For the third portion of our Oregon road trip series, we’re headed south into the Willamette Valley. Bike a scenic covered bridge trail, hike to stunning waterfalls and sip on some of Oregon’s best local wine. We chose these stops based on a mix of iconic “must-dos” and lesser-known local hangs.Mix and match for your own one-of-a-kind adventure.
Read part 1 – Portland
Read part 2– Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood
The majority of Oregon’s population resides in the Willamette Valley, a 150-mile-long valley traversed by the mighty Willamette River. A road trip is an ideal way to explore the many riches this region offers. The valley contains not only the Portland metro region but also several other large cities, Eugene, Salem and Gresham among them. So, for any visitor to the valley, there’s an abundance of urban intrigue to tap into. But this valley offers so much more than that — rejuvenating nature experiences, including farm visits and biking along designated roadways, as well as top-notch wine and culinary adventures. In fact, this fertile valley is known as Oregon’s Wine Country and it’s home to two-thirds of Oregon’s vineyards and wineries — more than 500 of them!
Head out to the verdant countryside to immerse yourself in pastoral farmlands rimmed by three beautiful mountain ranges (the Coastal Range to the west, the Cascade Range to the east, and the Calapooya Mountains to the south), bike the area’s charming covered wooden bridges on the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway, tour the excellent wineries and sample their delicious varietals and foods, visit local art galleries and shop for travel souvenirs.
Take I-5 out of Portland, which cuts through the Willamette Valley. Leave the main cities behind to explore its beautiful farmlands, forests and vineyards.
Biking the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway
Take I-5S from Portland to Cottage Grove; about 2 hours away
As one of the most bike-friendly states in the U.S. and the first to establish official scenic bikeways, Oregon is chock full of beautiful places to pedal—the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway, a 36-mile route, rates right up there at the top of the nation’s list of biking destinations. It incorporates options for every level of cyclist with its car-free, family-friendly Rail Trail and its country road loop that’s geared to more experienced pedalers.
The trail starts and ends in Cottage Grove, an 1860s gold-mining center that features a charming historic main street with boutiques, coffee and ice cream shops and restaurants. The town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its native charm has landed it roles in numerous movies, including Stand By Me (1986). Spend some leisurely time here, take in views of two covered bridges, including the Chambers Bridge, which is the only covered railroad bridge west of the Mississippi that’s on the National Register; it was fully restored in 2011.
Then, hop on your bike to hit the paved 17-mile Row River Trail and cross the Row River where you’ll get gorgeous views of adjacent Dorena Lake, and pass through three additional historic covered bridges, as well as some lush tree stands. Take the pathway to Dorena, where you can find snacks and, from there, circle back to the beginning of the trail. This bikeway route is virtually traffic-free in both directions, but if you opt mix this path with some travel on low-traffic roads, you’ll get an opportunity to see another covered bridge.
The six covered bridges along the bikeway: Centennial Bridge, Chambers Bridge, Mosby Creek Bridge, Stewart Bridge, Dorena Bridge, Currin Bridge.
Take I-5N to Silver Falls State Park; a bit more than 1 ½ hours away
Hiking and Waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park
All those views of mountains you soak up along the way may leave you hungering for a more intimate, on-foot experience of the valley’s mountainous terrain. If that’s the case, there’s no better place to get your up-close-and-personal dose of glorious nature than Silver Falls State Park, located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The gorgeous park is known as the “crown jewel” of Oregon State Parks. Given how awesomely scenic the whole system is, you can only imagine the vistas and recreational opportunities that await in Silver Falls State Park.
One of the most amazing aspects of the park is the spectacular 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls, which provides access to the back of famed 177-foot South Falls—meaning you can walk behind a stunning cascading curtain of water. Chances are you’ve never done that before. The trail takes you past other breathtaking waterfalls in the rocky canyon it traverses as well, not to mention densely forested terrain. More good news: the hike is only moderately difficult.
35 miles of backcountry trails afford mountain biking and horseback riding in addition to hiking. Should you want to stay overnight in the park, the main campground has tent sites, RV spots and cabins. Book a site here.
Visiting the Vineyards and Wineries and Tasting the Wines
The Willamette Valley’s biggest claim to fame is its wine production. No doubt, you’ll be more than ready for the wide-open views that the region’s rolling farmlands offer, as well as the delicious flavors provided by its internationally recognized wines and winery menus after your nature adventures. So, get your ‘sommelier’ on and get tasting….
The valley is the premier pinot noir-producing area in the world, and with over 500 wineries in the area (see the full list and other resources here), it may be hard to target just a few to visit. There are plenty of touted wine tour companies in the area that take the guesswork out of your trip. Those who prefer to explore and sample on their own can start with the below wineries, which all offer outdoor tasting spaces as extensions of their stellar indoor spaces.
As you travel, let your eyes bask on the distant views—green fields stretch out endlessly and Tuscan-style farmhouses transport your imagination to foreign lands.
Take OR-214S to Turner; about one hour 33 minutes away
Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner
Winner of Sunset Magazine’s Sunset Travel Award “Best Vineyard/ Tasting Experience” in 2017 and a finalist in 2019, Willamette Valley Vineyards will treat you to some of the most breathtaking panoramic vineyard views in the valley, superior wine tastings and delicious food pairings from their Estate Tasting Room. Who could possibly resist a Pinot and Pie (pizza, that is) combo?
Take OR-221N to Amity; about 42 minutes away
Brooks in Amity
Brooks is known for its exceptional Riesling and pinot noir wines (Wine and Spirits Magazine listed it in the top 100 wineries in the world in 2019). But it offers so much more, not the least of which is the fact that it offers biodynamic wines. The winery isDemeter certified — one of the very few wineries in the valley that has earned the designation. Take a walking tour through the vineyard, take advantage of the gourmet food-pairing and willingness to customize your tasting experience.
Take OR-154N; about 23 minutes away
Stoller Family Estate in Dayton
Pinot noir and chardonnay are the top varieties as this 400-acre winery located in the Dundee Hills, which excels in sustainability agriculture (the winery is LIVE and LEED Gold Certified—the first LEED Gold Certified winery in the world). Stoller Family Estate also offer eight additional varieties alongside their staples. The tasting room experience is USA Today’s top-rated pick for 2019. The vineyards are a feast for the eyes, and if you’d like to extend the feasting, plan to stay overnight in one of Stoller’s threeguest house options.
Take OR-99W N/Pacific Hwy. W; about 8 minutes away
Argyle Winery in Dundee
For excellent sparkling wines, visit Argyle in Dundee, one of Willamette’s oldest and most highly rated wineries. It has garnered more Wine Spectator Top 100 ratings than any other Oregon winery. You’ll also find many wonderful still wines here, all developed in small batches to preserve the distinctive qualities of the estate fruit.
Tulip Fields and the Oregon Garden
Grapes aren’t the only eye-catching specialty plants grown in the Willamette Valley region. Come in the spring and visit Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn to be greeted by fields of tulips; the brilliant colors are sure to blow you away. The farm’s Tulip Tour Train at Tulip Fest, held March 19-May2 in 2021, takes guests for a 30-45-minute cushioned ride around the tulips. Visitors can also order bulbs here, sip a glass of one of the estate wines and picnic on the grounds.
Take Meridian Rd NE to Silverton; about 21 minutes away
Silverton, Oregon features a botanical garden that displays the full range of the valley’s botanical beauty across 80 acres. The Oregon Garden,which earned a 2020 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice designation, includes a Sensory Garden, Rose Garden and Children’s Garden, among its 20 specialty gardens. Meander through them to dip into yet more beauty and gain a deeper appreciation of the Pacific Northwest’s stunning plant diversity.
Next Up—Region 4: the Western Coast Oregon has 363 miles of stunning coastline, all free and open to the public. After hiking and sipping, head to the shore and stomp in the sands, watch for whales and puffins, feel the Pacific spray and surf its waves.