: Fern Ridge Reservoir by Sally McAleer

Treasures of the South Willamette Valley

Eugene, Cascades & Coast,  Photographer
August 3, 2018

Oregon is all about hidden gems, those lesser-known places that shine without the spotlight. The South Willamette Valley is chock-full of these jewels — small-batch vineyards that produce award-winning wines, secluded lakes where wildlife abounds and storybook getaways that leave imprints in your memory. While many of these treasures might not have the fame they deserve, once you put them on your radar, you’ll see why we love the South Willamette Valley. Consider this easy itinerary your starter kit to this special part of Oregon.

Patrons happily eat on outdoor picnic tables as bicyclists head to the entrance of Creswell Bakery.
On sunny days, the outdoor seating at Creswell Bakery is a blissful spot for breakfast.

Day 1: Creswell to Veneta

It might as well be a fact: breakfast at Creswell Bakery just makes your day better. Order to your heart’s desire from a menu specializing in seasonal and local ingredients, featuring scratch-made tarts, pies and sandwiches, plus meats from grass-fed animals down the road. We won’t judge if you add extra house-cured bacon or grab another hazelnut sticky bun for your journey.

Walk over to Farmlands Market for all your picnic needs, from meat and cheese platters to vegan treats and made-to-order salads, and a wide selection of local libations. Keep your eyes peeled for The Queen’s Bounty raw honey and bison or pork from My Brothers’ Farm. The pantry’s worth of seasonings make for good souvenirs too.

Find a rainbow of fresh, local produce at Creswell Farmers Market, held Tuesdays, May through October.

If you’re around on a Sunday in the summer, consider going east to Dexter Lake Farmers Market in Lowell for fresh foods, local art and live music. On Tuesdays, the fun is at Creswell Farmers Market, and the South Valley Farmers Market in Cottage Grove steals the show on Thursdays.

A bird's-eye view of King Estate reveals a sprawling vineyard property with European-style architecture.
King Estate has the highest possible standard in sustainable agriculture.

A short drive from Creswell, King Estate Winery features spectacular vineyard views and European-style architecture, the ideal setting for a tasting and lunch (reservations encouraged). Opt for a complimentary tour, available on the hour Monday through Sunday, where you can go behind the scenes at the nation’s largest biodynamic vineyard and see many menu ingredients growing on site.

A bird's-eye view of Iris Vineyards shows the charming winery adjacent to fields and trees.
Iris Vineyards specializes in handcrafted pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay.

Continue to Iris Vineyards for an intimate tasting overlooking the valley. Walk under the vine-covered trellis while you sip a hearty red and learn about the winery’s sustainable viticultural practices. Picnics are always welcome.

Glasses of Alesong's pinot gris terrior farmhouse ales look like wine with rich colors.
Taste ales fermented with wine grapes at Alesong Brewing. (Photo credit: Sally McAleer)

For the beer lover, head to Alesong Brewing, a small-batch brewer that focuses on oak aging and Belgian-inspired techniques. Since its founding in 2015, Alesong has collected dozens of accolades. Taste the series of farmhouse ales fermented with wine grapes.

Instruct your designated driver to take a leisurely pace north on Territorial Highway. Stop at Coyote Creek Covered Bridge, a 1922 Howe truss structure open to light traffic. Next bring your appetite to Broadway Grill in Veneta, where the seasonal special is usually a good choice for dinner.

Go for a post-meal stroll along Fern Ridge Reservoir, open until dusk, home to Oregon’s largest breeding colony of purple martins, as well as the impressive Fern Ridge Dam. Alternatively, you can visit Veneta Territorial Skatepark to see skaters do tricks along handrails and quirky bowls (or better yet, if you can, join them).

Rest easy at one of the lodging options nearby. Richardson Park Campground is a peaceful place for RV and tent camping, open mid-April to mid-October. If you’ve never slept in a yurt, now is your chance at Yurtel, a unique bed and breakfast featuring themed rooms equipped with private bathrooms. Another B&B, The Catbird Seat is a southern-style home surrounded by soaring birds and serene starry skies.

A pedestrian walks on the Coyote Creek Covered Bridge.
Coyote Creek Bridge is also known as Battle Creek Bridge and Swing Log Bridge.
A blue yurt with a wooden deck looks inviting to travelers.
A stay at Yurtel is the ultimate glamping experience. (Photo credit: Hayley Radich)

Day 2: Veneta to Junction City

Rise and shine in your picturesque part of the valley. Breakfast is a treat at Our Daily Bread, housed in a beautifully renovated church, where you’ll have a tough time deciding between marionberry-hazelnut french toast and creamy custard quiche.

Fern Ridge Reservoir looks different at dawn (or mid-morning, depending on your sleep schedule). The extensive wetlands section is home to a variety of wildlife, while day-use recreation includes swimming at Richardson Park and Orchard Point, as well as fishing, boating and paddleboarding. Soak up the fun.

At Bush’s Fern View Farms, satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh, juicy fruit. Depending on the season, the U-pick fields and farm stand will offer peaches, apples, melons and strawberries, as well as hazelnuts, pumpkins and more.

How often can you say lunch was in a historic schoolhouse? At Camas Country Mill the charming setting is matched by extraordinary food. The stone mill produces nutritious whole grain flour — the main ingredient at Creswell Bakery — and inspires the store’s ever-changing lunch menu. Open year-round, Tuesday to Saturday.

Bicyclists pull up to the entrance of Our Daily Bread, housed in a renovated church.
Breakfast is a treat at Our Daily Bread, housed in a beautifully renovated church. (Photo credit: Colin Morton)
At Camas Country Mill, lunch is served in the restored 1800s Lower Fern Ridge Schoolhouse. (Photo credit: Colin Morton)

An afternoon of wine tasting in Junction City awaits. The hard part is choosing between all the great options. Famous for wine served at President Obama’s pre-inaugural dinner, Pfeiffer Winery specializes in high-end pinot noir and pinot gris not sold in stores. The water garden is a delightful place to sip, especially if you’re lucky enough to meet the winemaker during an informal “pinot clinic.”

It might be hard to believe the award-winning Benton-Lane Winery was once a sheep ranch decades ago. Now the property is Benton-Lane’s flourishing vineyard best known for receiving more “Top 100 Wines of the World” distinctions for still wine production than any other Oregon winery since 2005. Bonus for golfers: the sleek tasting room is near a 18-hole course.

Tucked in the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range is Walnut Ridge Vineyard, a certified sustainable winery specializing in pinot noir, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and gamay noir. All 25 acres are dry farmed and hand-tended. If the timing’s right, you can spot mountain mist floating above the vines, making for a picture-perfect moment.

A short bridge curves over the water garden at Pfeiffer Winery.
Pfeiffer Winery’s water garden is a tranquil place to sip. (Photo credit: Colin Morton)
Wine grape vines are seemingly neverending on the Benton-Lane Winery property.
Benton-Lane Winery has 142 acres of pinot noir, pinot blanc and chardonnay vines.
Two people cheers their glasses of Brigadoon rose wine.
Walnut Ridge’s Gamay Noir Rosé has berry and cherry flavors. (Photo credit: Colin Morton)

The intimate tasting room of Brigadoon Vineyards overlooks a secluded canyon and terraced gardens offer a serene outdoor tasting space. The winery is a family effort, with the owners’ sons serving as winemaker and bottler. They also tend to an impressive nursery of Oregon rootstock and scion wood.

Sip handcrafted wines at the elegant country-style tasting room of High Pass Winery, nestled in a peaceful valley. Thirty-plus years in the making, High Pass earns acclaim for pinot noir and pinot gris. It’s also worth trying the winery’s special blends like The Crazy 8, featuring eight Germanic grape varieties.

Things are different at Antiquum Farm Winery, where the unique farming method includes draft horses, aversion-trained sheep and bellpine soils managed in the style of pre-1940s agriculture — with no outside fertilizers. It’s a truly one-of-a-kind winemaking experience. Taste the non-traditional pinot noir for yourself.

A quaint tasting room is lit in dusk.
The family behind Brigadoon Vineyards has 40+ years of winemaking experience.
Vines hang across the side of a charming gray tasting room.
Guests are allowed to bring picnics to their High Pass Winery tastings.
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When it’s time to soak up the Oregon wine with food, there’s no shortage of fantastic dinner options around Junction City. Viking Inn recently opened to much fanfare for its Scandinavian-style menu and clever decor. Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” once featured Junkyard Extreme Burgers & Brats for good reason; sink your teeth into the juicy sandwiches, made with local beef, and you’ll understand too. Or relish in a sweet ‘50s-themed diner at The 99 Grill, where the food is as charming as the setting.

After dinner, feel free to explore the Riverfront Park in Harrisburg, home to some of the Willamette River’s best sunsets. Throughout summer the park hosts free concerts and movies.

Get your shut-eye nearby. Territorial Bed and Breakfast and Barn has cozy guest rooms in mid-century farmhouse and stables available for horse travelers. There’s also a glamping option in a trailer guest house, plus RV parking. Access to horse trails and riding arenas are close.

Another easy destination for RVers is Guaranty RV Travel Center, the newest RV park in Oregon. It has 55 paved RV spaces with full hookups, 36 of which are pull-through, and convenient amenities like laundry, propane and wireless internet. There’s even an outdoor pavilion for large groups and an area for pets.

 

A bottle of Bennett wine stand proudly in front of vines.
Spend the night at Bennett Vineyards in the spacious guest house.

Find a home away from home at Bennett Vineyards, where the spacious guest house includes two bedrooms, two full baths, kitchen and laundry room. A babbling creek in the backyard is the soundtrack for this idyllic vineyard retreat.

Alsea’s Leaping Lamb Farm Stay is as fun as it sounds, a homesteaded working farm with a cottage and a farmhouse. Meet the neighbors — chickens, geese, horses, peacock, goats and (of course) lambs. You’re welcome to join the farm chores, splash in the creek, hike trails into the forest or build a hay fort in the barn. Don’t be surprised if the miniature donkey, Paco, greets you in the morning.

Lambs rest on hay in a barn.
Alsea’s Leaping Lamb Farm Stay is as fun as it sounds, a homesteaded working farm with a cottage and a farmhouse. (Photo credit: Willamette Valley Visitors Association)

Day 3: Alsea

Take your time enjoying your special getaway. Breakfast might be served at your B&B, or opt for a hot meal at a local favorite. Max Porter’s Coffee House in Junction City makes steaming cups of “double ristretto” espresso and pastries in a sweetly decorated brick building; keep in mind the shop is closed on Sundays. Order satisfying homestyle dishes at Deb’s Café in Alsea, located charming wooden structure that feels like a second home.

Fueled up and ready to explore, consider a morning activity that gives you a sense of a community. Now might be the perfect time to join a Leaping Lamb farm tour, which can include lessons in organic farming, tips for raising lambs, salmon runs and more. Be sure to book your tour in advance.

Alternatively, you can visit The Thyme Garden, an earth-friendly nursery growing all-natural herb seeds and plants. Pathways weave through pretty gardens featuring 750 varieties of herbs. Guided tours, luncheons and workshops available.

The Alsea Falls Trail System boasts 12.5 miles of flow trails and challenging rock chute features. (Photo credit: Leslie Kehmeier / IMBA)

You won’t want to miss the Alsea Falls Recreation Site, located along a BLM National Backcountry Byway, home to the beautiful Alsea Falls. Wander the peaceful trails and lay out a picnic; in winter cast a line for salmon and steelhead.

Craving a more adrenaline-packed adventure? Switch gears and head to Alsea Falls Trail System, where 12.5 miles of flow trails twist through rolling terrain in a second-growth forest. Experienced riders head to the upper trails, where steep rock chutes offer challenging rewards. If you don’t want to trudge your bike throughout the trip, Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life in Eugene has reasonable rentals.

A vine of hops is the focal point of the photo, with a barn in the distance.
Treat yourself to beer tasting in the barn of Siuslaw Brewery in Alsea.

Cap your fun with a pint at Siuslaw Brewing. Look for the large “BEER” sign from the road, leading to a barn-housed brewery where the hops and barley are grown onsite. Hopefully the timing’s right for you to try the seasonal raspberry wheat. It just might be the best way to end your trip to the South Willamette Valley.

Looking for an expert-led culinary tour of the South Willamette Valley? America’s Hub World Tours and Best Oregon Tours both provide agritourism bus tours of the area.

For more information about the South Willamette Valley, visit Eugene, Cascades & Coast.

About The
Author

Sachie Yorck
Sachie Yorck is the Global Integrated Marketing Content & Community Manager at Travel Oregon. Depending on the day, she could be record-hunting in Portland, hiking to waterfalls in the forest or soaking in one of Oregon's many natural hot springs.