have snow than trails north-facing terrain that see more shade and cooler temperatures. The Columbia River Gorge will offer some great snow-free hiking during June, and there are some incredible views of waterfalls and mountains to be found on many of those trails. The trails around Mt. Hood will be a little bit more dependent on the pace of the snowmelt.
I think you’ll find plenty to explore here in the Gorge! Here are some accessible outdoor and indoor activities:
As for outdoor activities: Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway along the waterfall corridor to see multiple majestic waterfalls directly from the road. These waterfalls are a must-see — especially in January! For a 3- to 4-hour outing (from Hood River or Portland), I suggest using exit 35 off I-84, and then driving west. You’ll pass Horsetail Falls on your left, which has a parking area and is absolutely worth a stop. Hop back into your car for a short, but beautiful drive to the famous Multnomah Falls. Then journey on to the Vista House for panoramic Gorge views and a history lesson. However, these are very popular sights and parking is limited, so I recommend you visit early or on a weekday.
To extend your outing or to avoid the crowds, I recommend a short walk around the Starvation Creek Trail area to see three waterfalls in less than a mile of walking! Take Exit 55, which can only be reached on I-84 Eastbound (if driving west, take the Wyeth exit and turn around). You’ll find Starvation Creek Falls just at the trailhead, but if you stroll .5 miles west on the flat, paved path, you’ll find Cabin Creek Falls and Lancaster Falls. It’s quite the bang for your buck!
One last idea for the outdoors: Walk along Hood River’s waterfront trail to view the mile-wide Columbia River and stop at pFriem Brewery, Solistic Woodfire Cafe, or Camp 1805 Distillery, all of which are locally owned. To access this area, turn north off exit 62.
If you’re looking for cozier activities, consider taking a sternwheeler cruise on the Columbia River, poke around the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, brave the winter roads to visit Timberline Lodge, or ease into a gentle flow yoga class at Flow Yoga.
Since the Gorge prides itself with an abundance of artists, breweries, wineries and cideries, wandering the small towns and sampling their specialties is always a fine choice. Gorge locals are quick to boast about their craft beverage industry, so you’ll find a tasting space just about anywhere you go. Explore the quaint downtown of Hood River and you’re sure to stumble into local art or drinks. Or drive around the countryside and visit some local vineyards. Marchesi, Cascade Cliffs, Mt. Hood Winery, WyEast Vineyards, and Syncline are some favorites, but call ahead because winter hours can be less predictable.
|Mt Hood & Columbia Gorge|
You can hike the entire length of the Oregon Coast, but it is not reasonably possible to plan on staying in towns with lodging and restaurants each night. The Oregon Coast Trail (OCT) offers a truly unique way to experience the spectacular views and natural areas along Oregon’s coastline, but it is not actually a single trail that leads from border to border. The trail includes about 40 percent paved roads, including some portions of Highway 101, with the remainder of the trail on the beach, hiking trails and unpaved roads. The actual hiking distance is approximately 425 miles if you do this trek as a thru-hike.
Thru-hiking the trail can involve a lot of planning. Due to many bays, estuaries and headlands, many portions of the trail can only be passed at low tide and others require following alternate (road) routes or arranging boat crossing to get past these areas. Hikes between hotels and restaurants is also a limiting requirement since most of the OCT is designed for overnights within Oregon State Parks.
Depending how far you would like to hike each day and your willingness to leave the trail and hike additionally on roads into nearby towns, you may be able to reasonably do much of the North and Central Coast as you have suggested. There are some stretches of the South Coast that would require hiking in excess of 8 hours per day between towns with lodging.
It sounds like you would be better off selecting some portions of the trail that fit your requirements for hotels and restaurants, as well as offer the kind of hiking experience you are after.