The Willamette Valley spans some 150 miles and is one of the richest wine-producing regions in the United States. Visitors can easily spend weeks exploring the sprawling vineyards but there are so many things to do Willamette Valley when you venture beyond the vines. We’ve pulled a few of our favorites and would love to hear about yours in the comments.
If you’re visiting the Willamette Valley wine country and need more ideas, make sure to check out Carpe Travel’s Oregon Wine Travel Guide.
Spend a Full Day at Silver Falls State Park
Twenty miles away from Salem is the largest state park in Oregon, Silver Falls State Park, which covers over 9,000 acres of land. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors will find plenty of opportunities to get active here so it’s a must for all nature lovers.
There are somewhere in the region of 24 miles of walking trails all waiting to be explored along with a 4-mile bike path for those who would like to swap two legs for two wheels.
The Trail of Ten Falls is the most popular hiking route and that’s because it encapsulates so much beauty and inspires so much awe throughout its 7.2-mile length. It’s not for those who are looking for a leisurely walk, however, since it requires an elevation gain of approximately 800 feet. The reward is absolutely stunning views from above, behind and around 10 jaw-dropping waterfalls. It’s a hike that you will never forget.
Rent a Canoe/Kayak and Explore Clear Lake
Less than 90 miles away from Eugene, Clear Lake is a mountain lake that is an absolute must-see. What makes this lake exceptional is the dead trees that stand upright about 100 feet beneath its surface, preserved by the cold temperatures of the water all year round.
The lake is the product of volcanic activity, which also killed off the trees, but this strange marriage and spectacle was the result and has been a fixture of the landscape for some 3,000 years.
The best way to gain a complete appreciation for this geological wonder is to rent a canoe or a kayak and venture out onto the lake.
Take the Willamette River Bike Trail
One of the best things to do in Willamette Valley is to rent a bike and take the river bike trail. It’s a 12-mile path system that bridges the cities of Springfield and Eugene.
The North and South Bank sections are arguably the most popular, given that the former winds its way through a riverbank forest, while the latter leads to the Owen Rose Garden, the picture-perfect place for a picnic.
Consider this option during the fall when the leaves are changing and just imagine the rustic heaven that you will find yourself in as you explore Oregon at its most beautiful.
Fish on the McKenzie River
Oregon inspires many visitors to get back to nature. The McKenzie River is a thriving fishing destination that spans approximately 1,300 square miles and it’s a must for those that love to fish.
If you don’t have a license to fish, your best option is to hire a local guide who will not only bring you to the best places to land your catch, but they will give you a few pro tips too. Fly fishing is especially fun once you get the knack for it.
Visit The Historic Carousel and Museum
For something a little more quirky, but undeniably remarkable in terms of the artistry on display, the Albany Carousel Museum is a place where volunteer carvers and painters work tirelessly to craft the magnificent animals that ultimately take their place on the carousel.
The tour is definitely worthwhile since it gives visitors a chance to watch these artists at work. For a couple of dollars, you can even ride the carousel, which makes it one of the most popular things to do in Willamette Valley with kids.
Shop at Fifth Street Public Market
Do not leave the Willamette Valley without paying a visit to the Fifth Street Public Market. It’s a super-cute, open-air alternative to the shopping malls that the majority of people will be used to. Fifth Street Public Market is chock full of quirky local stores, boutique fashion outlets, cafes, restaurants, and all of the artisan offerings you can handle.
Spend a Morning at the Cascades Raptor Center
Do you like the idea of getting up close to some of the world’s biggest birds of prey? That’s what’s on offer at the Cascades Raptor Center, a nature center and wildlife hospital that is home to 50 individual birds from 30 different species.
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a Peregrine Falcon and a Swainson’s Hawk? Are you a bird lover that would give anything to see some truly remarkable species including the bald eagle and Golden Eagle in person? If yes, this is the place to do it.
Pull into Oregon Electric Station
This is perfect for those who are looking for a bite to eat but want to experience something unique. The Oregon Electric Station was originally built in 1914 for the Oregon Electric Railway and it is a bustling restaurant complex with 3 lounges today. Lunch, dinner, and dessert are on offer and all dishes are created using locally sourced ingredients. Guests dine in old train cars and we recommend visiting during happy hour or when there’s a live jazz band playing.
See the Remarkable Street Art
So maybe you ate a little too much at the Oregon Electric Station and you’re looking for a non-strenuous way to work off some of the food? Why not stroll the streets of Eugene and take in the incredible street art? You’ll see 20+ murals that will give you a new perspective on the possibility of architecture and how engaging regular buildings can be when a splash of color and inspiration is added.
Visit Elsinore Theater, Salem
So you’ve had enough of the rugged natural landscapes and you’re looking for something a little different to do? No problem! The Elsinore Theater in Salem is a Gothic 1,290 seat theater that has been a fixture of the city since 1926. Lovingly restored and reopened in 2004, it is the go-to place for film, musicals, live performances, and many more events. A tour will set you back a mere $5 and, for that price, you will get a demonstration of the Mighty Wurlitzer, the largest theater organ in the Pacific North West. It’s one of the best things to do in Willamette Valley for both visitors and locals.
Looking for more ideas on things to do in the Willamette Valley wine country? See our Oregon Wine Travel Guide.
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.