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A River Runs Through It — McKenzie River Foodshed Tour

Published: March 02, 2020

 

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.

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. Download Together Anywhere's McKenzie River audio app for sightseeing highlights while you drive.

McKenzie River Fly Fishing by Melanie Griffin
McKenzie River fly fishing by Melanie Griffin

 

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! 

Lavender Festival, McKenzie River by Thomas Moser
Picking lavender along the McKenzie River by Thomas Moser

 

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 Organic Redneck Growers farm stand. Enjoy shopping fresh produce, fruits, canned and artisan foods at this sweet wayside store.

Organic Redneck Farm by Joni Kabana
Organic Redneck Farm by Joni Kabana
 

Mushrooming

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. With mushrooming it is very important to go with someone experienced and know what you are doing. 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

McKenzie General Obsidian Grill by Colin Morton
McKenzie General Obsidian Grill by Colin Morton

 

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!

Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.