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What are sightseeing activities between Portland and Eugene for non-city folk?

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 MuseumAnother 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 FallsAnother 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 ForestThis 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.

What are the public transportation options in the mid-Willamette Valley?

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!

Where do you suggest taking out-of-state friends for a wine-tasting lunch near Salem?

Lucky for you, it’s very hard to go wrong with any wineries in the Salem area! Here are a few fun ones:

Brooks Winery

Brooks has a wonderful blend of elegant wines and a welcoming atmosphere. It’s an absolutely gorgeous space with great views of the Cascades and a fun outside area with picnic tables and outdoor games. They even have local beer on tap if there’s someone in your group who likes microbrews more than wine! The only thing they don’t have is a regular food service — they have great cheese plates and they cook up wood-fired pizza on special event days. I would call ahead and check on food availability and perhaps bring a picnic lunch if they will not have food on the day you hope to go.

Ankeny Vineyard

Just south of Salem, Ankeny is a great boutique winery with views out over a local wildlife refuge. They have a cozy tasting room and a beautiful deck that’s great for relaxing with a glass of wine. They even have a friendly winery dog that likes to come say hello to guests. They have delicious custom wood-fired pizza, salads, and desserts available on the weekends.

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Also just south of Salem, Willamette Valley Vineyards is a much more polished and upscale wine tasting experience than the previous two wineries, though still not stuffy or pretentious (you’ll have a hard time finding an Oregon winery that is stuffy or pretentious — they tend to be pretty friendly!). However, they have a large and beautiful facility with views of the Coast Range, and they are also the only winery in the Salem area, and one of the few in Oregon, to offer a full food menu. Their in-house chef makes amazing dishes that are specifically designed to pair with their wines. Definitely worth a visit.

If none of those sound like just what you’re thinking of, visit www.OregonWineCountry.org or www.TravelSalem.com — both of them have lots of information on local wineries and should help you find the perfect spot.

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Which Willamette Valley city is the most walkable?

When I think of cities in Oregon that are highly walkable for non-drivers, the two local college towns, Corvallis and Eugene, both come to mind immediately. Others are either too large or too small or don’t have amenities like groceries, restaurants, medical facilities and housing all clustered in a central area. Here’s a little bit more about both:

Corvallis: Home to Oregon State University, home of the Beavers, Corvallis is consistently rated highly for being pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly and safe. It’s got a nice downtown, a beautiful riverfront and miles and miles of public pathways and trails. (www.therighttrail.org is a great website devoted just to Corvallis trails and pathways.) One of the things that I think makes Corvallis particularly friendly for a non-driver is that there are grocery stores and small markets scattered in many different areas around town, which means that no matter where you live you don’t have to walk far to get your food and household essentials. Corvallis also has a decent (and free) public bus system with stops throughout town for times when you don’t want to go places on foot. Corvallis has just under 50,000 residents, and it’s a town with a small, homey feel. Definitely give it a visit! You can go to www.visitcorvallis.com for more information.

Eugene: Eugene has all the same great things going for it that Corvallis has — fun downtown, river access, and miles of paths and trails — but it’s a bigger city with a few more amenities, such as a train station, a nearby airport and beautiful performing arts center downtown, The Hult Center. Eugene is also a university town, home to the University of Oregon Ducks. It’s famous for being the birthplace of Nike and a major force in track & field sports, so it should be no surprise that public trails for running and walking are a big deal in Eugene. You can find a good map here. It also has grocery stores and medical facilities that are close to places to live, as well as a good public transit system. One thing that does give Eugene an edge over Corvallis for non-drivers is its easy public transit access to other Oregon cities — the Amtrak station is right downtown, with daily train service up and down the I5 corridor, as well as Greyhound, BoltBus and other bus services. It also has a small airport. In Corvallis, connecting to other cities on public transit usually requires riding a bus to Albany, then getting on a train or bus at the Albany station to Portland or Eugene. You can get more info about Eugene at www.eugenecascadescoast.org.

Are there hiking trails between wineries in the Willamette Valley?

There are several wineries south of Eugene that border each other — King Estate and Iris Vineyards are backdoor neighbors, and Chateau Lorane is also very close. I have heard anecdotally that you can walk from King Estate to Iris, and last year there was a 5K/10K trail run in the area that took the racers to all three wineries. However, I do not believe that it is an officially designated or marked trail. My suggestion would be to stop in at Iris or King Estate and ask the tasting room staff.

If you’re not looking for a hiking trail, per se, but just a beautiful route, you should definitely check out some of the routes in the Eugene area and South Willamette Valley. You can find maps and directions to guide you on scenic drives or bike rides that go from winery to winery. You could also walk these routes if you choose, but they are on roads, not hiking trails.

If you are really interested in the wine-hiking (aka “wiking!”) experience, here are a few vineyards in the Willamette Valley with hiking trails:

  • Sokol Blosser, just outside Dundee: they have a guided vineyard hike you can sign up for.
  • Winter’s Hill Vineyard, Dundee Hills: They’re an official stop on the Willamette Valley Birding Trail, and they have a native oak savannah you can hike through.
  • Left Coast Cellars, Eola-Amity Hills, just west of Salem: They invented the term “wiking” and have a great map of trails through their property.
  • Eola Hills Legacy Estate vineyard: this is just a few minutes from Left Coast and in a very pretty location.
  • Tyee Wine Cellars, Corvallis: This small vineyard is on land that’s been owned by the same family for more than 100 years. Their hiking trail takes you through native wetlands, farmland, and hazelnut orchards all on their family property.
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Are there hiking trails all the way around Foster Lake?

You happened to ask a good person — I grew up near Foster Lake and my family used to walk on the shoreline trail every evening! The walking trails at Foster Lake are great, and there are lots of places where you can walk right up to the lake shore and dip your toes in the water. However, they do not extend all the way around the reservoir.

The north shore trail begins at Lewis Creek County Park, which is located off of North River Drive.

On the south shore, the walking trail begins at Shea Point (just off Highway 20, across from the spot where Riggs Hill Road intersects with Highway 20) and extends up to the far edge of the dam.

If you visit the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce website and scroll to the bottom of their list of local trails, you’ll find a good description of both the North Shore and South Shore trails.

If you visit Foster, stop and get a bite at the Point Restaurant. It’s right across from the South Shore trail and has good food plus beautiful lake views. It’s especially known for its homemade pies — yum!

What are the best breweries between Salem and 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 — and 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 August 18th, 2016 - Post Your Answer
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How should my group take a cheese tour of the Willamette Valley?

I happen to love local cheese, so I love that you are asking this question!

I am not aware of anyone offering a pre-set cheese tour of the valley. However, I would suggest you contact Black Tie Tours; they are based in the Dundee area and offer mainly wine tours but are very open to customization. The owner, Stefan Czarnecki, is very familiar with the food and drink scene in the Willamette Valley and I think would be able to set up a nice cheese-focused tour for your group!

Embrace Oregon Tours is another Willamette Valley based tour company that I’ve had good experiences with and might be interested in setting up a custom tour for you.

If you end up wanting to do a more self-guided tour, here are some places I’d highly recommend including in your visit:

I hope you have a delicious trip!

Where do you recommend a short wine tasting cycling trip in the Willamette Valley?

My top pick would be the Eugene area for cycling to wineries. You’ll find a higher concentration of wineries in the Dundee/Newberg area, but the roads are more highly trafficked with very minimal shoulders, and not as good for cyclists. In the Eugene area there are a couple of different routes that will take you to several wineries within 15-20 miles.

The Territorial Wine Trail is the name for the main Eugene-area wine tasting route. You could do either the north section or the south, but the whole thing might be pretty ambitious on bikes.

North section:

If you look at the map for the north section, you’ll see it lists five different wineries. If you’re looking for only 15-20 miles, I’d suggest leaving off Domaine Meriwether and Novelle, and instead starting off with Pfeiffer Vineyard. Then head to Brigadoon and Benton-Lane. Another nearby winery you could add in that’s not shown on that map is High Pass Winery, just a couple miles from Pfeiffer. (High Pass is small, and only open on weekends, so you’d have to leave it off if you’re planning a weekday ride). All of these wineries are smallish, family-owned, and in a very pretty area.

South section:

The south section takes you to some beautiful wineries as well. As with the northern route, I’d suggest paring down the wineries a little bit to make it easier for cycling. I’d say start at Sweet Cheeks Winery, then head to Sarver (right across the street!). From there, a pretty 6-mile ride south to Iris Vineyards. After Iris, it’s about 2 miles further south to King Estate. This route offers more of a contrast of different types of wineries–King Estate is larger, while the others offer a smaller, more intimate experience. They’re all lovely, and King Estate also has an amazing restaurant on-site. The perfect place to reward yourself after a ride!

Another option: book a winery ride with The Bike Concierge, a bike tourism service based in the northern Willamette Valley. They offer a guided winery ride that includes several wineries, including Villa Catalana Cellars, one of the most beautiful wineries I’ve ever visited! They will also help you do a cycle route in any area you have in mind–they can drop you and your bikes off at one end and pick  you up at the other, so you don’t have to plan for your return route. I’ve ridden with them before and they’re extremely nice people with tons of cycling expertise. They’ll give you as much or as little support as you need.

Happy cycling!

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We’re staying in Vida during the Olympic Trials in Eugene; what should we check out?

Vida is pretty remote but it’s in a very, very pretty spot with lots of outdoorsy things to do. It’s right along the McKenzie River which is one of the prettiest rivers in the state.

From Vida, it’s about a 40-minute drive to the trailhead for an easy hike to Tamolitch, the Blue Pool–this one is on my bucket list of hikes that I need to do. Everyone I know who has done it tells me it’s really unbelievably pretty!

Another hike in that area is to Sahalie and Koosah Falls–fairly easy hike and the waterfalls are gorgeous.

The Sahalie and Koosah hike is one segment of the McKenzie River National Trail, which is one of the country’s top mountain biking trails. I don’t know if you’re into mountain biking or will have access to bikes, but if you are then you should not miss out on that option. If you don’t have mountain bikes, you can rent them for the day from McKenzie River Mountain Resort, which also provides a shuttle service. If you’re not into mountain biking, you can also go hiking or trail running on the McKenzie River Trail–TheClymb.com named it one of the country’s top five running trails.

The area around Vida is known for having some fun natural hot springs to visit, such as the Terwiliger Hot Springs. (Be aware that as with many natural hot springs, clothing is considered optional for some visitors here.)

If you like swimming, you can do that at Cougar Reservoir.

If you like fishing, some of the state’s best fly fishing is on the McKenzie River, and there are lots of outfitters who will rent you gear and take you out. Paddling and rafting on the McKenzie River is very popular too. Get ahold of a number of guides who will take you fishing or rafting and rent you gear. You can also opt to go rafting on the McKenzie.

I hope your visit to Oregon for the Olympic trials is fabulous–have a great time!

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