Less than an hour southeast from Eugene is a magical outdoor playground, undiscovered by crowds of tourists and perfect for a weekend getaway in the woods. Welcome to Westfir and Oakridge, an area packed with activities and areas to explore, with just the right amount of places to stay and great food to enjoy. For me, it was a surreal trip back in time, to when Oregon’s lumber industry ruled the valley.
Riding the rails is an affordable way to travel — and it’s much more fun than a highway. I started at the Portland Union Station, which opened in 1896 and gives visitors a case of nostalgia for the early 20th century. The train’s seats were large with maximum leg room, enough to stretch out without disturbing fellow riders, and the windows were as tall as they were wide, providing a perfect frame for the spectacular vistas down the Willamette Valley. Gliding through Oregon City, coming within inches of buildings, the train seemed to take flight as Portland dropped out of view. Ahead, all I could see was vast farmland and small towns, stretching out to the horizon.
Once I made it to Eugene, I jumped onto Lane County’s Diamond Express to Oakridge. Again, I was treated to large windows. We careened down the winding Highway 58 at dusk, getting amazing views of Dexter Lake and the historic Lowell Bridge reflecting on the still waters. The forest enveloped us as the bus traipsed further, until we arrived in the cradle of the deep woods.
The Westfir Lodge is an adorable bed and breakfast inn, filled with quirks and comfort. The lodge was originally built as the office for the Westridge Lumber Mill, which ruled the area from 1925 until the late 1980’s. After the decline of the lumber industry, sealed by a massive mill fire, the office was purchased by two men from Palm Springs who had reportedly been personal valets to Lucy and Desi Arnaz. They painted the entire lodge — from walls to sidewalks and rooftops — in pink. Over time the lodge changed owners (and colors), until Dawn Hendrix bought the property a couple years ago. She started making updates, including a new outdoor seating area, pizza oven and tailored packages for guests.
I instantly felt at home at the Westfir Lodge; it was warm and comfortable with a twist of small-town charm. Not to mention, there was plenty of delicious food and cold beer waiting for me when I arrived.
I woke up with a view of Oregon’s longest covered bridge, the red, 180-feet-long Office Bridge, in the lush Willamette National Forest. Walking through Office Bridge is an easy way to get a feel for the area. With the bright sun glimmering off the North Fork of the Willamette River, the land reflects a sepia-toned quality. The 2.3-mile North Fork Trail follows the river to swimming holes and secluded spots, where visitors come to float, kayak, fish and more. I began my adventure at a well-maintained park that had parking, picnic tables, trail maps and some of the cleanest public restrooms I ever experienced. The park has a wide-open area that defies a simple description and deserves to be relished and enjoyed.
Once home to a thriving, active lumber mill that defined the region — whose buildings still stand today — the woods have reforested and become a mountain biker’s paradise. The trails snake between trees as testament to the outdoors and the strong community of Westfir and Oakridge.
Aside from the tasty local food options at the Westfir Lodge, Oakridge has a handful of great restaurants. I opted for Brewers Union Local 180, a classic English-style public house with a Pacific Northwest twist. I enjoyed a fantastic hamburger with a fresh garden salad and a seasonal English-style pale ale that was the best beer I enjoyed this year (so far).
That night was blessed with live music, and I raised a quiet toast to the mayor of Oakridge who stood at the corner of the bar chatting about the town’s past and future with friends old and new. What a perfect place.