Willamette Valley: Ten Fun & Thrifty Things (Plus A Coastal Bonus)

An Oregon Cottage is pleased to be participating in the Year of the Staycation, hosted by The Happy Housewife, and Springs Bargains.

We live and play in Lane County, in the heart of the Willamette Valley which encompasses an area all the way from the town of Florence on the coast to Oakridge in the Cascade Mountains. There’s lots of things to do here, as you can imagine for an area this large, and you can get the whole scoop on Travel Lane County.

However for this series I’m focusing on our family’s top ten favorite things to do in and around the area we live. But since we are also lucky enough to have the gorgeous Oregon Coast just two hours away and it’s still in our home county, I’m going to throw in a bonus- a couple of our favorite places to visit on the coast in the town of Florence and just north on 101 to Yachats.

So, I guess you can call this a “Baker’s Dozen” instead of a simple “Top Ten.”

Things to do outdoors:

1. Fern Ridge Reservoir: In an area with an abundance of lakes and reservoirs, Fern Ridge is probably the best known and is a popular place for sailing, fishing, camping, swimming, and picnicking. It’s on the other side of town for us, so we find we don’t go there often- maybe this is where we should have our Staycation!

2. Dorena Lake/Brice Creek: We love Dorena Lake! We usually go to Baker Bay Park (day fee is only $3.00) and it’s been our kids favorite place to swim (and camp when we can), probably because there’s a place to rent water inflatables and buy food. By far one of my favorite parts of the lake, though, is the “Rails to Trails” path that winds along one side of the lake that is a wonderful, easy bike ride (using these directions, you can make a 15 mile loop out of the trail and roads).

There are hiking trails as well and if you keep going past Dorena, you’ll find more trails along Brice Creek plus waterfalls, swimming, and small campsites with only the barest amenities (our favorite for the quiet and solitude we go camping for!). There’s no cost to park for the day, and overnight camping prices the last time we went were around $10.

3. Willamette National Forest: This is a hop, skip, and a jump from us and when we want to camp or hike without traveling a long way we always look to one of the many great hikes and small campgrounds located along Highway 58. We really enjoy all our time in the woods and along the rivers, but a few of our favorite spots are:

  • Camping: Waldo Lake– second largest and clearest lake! ($5 day pass + various camping sites), Hills Creek Reservoir– for those who want more of a true outdoors experience, with a number of free camp sites.
  • Day Hike: Salt Creek Falls – This is a must-see if you’re in the area. It’s an easy, paved walk to the falls and they are worth

Things to do with kids:

4. Gateway Mall Movies 12: This is an amazing second-run theater. It’s not run-down, small, or old and the movies and sound always work together like they should (unlike some second-run theaters we’ve been to!). It looks just like any other movie theater at a mall. Except when it’s time to pay: $1.50 per person ($2.00 on Fridays and Saturdays). Our whole family can see a movie on the big screen for six dollars- less than one ticket at a first-run theater. And all we have to do is wait a bit. Other than looking forward to being near family again, this theater was the next reason we were glad to move from the big city!

5. Public Pools: Amazon Pool for outdoor, warmer weather and Splash! at Lively Park for an indoor pool and wave pool.

6. Enchanted Forest: This is Oregon’s own unique seasonal “theme park” with some rides and lots of character and a fun atmosphere. I remember this from when I was a child, and we have had many adventures here with our kids. It’s set on a forested hillside and includes houses and scenes from fairy tales (like the seven dwarfs sleeping in their cabin, and a rabbit hole to explore), as well as an old western wooden town, ghost house, and Tudor village. The rides are simple (but still fun even for adults!) and there is even an outdoor theater perfect for eating your picnic lunch while watching some of the most hilarious productions we’ve seen (done by college kids as their summer jobs). At around $10 each, and located south of Salem, it’s a little more expensive than some other things on our list, but trust me, the memories are worth it.

Things to do with adults:

7. Visit a Winery: Oregon is becoming renowned for the great wines, so a visit to a couple of our favorites, King Estate Winery and Sweet Cheeks Winery is a great way to inexpensively spend a day (Sweet Cheeks even encourages you to bring your own picnic!). The tours are free and wine tasting very reasonable. And the grounds and views may make you think you took a vacation after all!

8. Coburg Antique Stores (and the Antique Fair in September): Admittedly, this is as cheap as you want it to be, but with free admission to stores as well as the popular fair in September, it sure is fun to look around. And if you’re looking for something particular or gifts, this might be the place to find that unique thing.

Things to do to get that “Eugene vibe:”

9. Eugene Saturday Market/Farmer’s Market: If you’re curious about where the hippies from the sixties went, you will find they are alive and well at the Saturday Market. Also wonderful food items and handcrafted gifts, clothes, and soaps. On a sunny day you’ll fight the crowds, but you’ll definitely see what makes Eugene tick.

10. 5th Street Public Market: This is a different Eugene feel- more upscale than the Saturday Market with different markets and restaurants all housed in an old building. It’s undergoing renovation right now- I’m looking forward to seeing the results. Don’t miss the new David Minor Theater across the street where you can grab a burger and eat it while watching a second-run or vintage movie (a regular ticket is $5, but Sundays and Tuesdays are only $2!).

*Bonus Coastal Favorites*

1. Start in Florence on Hwy. 101, visit Old Town and do some dune surfing (or walking), but skip the crowded Mo’s and head to Seafood Station (1136 US 101) for the best fish n’ chips we’ve found.

2. Head north on 101 and stop at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint to stroll on the beach, take 1/2 mile hike to see the restored assistant keeper’s house (where you can even stay if you’ve got $$ and a reservation made months in advance…), and tour the lighthouse if it’s open (but go before August 1st when the lighthouse will begin a 1 to 2 year renovation!). The view and beach are incredible no matter- we try to stop there whenever we can.

3. The central coast is known for a rocky beach where you can watch the waves crash onto the huge boulders. Which is fun, but not exactly conducive to long walks on the beach. However, we discovered a quaint little motel just north of Yachats (one of our favorite towns on the coast, by the way) on 101 that has the best stretch of beach for walking and digging sand castles- Silver Surf Motel. It’s an older motel that has been updated, but still retains some quaint traces of the past. It’s family owned, clean, pet friendly (you can request a lower level room to stay in with your pet) and with kitchenettes (the best way to cut the food costs for a weekend at the coast!) and reasonable rates, this is one of our favorite places to stay.

Do you have any fun and thrifty things you like to do in the Valley? Add them to the comments!

And stay tuned tomorrow for links that will show you fun and thrifty things to do all over the country (hint: if you subscribe here, you’ll never miss out on An Oregon Cottage post!)






  1. says

    Awesome ideas and you know I am bookmarking this post for future trips to OR. The boys have been wanting to go to Florence to see the dunes so it looks like Yachats is not too much farther up the coast. We are heading to Brookings in a couple weeks for our OR based vacation…thanks for the tips.

  2. Anonymous says

    Thank you for this post. I have stopped in to read your blog on occasion, but did not realize that we live in the same beautiful area. I love your recipes and menu plans but your garden posts are my favorites!

  3. says

    Great list. I grew up in Oregon and I have been to many of those places. There are so many things to do in the Willamette Valley and it is so beautiful. I really miss living in that area.

  4. Anonymous says

    Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis is fun and has a great outdoor water park that opens Memorial Day for the summer. Worth going!

  5. Anonymous says

    I’m going to Enchanted Forest this weekend. Does anyone know of any coupons? Also, I’m from the Coos Bay area and I think that Shore Acres should be on the list of things to do if you’re passing through Coos Bay. At Christmas, the gardens are amazingly decorated with hundreds of thousands of lights. Every season there are different flowers in bloom, so you can visit any time of year.

  6. Anonymous says

    Thanks for the coupon! I hope you enjoy Shore Acres. My five yr old daughter tells me that she wants to get married there. She refers to Shore Acres as “my gardens.”

  7. Anonymous says

    Its great that Fern Ridge recently got drained and cleaned up, that was a long time coming. Also the Willemette Valley is full of alot of great Bike paths to walk and hike and Eugene has a great hike up Spencers Butte about 1 mile or so up and a fantastic view. ( I grew up hiking up there every summer.)Amazon is open now for am lap swim and has a hottub and a slide and 2 plate form diving.

  8. Jessica says

    I love all your recommendations, especially the Gateway theater one…I’ve lived in Eugene for just a year so far and thought David Minor was the cheapest theater here!


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