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What is there to see and do in the city of Lebanon?

Lebanon is a great little town that has undergone some big changes in the last decade; it’s gone from being mostly dependent on the timber industry to being the home of a small medical school and regional health care facilities — the growth due to this new development has brought some great amenities to the town. Here are my top picks for Lebanon and the surrounding area.

  • Cheadle Lake: This is a 100-acre lake and park surrounded by trails, home to lots of geese and ducks and turtles. It’s a great place to go for a walk or a run, and lots of fishermen and kayakers use it too. Only small electric-motored boats are allowed, no jet skis or other high-powered boats. Last weekend my husband and I took our canoe out to Cheadle Lake paddled around at sunset; it was absolutely beautiful and we saw a family of geese and their goslings swimming together.
  • Japanese Garden at Boulder Falls Inn: This Japanese-inspired garden is adjacent to the Boulder Falls Inn in Lebanon, but you don’t have to be a guest there to visit the garden. It’s small (about 1 acre), but absolutely gorgeous, and is open year-round. It was designed by Hoichi Kurisu, the same internationally-known designer behind Portland’s Japanese Garden.
  • Restaurants: Lebanon is a small town but has several restaurants I’d highly recommend:
    • 1847: This is adjacent to the Japanese garden; you can eat there and look out at the pond and flowers. Northwest cuisine with an extensive Oregon wine list. 1847 recently won awards from Open Table and was named to the Oregon Wine A-List for its food and wine.
    • Kris’ Kitchen: A little family-owned bakery on Main Street with amazing made-from-scratch breads, cinnamon rolls and pie. You won’t find any fancy lattes here, but if you want to sit down with a mug of hot coffee and a mouthwatering homemade treat, this is the place to do it.
    • Growler Cafe: This is a delicious little downtown cafe with tons of craft beer on tap. Their seating area is on the small side, but the food (extremely tasty sandwiches and pub food) is top-notch, and the folks who work there know their craft beer and have a good variety on top.
    • Conversion Brewing: Just opened recently — Lebanon’s very first brewery! Family-friendly, with wood-fired pizza and high-quality craft beer. When I went, I tried the beer sampler and didn’t find one that I didn’t like.
    • Victorian Chocolate Company: This tiny, bright-purple spot doesn’t look like much from the outside, but go on in and you’ll find dozens of varieties of delicious hand-made chocolates from the extremely friendly master chocolatier who runs the place. Absolutely worth a stop.
  • McDowell Creek Falls: One of my favorite hikes in the area. Three miles of trails take you to two different waterfalls. It’s in the hills just a few miles outside of Lebanon. Bring your camera — lots of great photo opportunities on this hike.
  • Marks Ridge Winery: If you do the hike at McDowell Creek, reward yourself with wine-tasting at Marks Ridge! It’s a small winery up in the hills just a few miles past McDowell Creek Park. It’s normally open only on weekends, but if you know in advance when you’re coming they are happy to make appointments for other days. The views from here are incredible, and they have live music on summer weekends.

 

  1. Day trip to Brownsville: About 15 minutes from Lebanon is one of the cutest little towns in the Willamette Valley: Brownsville, Oregon. It’s got less than 2,000 people and a charming, walkable downtown. It’s famous for being the filming location for the 1986 classic “Stand By Me” with Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman. If you happen to be there this July, they’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the movie!

 

  1. Foster and Green Peter Reservoirs: If you like water sports and swimming and you’re here in the summer, visit Foster and Green Peter Reservoirs. Formed by dams that generate hydro-electric power, these lakes are also great for boating and water-skiing, and there’s a county park on the shore with a nice swimming area for families. (You can rent a boat for the day at the lakeside marina).

 

  1. Downtown Albany: About 15 miles west of Lebanon is Albany, which has a beautiful historic downtown. I’d highly recommend a visit to the Historic Carousel Carving Studio & Museum, where you can watch volunteer wood-carvers create beautiful carousel animals right before your eyes. There are a number of great restaurants in downtown Albany, but my favorite is Sybaris Bistro. They’re only open for dinners Tuesday-Saturday, plus a Saturday brunch, but if you can make time to eat there you won’t be disappointed. The chef, Matt Bennett, is incredibly creative, and the food is new and delicious every single time.

 

 

One more thing: here’s a nice map put out by the city of Lebanon that shows all the city’s parks and trails, plus lists annual community events.

 

Which Willamette Valley sites are not-to-miss or off the beaten path?

Glad to hear you’ll be visiting the Willamette Valley! An early welcome to you. Wineries, historic sites, scenic spots, good food, and off the beaten path experiences–those are some of my favorite things too and you’ll definitely find them here! Here are some of my favorites:

Wineries:

  • Here are seven wineries that are known for having gorgeous views.
  • There were four Willamette Valley wineries that made Wine Spectator’s top 100 list this year: Evening Land, Big Table Farm, Bergstrom, and Solena Estate
  • A few others that are personal favorites of mine: Brooks Winery in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley–great wines, beautiful views, and a gorgeous but relaxed tasting room that makes you want to linger there all day; Brick House Vineyards, a small producer that’s open by appointment only. When you get an appointment, it’s a private tasting around the “tasting table” in their winery, which is a beautiful old converted horse barn right next to the vineyard.

Historic Sites:

  • Thompson Mills State Heritage Site, Shedd: A real, working flour mill from pioneer days that’s been turned into a state park.
  • Oregon State Capitol, Salem: The capitol building in downtown Salem is fun to visit, especially if you hike all the way to the observation deck at the top, right beneath the “Golden Pioneer” statue
  • Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinnville: If you like aircraft or the history of flight even a little bit, this is a fun museum. It’s the home of Howard Hughes’ famous “Spruce Goose,” which still to this day has the largest wingspan of any aircraft ever built.
  • Aurora Colony, Aurora: In the 1850s, a group of German and Swiss immigrants crossed the Oregon Trail and built a commune; today, it’s preserved a historic site full of beautiful old buildings built by German craftsmen.
  • End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon City: The Willamette Valley was the “promised land” at the end of the Oregon Trail; this historic site is devoted to telling the pioneer story.

 

Off-the-eaten-path experiences:

  • Farm Loops–drive a farm loop and you can take a cooking class in a converted cattle barn, stop and pick your own berries, meet an alpaca, or get up close and personal with a herd of elk.
  • Albany Historic Carousel Carving Studio–watch woodcarvers bring wooden carousel animals to life before your eyes! Hundreds of volunteers have devoted thousands of hours to hand-carving and hand-painting 52 truly stunning wooden carousel animals to re-populate a historic carousel. I love visiting the carving studio and watching the artists create lions, unicorns, horses, dragons and more.
  • Cascade Raptor Center–visit a rescue facility for wild birds and you’ll see eagles, owls, falcons and more
  • Wine-tasting or Beer-tasting via the Willamette River — Book a trip with Cascadia Expeditions and you’ll get to go for a lovely guided raft, canoe, or kayak trip down the Willamette River with stops for local beer or wine.
  • Unusual overnighters–Spend the night in a vintage trailer, or a grain silo, or a tipi, or sleep in a treetop–there are several off-the-beaten-path places to stay overnight.
  • Camp Dakota–Ride a zipline, throw a tomahawk, do a high-ropes challenge course–you can find all kinds of adventurous fun at Camp Dakota.

Are there flower fields not too far off Interstate 5?

You’re in luck — there are a lot of gorgeous flower farms in the Willamette Valley, and most are not more than 20 minutes east or west of Interstate 5, the main north-south route through Oregon. Depending on what time of spring or summer you’re driving through, there will be different flowers in season. Also, some of these farms are small, family-run operations, so it’s good to call and check to verify they’ll be open on the day you’re traveling through.

Here are several good ones to check out. I’ve listed them in the order you’d pass them if you’re driving south to north.

Hendricks Park is less than two miles east of Interstate 5 in Eugene. It’s an 80-acre city park, so it’s open year-round, but probably best to visit this time of year (March-May), because it’s famous for its rhododendron garden. Thousands of rhododendrons are in bloom there every spring, some of them as early as February and some into June.

Japanese Garden at Boulder Falls Inn is another garden that’s open any time and looks gorgeous in all seasons. This Japanese-inspired garden at Boulder Falls Inn is located in Lebanon, eight miles west of Interstate 5. This garden is adjacent to the Boulder Falls Inn in Lebanon, but you don’t have to be a guest there to visit the garden. It’s small, but worth a mention because it’s just so pretty and is open year-round. It was designed by Hoichi Kurisu, the same internationally known designer behind Portland’s Japanese Garden. There’s a nice restaurant called 1847 right next to the garden, so it’s a great place to stop, get off the freeway, have lunch or dinner and take a walk around the garden.

The Oregon Garden is 13 miles west of Salem in the little town of Silverton. The Oregon Garden isn’t just one type of garden — it’s an 80-acre botanical garden with dozens of different types of gardens within the main garden. This is another great one to add to your trip because it’s open 365 days a year and there is always something in bloom no matter what time of year you visit. Rhododendrons and tulips are fantastic there right now; irises and peonies usually start blooming in May; rose season is late spring to summer.

Schreiner’s Iris Garden is super-close to I-5; from exit 263 (a few miles north of Salem) it’s just 2.5 miles southwest of the freeway. The garden’s “bloom season” is May 6-31 this year.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm is nine miles east of Interstate 5, just outside the town of Woodburn. It has GORGEOUS fields of tulips and lots of fun activities during their spring tulip festival (which lasts until May 1 this year) like wine tasting, wagon rides, a kids’ play area and even tethered hot air balloon rides.

Swan Island Dahlias is about 10 miles west of I-5 near Canby. It has more than 35 acres of dahlias open to the public August-September.

There are also a number of different farms in the valley that specialize in lavender, particularly in the Mt. Hood Territory, which is in the northwest part of the Willamette Valley. These are part of that region’s “farm loops” — scenic driving routes of farms you can visit. Check on current operating hours before you visit: June and July tend to be when lavender is in bloom.

What are the rules on wild foraging in forests?

My very simple, condensed answer about foraging is: as long as you are picking small amounts of non-endangered species for personal use, it’s most likely going to be fine. (i.e. picking a few berries or mushrooms while you’re hiking) Regulations depend on what you want to pick, where you’re picking it and how much you want to pick. Small amounts for personal use are usually okay, but check to know how much “personal use” is. Here are some sites that might help:

I hope all the red tape doesn’t discourage you; every forest ranger I’ve ever met wants nothing more than to see people out enjoying the forest, and the Sweet Home ranger district even leads hikes where they teach people how to forage!

Where are the best places to watch the sunset near Salem?

What a great question! Here are my ideas for good sunsets near Salem.

  1. Willamette Valley Vineyards is just south of Salem is on a hill facing west toward the Jory hills and the Coast range. The west facing views at Willamette Valley Vineyards are great any time of day, but when the sun is setting on a clear day  it’s really spectacular. Sitting on their patio with a bottle of wine watching the sun set…not a bad way to end the day.

 

  1. Minto-Brown Island Park is huge, full of trails and secluded spots, and it borders the Willamette River along the entire western boundary of the park. Take a trail down to the riverbank and you can get some nice sunset views with the colors reflecting on the river.

 

  1. Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge is located west of Salem (near Dallas) off of Highway 22. It’s great natural area with several trails, looking westward toward the Coast Range. I haven’t done it myself, but I’ve heard the hike to the Rich Guadnagno Observation Platform gives you nice sunset views from the top of Baskett Butte.

 

  1. Van Duzer Vineyard is very close to the Baskett Slough wildlife refuge and a great place to reward yourself with a glass of wine after a hike. Their tasting room is up on top of a hill with beautiful westward views.

 

Happy sunset watching! I hope you find some great views.

What are the best wineries, restaurants and hotels in the Willamette Valley?

Picking the best hotels, wineries and restaurants in the Willamette Valley is a little bit like picking a favorite child…they’re all so great it’s hard to pick just one. But I’ll do my best!

Hotel:

  • For the fanciest hotel near wineries, I’d have to say The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon. It’s a beautiful place to stay, the food is amazing, and they have some great wine touring amenities (personalized concierge service, personal recommendations from staff, Lexuses that guests can borrow for driving around wine country). It’s been named one of the top five luxury hotels in the US, and one of the top 500 hotels in the world. Definitely worth checking out!
  • If you’re looking for a smaller, more intimate inn, The Black Walnut Inn in Dundee and Youngberg Hill in McMinnville are both also very lovely and upscale.
  • If you’d like a hotel in a small city, where you can walk from the hotel to great restaurants and urban wineries and breweries, I’d suggest Inn at the Fifth in Eugene. I’ve stayed there more than once and had a great experience each time.

Wineries:

  • Here are seven wineries that are known for having gorgeous views.
  • There were four Willamette Valley wineries that made Wine Spectator’s top 100 list in 2016: Evening Land, Big Table Farm, Bergstrom, and Solena Estate
  • A few others that are personal favorites of mine: Brooks Winery in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley–great wines, beautiful views, and a gorgeous but relaxed tasting room that makes you want to linger there all day; Brick House Vineyards, a small producer that’s open by appointment only. When you get an appointment, it’s a private tasting around the “tasting table” in their winery, which is a beautiful old converted horse barn right next to the vineyard.

Restaurants:

  • Sybaris Bistro, Albany– amazing and creative food, inspired by the seasons, the terroir of the Willamette Valley, and the chef’s creative urges. Top-notch service and wine list as well.
  • JORY at The Allison Inn, Newberg–chef Sunny Jin is one of the top-rated chefs in Oregon for good reason. You won’t be disappointed.
  • The Joel Palmer House, Dayton–delicious food with a focus on wild-foraged ingredients, especially Oregon’s wild mushrooms. Also a legendary wine cellar with the most extensive Oregon list in the state, and in a beautiful historic building.
  • Party Downtown, Eugene — just ate here for the first time last night and had a great meal! I highly recommend the Kitchen’s Choice menu. Let the chefs in the kitchen serve you up a series of their best bites–we tasted close to a dozen different dishes, and each was delightful.
  • For more casual stops between wine tasting–Red Hills Market in Dundee, a bistro/market with a cozy neighborhood pub feel and delicious food; or The Horse Radish in Carlton–great sandwiches, great soups, house-made desserts and a mouthwatering cheese plate.

You won’t go wrong with any of these choices. I hope you enjoy your trip!

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Are there sites in the Willamette Valley which are approachable by power chair?

I can answer this one pretty well, as one of my relatives uses a power chair and we’ve gone many places together over the years. Are you looking for camping sites? Or parks and natural areas? Here are a few ideas:

Sunnyside Park and RiverBend Park are two very pretty campgrounds on mostly flat ground with lots of paved walkways. Sunnyside is right on the shores of Green Peter Reservoir, and RiverBend is on the banks of the South Santiam River. Both are very easy to get around in when using a chair.

Champoeg State Park outside of Newberg is another good option — a variety of camping options (tent, RV, cabin, yurt) in a mostly flat and level area with paved walking trails. Some of them are formally designated ADA-accessible, but all of them would be relatively easy to get around in a chair. It’s in a pretty part of the Willamette Valley, nearby to lots of great wineries, and has some interesting historic sites within the park.

The Oregon Garden is another great place to visit for folks using chairs — it’s an 80-acre botanical garden (bigger than Buchart Gardens in Canada!) — and the entire place is ADA compliant. There’s also an adjacent Oregon Garden Resort which has ADA compliant rooms you can book for the night.

What are some of the best breweries to visit near McMinnville?

Of course, you’ll be deep in Wine Country there, and I should encourage you to stop in at one of the bajillion wineries for a drop of pinot — it is definitely worth a stop. As for beer, a couple to put on your list are Golden Valley (McMinnville), one of Oregon’s older breweries and a good one. The long-time brewer there, Mark Vickery, went off and started Grain Station (McMinnville), which should probably be your first stop. Great story, great place — and great beer. Another brewery I love is Heater Allen (also McMinnville), but they focus on lagers so you’ll have to decide whether that fits the bill. (Lagers have finally started to get popular in Oregon, and this brewery is one of the big reasons why.)

A couple other places to note: You might consider driving to Salem to check out Santiam, which is an interesting brewery that does mainly cask ales. It’s unusual and you might find it interesting. There’s also a new brewery in Dundee called Deception. Breweries open so fast in Oregon that I’m falling behind. I still haven’t made it out there. Perhaps you can go and tell me what it’s like.

Answered by Jeff Alworth, Ask Oregon Beer Expert on January 17th, 2016 - Post Your Answer
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Can you recommend affordable hotels near wineries in the Willamette Valley?

For the most concentrated wine tasting area, stay either in the Yamhill Valley (Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville area, where the majority of the Willamette Valley’s wineries can be found) or in Salem (easy access to the Eola-Amity Hills AVA).

My go-to fun, budget-priced hotels in Yamhill Valley:

  • McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon, a beautiful historic hotel in downtown McMinnville. However, many of the rooms have a shared bathroom down the hall. They have private bathrooms as well, so if that’s important to you, pay attention when you’re booking.
  • Third Street Flats has gorgeous, fully-furnished apartments you can rent in downtown McMinnville. These apartments are only accessible via stairs, so if some in your party have physical limitations, keep that in mind.
  • Chehalem Ridge B&B and Wine Country Farm are family-owned bed and breakfasts that are well-located for wine tasting.
  • At The Vintages Trailer Resort you can rent a retro Airstream trailer in wine country. These trailers are cute and fully equipped with electricity, heat, air conditioning and other nice amenities.

McMinnville and Newberg also have some good standard chain hotels:

Near Salem, closer to the Eola-Amity Hills AVA:

  • The Grand Hotel, Salem, in Salem’s historic downtown, is walking distance to parks and nice restaurants. The Salem area is also close to some of my very favorite wineries, such as Brooks Wines, Left Coast Cellars, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Ankeny Vineyards and Arcane Cellars.
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Where can I photograph the most covered bridges in 3 days?

You can definitely photograph dozens of Oregon’s covered bridges in a three-day journey. How many you can hit just depends on how much driving you want to do and how early you want to get up and get started!

Assuming you start on the north end of the Willamette Valley and head south, I suggest sticking to the ones not far off the I-5 travel corridor. Here’s a recommended route for you:

Day 1: Marion, Polk, Benton, and Linn counties (10-13 bridges)

Start with the ones in the Salem vicinity:

  • Gallon House Bridge, northeast of Silverton
  • Stayton-Jordan Bridge, east of Sublimity
  • Ritner Creek Bridge south of Dallas.

Head south to Corvallis:

  • Irish Bend Bridge in Corvallis
  • Harris Bridge just west of Corvallis (There is a wonderful winery right next to the Harris Bridge! Call ahead and schedule a tasting appointment, or pack a picnic and take a lunch break there.)

Head east to Albany to view five covered bridges clustered in a loop near Scio: (Follow the driving directions.)

  • Gilkey
  • Hannah
  • Hoffman
  • Larwood
  • Shimanek

This would probably be a pretty full day, but if you have more time and energy, continue east to Cascadia, where you’ll find:

  • Short Bridge

Turn around and head back to Sweet Home:

  • Weddle Bridge

From there take Highway 228 to Crawfordsville:

  • Crawfordsville Bridge

At this point, spend the night somewhere (there’s a great bed & breakfast in Brownsville, or a nice hotel and RV resort in Harrisburg)

 

Day 2: Lane County (11-18 bridges) Lane County has more remaining covered bridges than any other area of the state — probably more than you could see in a day, but there are clusters of them around the Fall Creek/Lowell/Dexter area and near Cottage Grove.

You could start off just south of Eugene:

  • Coyote Creek

Then head out toward the cluster near Fall Creek:

  • Pengra
  • Unity
  • Lowell
  • Parvin

Then head for the cluster near Cottage Grove:

  • Centennial
  • Chambers Railroad
  • Currin
  • Stewart
  • Mosby Creek
  • Dorena

That would put you at 11 bridges for the day. You could head back to Eugene to spend the night, or stay in Cottage Grove. Village Green Resort in Cottage Grove is supposed to be really nice.

 

Day 3: Douglas/Jackson County (9 bridges)

Just over the county line of Douglas County:

  • Pass Creek

Further south:

  • Rochester

Near Myrtle Creek:

  • Horse Creek
  • Neal Lane

Continuing south into Josephine County:

  • Grave Creek

East of Grants Pass toward Rogue River:

  • Wimer

Near Medford:

  • Antelope Creek
  • Lost Creek

If you have time you could also continue south to

  • McKee

 

I also suggest getting your hands on the map put out by the Covered Bridge Society of Oregon, if you don’t have it already!

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