5 Exceptional Guided Experiences around Eugene

Stargaze from a kayak, surf sand dunes on the Coast and learn about wines from local experts.
May 20, 2024

It’s hard to get bored in Eugene. Everywhere you turn, there are countless activities to do, natural areas to explore and tasty creations to sample. Even if you’ve experienced them before, these excursions are enhanced with a guided tour. Taking a trip alongside a knowledgeable, experienced local guide means you can relax as someone else takes care of logistics and safety. It also means you can build a stronger connection to the region. Here are five expert-led experiences for your next trip to the area, and where to grab a great bite afterward. 

Helfrich McKenzie Rafting

1. Stargaze From the Water

The stargazing kayak tour offered by Cascades Outdoor Center in Westfir is a unique and awe-inspiring experience. As you glide over the water, your guide will point out celestial bodies and share information about the natural world that comes to life at night. 

The outdoor center also offers rafting, hiking and snowshoeing tours, as well as mountain bike shuttle services. All tours begin from Westfir Lodge & Mountain Market, making it easy for you to extend your excursion to an overnight stay. Fuel up before or after your guided adventure with a stop at Stewart’s 58 Drive-In, a restaurant dating back to the 1950s, known for its delicious burgers, house-made chili and malts. Or head to Oakridge’s The 3 Legged Crane, an English-style pub that serves up British classics such as fish and chips and savory cottage pie.

2. Go Rafting on the McKenzie River

Spend an adrenaline-filled day bracing for rapids and riding the exhilarating current of the McKenzie River. You will be in good hands with the certified river guides at Helfrich McKenzie Rafting. Choose from two stretches of river: a first-timer-friendly course that builds from mild to exciting rapids or a stretch that includes 8 miles of nonstop action. In both trips, you’ll have a chance to see covered bridges, seasonal waterfalls and other stunning features of the old-growth forest.

After your time on the river, debrief over a pizza or flat-iron steak at Takoda’s Rainbow, a saloon-style restaurant in Blue River. Or opt for the nearby McKenzie General Store, which offers seasonal menu items such as salmon tacos and grilled cheese featuring pesto, bacon and avocado.

Sand Master Park (Photo by Lon Beale / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

3. Learn to Sandboard on the Dunes

Simply witnessing the miles of majestic sand dunes near the coastal city of Florence is an experience in itself. But why not make it even more memorable by strapping a board to your feet and feeling the thrill of gliding down the slopes? Try your hand at sandboarding by learning from the staff at Sand Master Park, home to 200 acres of sand dunes. With an experienced teacher showing you what to do, you’ll be carving your way around beach grass and jumping from sandy knolls before you know it. 

Once you’ve brushed off the sand, grab some food at one of Florence’s many phenomenal eateries. Stop into Homegrown Public House & Brewery for local favorites such as Cajun fried oysters or steamer clams, alongside beer brewed in their nanobrewery. Or head for 1285 Restobar for crab ravioli or barbecue-chicken pizza, plus views of the Siuslaw River Bridge. 

King Estate (Photo by Turell Group / Eugene, Cascades, & Coast)

4. Taste Local Wines With an Expert

Whether you’re new to wine or a vino enthusiast, it’s always nice to let someone else take the wheel. Spend a relaxing day exploring the Eugene area’s distinguished wine scene with a wine-tasting tour through America’s Hub World Tours. During this unmatched wine experience, you’ll visit and taste at three renowned vineyards. Along the way, your guide shares the techniques, stories and secrets that go into crafting the wines — including the region’s history, terroir and microclimates.

Following your tour, finish your day with dinner at one of Eugene’s exemplary restaurants. Chef de cuisine Amanda Gefre has innovation on display at Rye, with specialties like smoked-rabbit bolognese and pan-seared scallops. For a more casual vibe, head Cornucopia for beers, burgers and some of the crispiest Cajun fries you’ll ever try. 

5. Spot Wildlife on the Willamette River

Take in the sights along the serene Willamette River on a scenic jet boat tour. As you wind your way along the river, your guide will point out wildlife you come across. Birders love this river not only for the famous birds of prey, like bald eagles and red-tailed hawks, but also for the chance to see swallows, egrets and blue herons. 

Afterward, grab a bite in Harrisburg at 99 Grill, a casual diner that serves mouthwatering American classics like pulled-pork sandwiches, as well as breakfast all day. Or head down the road to The Junkyard Extreme Burgers & Brats, famous for its bigger-than-your-head burgers and hefty hot dogs, all topped with ingredients that add a kick of flavor to every bite. 

About The

Emily Gillespie
Emily Gillespie is a travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, CNN Travel and Afar magazine. She’s lived in three of Oregon’s seven regions, currently calling Portland home. She and her husband look for every opportunity to hike to a view, bike through wine country and eat their way through a new city.

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