Eugene To Salem
As the last ice age came to an end, floodwaters dispersed fertile soils across a stretch of land known today as the Willamette Valley. Today, the rich, bountiful earth continues to yield some of the finest produce on the planet. For a great introduction to the area, it would be hard to top the land between Salem and Eugene, spanning the southern half of the valley. Bite into succulent veggies and savor a top-notch farm-to-table culinary scene paired with world-renowned local wines. Lose yourself in pristine wilderness overflowing with outdoor adventure. Step into a vibrant pioneering past that’s still very much alive today. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll see first-hand what happens when the land and its people work in harmony together.
Western Oregon Essentials
Located about 60 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, this stretch of Western Oregon is bounded by the Coast Range in the west, Cascades in the east and Calapooya Mountains in the south. The Willamette Valley is characterized by its agricultural fields, rolling lowlands, hilly belts and the Willamette River, which runs through the entire region. The best season to visit is summer, as temperatures hit a toasty 80 degrees. Early fall also is an excellent time to come, as crisp country air makes for great hiking.
Autumn also marks the beginning of harvest season, with many vineyards offering fun activities that include grape picking and grape stomping. Keep in mind that the months between November and May receive the most rainfall. The region is easy to navigate, as Interstate 5 runs through the major cities of Salem, Albany and Eugene. Salem is situated about halfway between Portland and Eugene.
Land of Ducks and Fish
Snaking 187 miles from Eugene to Portland, it’s no surprise the Willamette River has some of the best fishing in the state. Take advantage of excellent chinook salmon fishing near Eugene during the springtime, or head to the lower Willamette River in the fall or winter to reel in colossal sturgeon. Southern Willamette Valley is also a haven for fly-fishing enthusiasts thanks to over 30 miles of catch-and-release trout waters. Besides excellent fishing, anglers will get to take in a variety of scenery ranging from tranquil backwaters to fast-flowing streams. The Willamette River is easy to access as multiple greenway areas, parks, and boat ramps are dotted along the river.
Back on land, hunters can enjoy exceptional waterfowl game as the Willamette Valley is home to hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese. Come between September to March to hunt in endless fields and waterways, while enjoying liberal harvest limits. The stretch between Salem and Eugene along Interstate 5 and Highway 99 is full of promise, as Canada geese settle there all season. Many farmers want them gone and if you ask nicely, you may get some private hunting grounds all to yourself.
Silver Falls Beckons
Less than an hour east of Salem is Oregon’s largest state park: Silver Falls. Outdoor enthusiasts have so much to do here — hike the 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls, a nationally recognized path that takes you through lush forest and majestic waterfalls. Or walk behind South Falls to see a 177-foot curtain of waterfall in front of you. Other popular activities include mountain biking, horseback riding, swimming and wildlife viewing.
Willamette Valley Uncorked
The Willamette Valley is Oregon’s most popular wine region, with over 500 wineries at your fingertips. The unique maritime climate here has transformed the valley into one of the top pinot noir-producing regions in the world. Other varieties made here include pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Chock-full of luxury inns, quaint bed-and-breakfasts, tasting rooms and fine dining restaurants, Willamette Valley wine country is the answer if you’re yearning for a weekend getaway or weeklong escape. Honeywood Winery, Cubanisimo Vineyards and Orchard Heights Winery are all within the Salem vicinity, while King Estate Winery and Sweet Cheeks Winery are within easy reach from Eugene. Cosming from Portland? Stop by popular Northern Willamette Valley wineries in places like Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Gaston and Yamhill.
Wherever you go, don’t forget to look up from your glass and appreciate the spectacular bounty around you. It’s not just great wine being produced here. Swing by farmers markets for produce of the highest quality. Gorge on award-winning Gouda, Brie and cheddar at Willamette Valley Cheese Company. Stock up on organic honey, dried fruit and nuts at GloryBee. Check out Marché, Rafns’ and Ritter’s Housemade Foods.
Salem is only an hour away from Portland, but you’ll find the two cities are worlds apart. Boasting an easygoing culture and teeming with gorgeous green spaces, museums and historic sites, Salem provides a welcome break from busy city life and invites you to take things at your own pace. Start your visit with a free tour of the Oregon State Capitol and climb up 121 stairs to meet the Oregon Pioneer, an 8.5-ton bronze statue coated in gold leaf.
Blasts from the Past
The Hallie Ford Museum of Art impresses with its collections of Native American baskets, European and Asian pieces, while scenic Minto-Brown Island Park offers trails and wildlife observation platforms. Consisting of 1,200 lush acres, the park is bigger than New York’s Central Park. Traveling with the kids? Step into the Enchanted Forest theme park or ride Salem’s riverfront carousel.
The Fighting Ducks
Drive 66 miles south and you’ll wind up in the college town of Eugene. Home to the University of Oregon, Eugene draws sports fans with year-round intercollegiate competition — including NCAA football with the Oregon Ducks home team — and entices culture vultures with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Bird-watchers see owls, bald eagles, hawks and other birds of prey from this region at Cascades Raptor Center, while aviation buffs won’t want to miss the Oregon Air and Space Museum.
Track and Timeless Treasures
Known as “TrackTown USA,” Eugene hosts the Prefontaine Classic track event every summer, America’s top track and field meet. History buffs will have a great time in Salem. You can dive into the Beaver State’s pioneer past at the Willamette Heritage Center. Consisting of 14 pioneer-era buildings, period furnishings, living history re-enactors and loads of intriguing exhibits.
For More Information
Oregon Wine Board
Oregon Tourism Commission