I don’t own a dog, but nearly all of my friends and coworkers do — this is Oregon, after all. One of my sweetest furry friends happens to be Daisy, the Adventure Dog, who’s earned her fair share of treats while exploring pet-friendly trails throughout Oregon. She and her human give two paws up to many sites in the Willamette Valley, where you’re never far from a watering hole — the swimming sort or the liquid-refreshment kind, as many wine-tasting rooms welcome four-legged friends on their patios. It’s easy to access the Willamette River as well as the region’s many lakes, creeks and waterfalls, which makes every trek a cool delight in the summertime.
North Willamette Valley
Less than 20 miles south of Portland, Molalla River State Park is a doggie dream come true, situated at the confluence of the Willamette, Molalla and Pudding rivers. There’s a ton of beautiful habitat here, and it’s one of the largest blue heron rookeries in the region. Bring a picnic and play fetch in the large off-leash area. Its convenient location 5 miles east of Wilsonville makes it a great pit stop during any road trip along Interstate 5.
On the south bank of the Willamette River, dogs can run off-leash in the designated space (not entirely fenced) at Champoeg State Heritage Area, in the former historic pioneer town of Champoeg. Enjoy wildflower meadows and more than 130 species of birds at the park. In McMinnville, the 4-acre Riverside Drive Dog Park features spaces for both large dogs and small or timid dogs, with paved walkways, running water, waste bags and garbage cans.
Many of Willamette Valley’s wineries are dog-friendly. You can search for the one closest to you — just check each business’s hours and policies before you go, and book an appointment to visit. Ewing Young Distillery in Newberg is a dog-friendly distillery with a fascinating pioneer history. Let your pups play by the lake as you sip whiskey on the farm.
Do your pups like to stop and smell the roses too? The Oregon Garden in Silverton is wonderfully dog-friendly, and there’s even a special mini-garden just for them (leashes, etiquette and good behavior are still required). Stop first at the property’s Pet-Friendly Garden, a space where can learn about which plants are toxic to pets throughout the garden and even in your own backyard.
Independence Dog Park is a sweet fenced-in spot for large and small pets, and the best part is the easy access to the Willamette River to cool off. (It’s just two minutes away from The Independence, a boutique hotel where you and Fido can stay to take full advantage of the river.) And in the heart of Salem, you can find tons of wooded and open green space and river access at Minto-Brown Island Park, which, at 1,200 acres, is larger than New York’s Central Park.
The lush Santiam State Forest is the land of waterfalls, so how about a lovely trek and jump in the pool at Shellburg Falls, a quick 2.8-mile round trip? Come early and on a weekday in the summer since it gets busy, and parking is limited. Shellburg is a great alternative to the much more crowded Silver Falls State Park just north, where dogs are not allowed on the main waterfall trails.
Lakes abound in this part of the valley, which makes it the ultimate spot for water lovers. Detroit Lake is a haven for pets that like to play on the water, but if you’re looking for a quieter place nearby, consider Green Peter Lake in Sweet Home, with plenty of hiking and shoreline on the lake, and Middle Santiam River. Want to work up a sweat? Stahlman Point, near Detroit Lake, is a challenging trek that includes 1,300 feet of elevation gain over the 5-mile round trip, with a steep and rocky ascent. Keep your dog on a tight leash near the summit here and on all trails as you soak up the views.
A trip to the Willamette Valley wouldn’t be complete without a day at Marys Peak, just west of Corvallis. Connor’s Camp Trailhead is even called a “dog bone” trail — a straight out-and-back connected to a loop, with 1,200 feet of elevation and 5.5 miles in all, with wildflower meadows and panoramic views from the highest point in the Coast range.
South Willamette Valley
Pets and their owners have six dog parks to enjoy in Eugene, four of which are fenced and equipped with wash-down stations, waste bags, drinking fountains and plenty of green space to stretch out. Two more parks are off-leash but unfenced. Alton Baker Park, the city’s largest, is a go-to spot, prized for its roominess, shaded areas, picnic tables and walking paths for a little nature in the city. Just across town in Eugene, it may be a surprise that the 200-acre living-tree museum at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum is dog-friendly. Pets are welcome at the arboretum and on the trails, which meander through a diverse array of habitats including open slopes, forests and wetlands. Take a delightful 1.9-mile stroll on the loop trail around the arboretum, and take extra care to leave this site pristine.
Perhaps Eugene’s most beloved area for pets is the Ridgeline Trail system and its most popular trail, the 1.7-mile loop up to Spencer Butte (leashes required). The trail is famous for its wildflowers, gorgeous views on a bluebird day and challenging ascent. Come early to avoid the busiest times of day in the summer.
Southeast of Eugene, Brice Creek in Dorena and Hills Creek Reservoir in Oakridge are summertime favorites, although they get busy with swimmers looking to splash in the pools. Escape from the city at Row River Trail in Cottage Grove — 14 miles of paved out-and-back, dog-friendly trail (leashes required) along a former railroad line. You’ll find plenty of interesting sites to sniff around at, including railroad trestles, covered bridges and remnants of gold mines from the late 1800s. You also may recognize the sites where movies like “Stand by Me” and “The General” were filmed. (Head into Brownsville to see the Oregon Film Trail plaques celebrating those films.) The Row River Trail is popular with cyclists, so be sure to respect all users, and bring your own water and doggie bags.