The Willamette Valley in Oregon is considered the state’s cultural and political heart. It extends from the Oregon Coast Range in the west to the Cascade Range in the east. The valley’s conditions are akin to the Mediterranean, although its winters are cooler and wetter.
The area’s rich soils and mild climate are ideal for agriculture, an industry which attracted many migrants during the days of the Oregon Trail. Today more than two-thirds of Oregon’s residents live here, particularly in the state’s capital of Salem at the valley’s heart.
In recent decades the Willamette Valley has become one of America’s major wine producers with more than 200 vineyards. Its cool climate is ideal for growing pinot noir, pinot gris, and riesling. It’s the red that the area is best known for, and you won’t find better than the vintages at the internationally lauded Eyrie Vineyards and Domaine Drouhin Oregon. If wine and relatively small towns are your thing then visit the Okanagan Valley next.
We all know that good wine deserves good food, and the valley has you covered there too. You can pick up home grown fruits and vegetables from the local farmers markets, and sample cheeses at the region’s many dairies.
While the wineries are strictly adults only, the Willamette Valley also makes a great destination for family holidays. The Science Factory in Eugene puts the fun in learning with plenty of hands-on exhibitions, the 100-seat planetarium, and the Tot Spot for the youngest curious minds. The Enchanted Forest just outside Salem makes everyone’s fairytale dreams come true. The outdoor theme park, nestled in a real-life forest, features tame rides and slides for small children and a haunted house and roller coaster for more adventurous kids. And everyone loves to ride the painted hand-carved horses at the Riverfront Carousel.
When driving about the Willamette Valley you’ll notice the historic covered bridges. There are around 50 in the valley including seven in Cottage Grove, a small town known as the Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon. These quaint bridges make for great photo opportunities, and many are even used for weddings.
Most of the Willamette Valley’s events focus on the area’s flourishing food and beverage industries. There are brewfests in October to celebrate the German Oktoberfest, and food and wine festivals all year round. But if you’re more interested in what’s going on in the sky than on dry land, make sure you visit during McMinnville’s UFO Festival. Every May believers and skeptics gather to hear from UFO experts and abduction survivors, see the UFO costume parade, and dance at the UFO Ball. Even if you don’t think that little green men are watching us, this two-day event is lots of fun.
Of course, no matter when you visit you can enjoy Willamette Valley’s waterways and mild climate. The surroundings are made for outdoor activities. Trails on the Silver Falls State Park can take hikers to ten beautiful waterfalls. The bright blue waters of Waldo Lake are made for sailing or canoeing. The really adventurous can test their skills by hiking to the top of Mary’s Peak. And then there are the beautiful Willamette, Santiam, and McKenzie Rivers, which are ideal spots for boating, fly-fishing, or simply camping and watching the world go by.