It’s not every day that you can arrive into town by ferry. But Independence, a charming small town on the banks of the Willamette River, is not your average destination.
Here travel is easy by boat, kayak, bike or foot. Downtown is mere steps from the river and the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. Main Street features a 30-block historic district, designated by the National Register of Historic Places, with classic architectural accents and baskets of flowers on every block. If you even question the utopia of Independence, listen closely: music is often heard coming from the grassy amphitheater at Riverview Park.
Ready for your own Independence, Oregon adventure? Try these favorite experiences.
Go with the float (or pedal)
One of 20 National Water Trails in the U.S., the legendary Willamette River Water Trail extends from the south Willamette Valley to the Columbia River at St. Helens. No one expects you to paddle all 217 miles, but a short float is easy to accomplish in Independence. (Consider it like bragging rights for a Pacific Crest Trail day hike.) Similarly, the 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway rolls through town and can serve as a day activity rather than a weeklong commitment. Those making the longer treks can stay overnight at the city’s boater bicycle campground, featuring showers, picnic tables, a water tap, bike repair station and Wi-Fi. No matter the adventure, the Buena Vista Ferry is not to be missed — it’s one of Oregon’s oldest continuously operated ferries and is free to pedestrians, $1 for a bicycle and $3 for vehicles.
Eat, drink and be merry
Independence is the heart of the Great Oaks Food Trail. You won’t go hungry here: Enjoy handcrafted pasta at The Naughty Noodle, fusion food at Pink House Cafe, homestyle dishes at Independence Grill, Northwest-inspired cuisine at Territory and scratch-made desserts at Ovenbird Bakery (gluten-free options available). Wine and savory New Orleans-style food beckon at The Valkyrie Wine Tavern, home to one-of-a-kind decor. Toffees and caramels from Melting Pot Candy are delicious any time of day.
Once called the “Hops Capital of the World,” Independence continues its beer-loving legacy. It’s no coincidence that during peak fresh-hop season in September, downtown hosts the Hops & Heritage Block Party. Year-round, visit the Rogue Ales Chatoe Tasting Room at the famed farm and hopyard for unbeatable views and aromas; it also has boat access for thirsty canoers. (Try to time it with a Yoga + Beer event if possible.) More sudsy satisfaction awaits in downtown, where Brew Coffee and Tap House attracts visitors and locals alike with a rotating craft beer and cider menu, plus breakfast, lunch and dinner made in collaboration with neighboring restaurants.
Get to know the locals
A large part of what makes Independence so charming is its community. Every business tells a story. The revitalized downtown has an attractive streetscape with vintage shops like Same As It Never Was, one-of-a-kind handmade skateboards at LongBoard Larry and the literary treasure trove of Second Chance Books. Annual summer events like River’s Edge concert series, Independence Days (featuring a 4th of July parade and fireworks shows) and the Community Fiesta bring together the whole town and surrounding Salem metro. Come October, the Oregon Airstream Club’s Airstreams on Main Street draws shiny silver trailers to Independence, the first of the club’s urban on-the-street rallies. Learn about the long history of Independence, once an Oregon Trail pioneer settlement, at the city’s Heritage Museum. The 7-acre Inspiration Garden at Mt. Fir Park is delicately tended, with a bee and butterfly habitat, vegetable and fruit gardens, medicinal plants, dozens of rose varieties and a special children’s garden. Whether you’re making friends in a bookshop, saying hi on the soft-surface Willamette River Trail loop or sharing shade at the dog park, you’ll see why Independence locals are proud of their hometown.
Spend the night
The city of Independence is in close proximity to Willamette Valley wine country, the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge and Western Oregon University. Whatever your reason for visiting the area, consider a stay near Independence. The Buena Vista House is located in a classic home that’s also a cafe, with hors d’oeuvres and wine upon arrival and complimentary breakfast. MaMere’s Guest House in Monmouth is a bike-friendly business and B&B. The new boutique Independence Hotel (part of the Trace collection) on the bank of the Willamette River offers rooms and suites with stunning views, a bike amenities, rentals, riverfront patio and a rooftop bar — just one more reason to visit Independence, Oregon.