When’s the last time you put on fairy wings to watch a troupe of stilt-walkers; glamped riverside to wake up to a day of fly-fishing and paddling; and cruised through town by foot or bike to sip wine, spot murals and listen to live music? You can do it all in the small- and mid-sized towns of the South Willamette Valley, which is often less crowded and entirely yours to discover. This area south of Corvallis and north of Cottage Grove, stretching west along Highway 126 to Veneta and east to Blue River, offers a mix of counterculture traditions, vibrant art scenes, accessible outdoor adventures and undeniably great food. Here’s how to get started exploring it this summer.
Immerse yourself in arts and culture
With 12 stages of entertainment (including magicians, jesters and jugglers), more than 700 arts and craft artisans, food, and fairy-inspired costumes as far as the eye can see, the Oregon Country Fair (July 12-14, 2019) in Veneta is a beloved celebration of whimsy and delight. The artful festival — and newly designated Oregon Heritage Tradition — celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019. Classical music lovers will appreciate the annual Oregon Bach Festival (June 28-July 13, 2019) at the Hult Center and other venues in Eugene; it’s a gathering of musical artists and radio personalities gathered for performances, talks and gala celebrations. If your idea of a perfect day is strolling through town to spot murals, you’re in luck. The historic town of Cottage Grove has 20 outdoor works of art on their mural walking tour, as does Springfield’s mural walking tour — including their ode to “The Simpsons,” based in Springfield. There’s also a lot of excitement building for the 2021 IAAF World Championships scheduled to take place at Hayward Field. Check out the progress so far on 20 brand-new murals being painted as part of the 20×21 EUG Mural Project; the self-guided mural tour reveals a lot about the vibrant history and character of the city.
Live it up in the outdoors
Summer’s mild sunshine and cool old-growth forests makes it prime time for exploring the South Willamette Valley’s lush green spaces. Practice your rock climbing skills at Skinner Butte Park, on the north end of downtown Eugene; run or walk the annual Butte to Butte event (July 4, 2019); hike one of the dozens of scenic trails; stand-up paddleboard at Alton Baker Park; or boat or picnic at Fern Ridge Reservoir. Bring fishing gear out to the McKenzie River for some of the area’s best trout, and book a cabin or wall tent to glamp on the river at one of the many rentals such as Loloma Lodge for a rejuvenating retreat. Belknap Hot Springs is just a few miles east, with tent and RV sites, cabins and other lodging options surrounding their two hot spring pools and gardens.
Dig into these tasty treats
When you’re hungry, download the handy South Willamette Valley Food Trail brochure to find farm-to-table eateries, brewpubs, tasting rooms, farm stands and other spots in this region to fill the belly, including the Lane County Farmers Market, which also marks 50 years in 2019. Favorite road-trip stops include Provisions Market Hall in Eugene, for delectable treats and French-inspired sandwiches to go, and Our Daily Bread in Veneta — fresh cinnamon buns and scratch-made cuisine in an old church. Enjoy complimentary tastings of the grape and berry wines at Saginaw Vineyard in Cottage Grove — an early 1900s red barn that’s easy to spot in the sea of green. You’ll find more wine, beer and spirits culture here: Look for inspiration along the South Willamette Valley Wine Trail, Eugene Distillery Trail and Eugene Ale Trail. Just remember to assign a designated driver or better yet, go car-free with a tour.