Follow the McKenzie River from the Willamette Valley into the Cascade Mountains and discover a bountiful trail of natural, farm-fresh and foraged foods. Treat yourself to a wholesome foodie experience along the banks of one of the country's purest waterways. This is your guide to fresh-caught fish, bushels of berries, fields of lavender, hidden chanterelles and locally-sourced meals on the McKenzie.
Augment the drive by downloading the audio app tour of the McKenzie River, offered by Together Anywhere. This audio tour provides an updated (2021) guide to landmarks along Highway 126 in an entertaining and non-intrusive manner — the perfect accompaniment on a drive of exploration.
Make your river excursion even more exceptional by staying at Eagle Rock Lodge right on the river, surrounded with gardens, and nestled in deep woods. Here immersion in nature combines with luxury quarters and private chef-prepared four-course meals. There are also outside grills for cooking your own dinner as you will likely gather plenty along the road trip. For this portion of the South Willamette Valley Food Trail, here are our recommended tour stops.
Gear Up For Fish
Salmon and trout are a vital part of the McKenzie River foodshed. Participate in the full experience by plucking your dinner from the river! Or just practice catch and release, while enjoying sport fishing. To start, get the gear you need at one of several Eugene-based outfitters. Both Home Waters Fly Fishing & Guide Service and The Caddis Fly Angling Shop can help you select the equipment you'll need. They can also provide fishing instruction and/or on-the-river guide service. A. Helfrich Outfitter is also a reputable guide service with family heritage deeply connected to the McKenzie River corridor. Schedule a half-day or full-day fishing trip to catch trout, salmon or steelhead. Full-day trips enjoy a delicious riverside fish fry lunch that can also be pre-arranged for half-day trips.
Arrange your fishing trip for the following day so you can enjoy a slow-paced journey east on Highway 126.
Fields of Lavender
Pull into your first farm stop at Herrick Farms and pick up fruits and vegetables. Behind the farm stand visit some of the farm animals including goats and a donkey. Then continue upriver to McKenzie River Lavender, with purple fields framed by hazelnut orchards. Call ahead for a private appointment to pick up a bundle of fragrant lavender and shop lavender-infused products and art. Lavender is also an exciting option for cooking — try a lavender scone recipe or make some lavender fudge!
Bountiful Berries & More Farms
Oregon is famous for its berries from its wild blackberries to its OSU-bred Marionberries. So bring a pail for picking and stop at one of the blueberry or strawberry farms along the way. Blueberry Patch Farm is open for u-pick during berry season. Other farms may take berry orders over the phone. Incidentally, when it's winter season, instead of berry farms, stop at one of the many Christmas tree farms like Spring Creek Holly Farm, for fresh cut holly or your own u-cut tree. Lastly, don't miss the remarkable Upriver Organics farm stand. Enjoy shopping fresh produce, fruits, canned and artisan foods at this sweet wayside store.
Mushroom enthusiasts can keep exploring and hunt for morels, golden chanterelles and more in the foothills. Contact the Cascade Mycological Society for information about where and when to forage and necessary permitting. Make sure you go with someone experienced and know what you to look for (and what to stay away from!). You can also shop for mushrooms at local farmers' markets and farm stands.
More Sights to See
The drive is beautiful as it winds along the river and up into the old growth forests. Stop to admire several historic covered bridges along the way. The first is Goodpasture Covered Bridge which you can drive through. Later on in your journey you can visit the Belknap Covered Bridge and the Belknap Hot Springs Resort where you can get a day pass to soak in the springs. Check into the Eagle Rock Lodge, then head out for more sightseeing or lunch if grazing along the way hasn't stuffed you! View dramatic waterfalls, lava fields or discover hidden hot springs.
Where to Eat
Luckily there are some excellent locally-sourced options. We recommend the Obsidian Grill at the McKenzie General Store. Along with local, organic meals and groceries, they have a spacious courtyard for relaxing with a local craft beer or glass of Willamette Valley wine. You can also shop for organic goods at the Blue Sky Market. Takoda's Restaurant, a little farther on, has another lovely outdoor seating area and fun foods like pizza. But remember to save room for the Eagle Rock Lodge's gourmet dinner later on!