The Perfect Cellar Season Road Trip through the Willamette Valley
Nestled between the Pacific Coast and the Cascade Mountain Range, Oregon’s Willamette Valley offers an incredible variety of year-round activities. Our favorite time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall; a time the locals have affectionately come to call “cellar season.”
That’s when the trails are quieter, access to local wineries and restaurants is uncrowded, and you can take advantage of the newest Pacific Northwest craze—truffle hunting! There are countless ways to explore the Willamette Valley, but this three-day road trip is a great place to start.
COVID-19 is still a reality throughout the world and the Willamette Valley. Here are a few things to expect when you visit in 2020/21. Non-essential travel is currently strongly discouraged in Oregon, and it’s still important for individuals to stay local to their county and community. Face coverings are required in all indoor spaces. Some locations may deny access without a face covering; this is no different than “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs. Expect to maintain physical distancing at all times. This means you will see tables spaced at least six feet apart to ensure appropriate physical distancing—and you should keep your distance between all individuals not in your own party. Find more Willamette Valley travel alerts. Learn about how Willamette Valley is reopening—and keeping you safe in the process—here.
This story was created in partnership with The Willamette Valley Visitors Association.
DAY 1: SIP WINE, HUNT FOR TRUFFLES, AND HIKE IN THE CASCADE FOOTHILLS
Chances are, you’ll begin your road trip in Portland. Head southbound through the Willamette Valley, where there are more than 500 wineries within 150 miles. On the northeastern side of the region in the shadow of Mount Hood, these foothills offer a great introduction. Make a pit stop in the town of Aurora, where the Old Aurora Colony museum pays homage to the pioneering history of the area. If it’s a Saturday, be sure to carry on to TMK Creamery, where the whole family can enjoy a tour of a working dairy farm. What goes better with cheese than wine? The Cascade Foothills Winegrowers Association, a collection of 15 family-owned and operated wineries, is based in this region and any of their members are worth a visit! Be sure to call ahead, as you may need to taste by appointment, rather than dropping in.
Stretch your legs with a hike on the 7.6-mile roundtrip Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park, where beautiful waterfalls bring the Pacific Northwest feel of the Willamette Valley to life. If you spent a full day at Silver Falls State Park, you might elect to stay at the Oregon Garden Resort, located on 80 acres of beautifully manicured botanical gardens in the city of Silverton, near the state park.
Alternatively, you can partake in an afternoon of truffle hunting—Oregon’s newest obsession! Follow the trusty noses of special truffle-hunting dogs during a private tour through a forest of Douglas Fir. This small fungus is native to the area and when harvested sustainably makes for a delectable treat!
Your next stop for the day is probably Salem, the capital city of Oregon. Overnight across the river in the country at the brand new Independence Hotel or The Grand Hotel, which is walking distance to many popular areas in Salem.
DAY 2: JOURNEY ONWARDS TO CENTRAL WILLAMETTE VALLEY
The following morning, road trip 30 minutes south to the central Willamette Valley. Here you’ll find more opportunities for recreation and great food and wine in the cities of Albany and Corvallis. Enjoy a morning stroll at the Talking Water Gardens in Albany. Be sure to also stop by the Monteith House—a perfectly restored pioneer home from 1849 that has been turned into a museum.
You can also watch for bald eagles and waterfowl along the river walkway, right in downtown Albany. If you’re ready for more, consider a longer hike or mountain bike ride in the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest.
Head over to Corvallis and slow down in the Avery Park Rose Gardens. Make time for more wine tasting at local spots like Harris Bridge Winery located at the historic covered Harris Bridge. You might also visit Marcotte, a moon-shinery in the Philomath area serving up spirits with flavors like coconut, apple pie, and jalapeño.
Before dinner, check out the incredible art murals in downtown Corvallis. Overnight at any number of familiar hotels in Corvallis (such as the convenient Courtyard Marriott), or try the quirky 206 ½ Hotel in downtown Albany; a historic spot with plenty of charm. Leaping Lamb Farm offers a truly unique Willamette experience. Lambing season takes place in the winter—another benefit of visiting during cellar season!
DAY 3: TOP IT OFF WITH A FOOD AND WINE ADVENTURE IN EUGENE, TRACKTOWN USA
Your final destination in Willamette Valley is the college-town of Eugene; affectionately called “TrackTown USA.” It’s here that some of the fastest athletes in the world will convene at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 in July, 2022. Whether you’re in Eugene to run or to sightsee, you can enjoy world-class wine and scrumptious eats along the way!
It’s time for your road trip finale: a journey from Eugene to South Willamette Valley wine country. First, stop for a cinnamon roll or other tasty treat at Camas Country Mill Bakery & Store to fuel up for your day.
That afternoon, you’ll have the chance to visit six vineyards within a 10-mile radius. Not into grapes? Check out Eugene’s beer district downtown, called the Whit. For dinner, enjoy a hearty ribeye or oysters at Marché, or the aptly-named Party Bar. After all, Eugene is a college town! We recommend embracing the theme and spending the night at the Graduate, although there are a plethora of lodging options in town.