Enjoy Oregon’s green and lovely Willamette Valley with these 10+ things to do with your family ranging from hiking to living-room-style movie watching.
Our family lives in Lane County, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley – a country which covers an area all the way from the towns of Florence on the coast to Oakridge in the Cascade Mountains. As you can imagine, there are lots of things to do here from beach combing to hiking around a mountain lake.
For this article, though, I’m focusing on our family’s top ten favorite things to do in and around the area we live in the center of the valley, Eugene.
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.”
10+ Things To Do In The Willamette Valley
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 own 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 it, especially in winter.
Things to do with kids:
4. David Minor Living-Room Type Movie Theater. Sit in regular couches and chairs, grab a burger or pizza and eat it while watching a second-run or vintage movie (a regular ticket is $5, but Sundays and Tuesdays are only $2!) -it’s a really fun way to see second-run movies of all kinds.
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 older kids & 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.
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 next door to the poorly named ICM Restaurant and sit out on the deck (with your dog) if it’s nice to enjoy delicious fish and chips.
2. Head north on 101 and stop at our absolute favorite spot on the coast, the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. 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. The view and beach are incredible no matter- we try to stop there whenever we can.
3. The central Oregon coast is known for a rocky beach where you can watch the waves crash onto the huge boulders. Which is fun, but not exactly great for 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 Willamette Valley?
If you’d like some more travel ideas, both in and out of Oregon, click here to visit AOC’s travel page.