Road Trip: Willamette Valley
Explore the Willamette Valley AVA's south wine country with its uncrowded serenity, bountiful boutique wineries and natural beauty. Take three leisurely days to road trip the scenic countryside around Eugene, encompassing gentle rolling hills, grassy valleys, lush wetlands and coniferous forests. In addition to tasting some phenomenal Pinots, drive through historic covered bridges, eat farm-to-table fare in two converted churches and one historic schoolhouse and enjoy spotting a variety of domestic and wild animals.
- Good for: getaways for couples or friends, food and wine fans
- Best time to drive: year-round; autumn for stunning fall colors, winter for Willamette Valley’s cellar season, spring and summer for flowers and u-pick stands
Eugene to Cottage Grove
Eugene's residential outskirts transition to small family farms as you head south on Dillard Road to Highway 99. This is your chance to meet some of the most engaging farm animals spotted across the region: alpacas! These funny, fuzzy animals are raised throughout Oregon for their valuable fleece which is naturally hypoallergenic, water resistant and flame resistant. Two local farms (Aragon Alpacas and Pura Vida Alpacas) host visitors, but it is recommended to call ahead.
Highway 99 parallels Interstate 5 right through the small town of Creswell. Make this your lunch destination - because here you'll discover Creswell Bakery. This family-owned, farm-to-table bakery serves a mouth-watering breakfast and lunch in a former church. Chef Heidi Tunnell started her career as "Farm Girl Kitchen" baking in her grandmother's Creswell home. Now foodies from across the country know to stop here (and to order the bacon!).
You may also wish to pick up a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and some other sweet and savory items for the road since there will be plenty of lovely picnic opportunities along this road trip.
Next, continue south on Highway 99 to Saginaw Vineyard. Housed in a historic red barn, this charming winery is known for their blackberry, blueberry and raspberry wines along with regional varietals. If the season is right, you can u-pick berries or enjoy a Friday night concert.
Roll into Cottage Grove and cruise down Main Street. Its brightly colored murals tell the community's stories from the pioneer days to when Hollywood came calling. Visit the Axe & Fiddle for dinner and check the schedule to see if there's live music or a stage production scheduled at the nearby Cottage Theatre.
Cottage Grove to Veneta to Junction City
Start your morning with breakfast at Buster's Main Street Cafe. Before heading out of town, drive the Cottage Grove Covered Bridge tour loop to see six historic covered bridges along 15 miles. Drive through the Mosby Creek Bridge and the Dorena Bridge. The remaining bridges are open to cycling or pedestrian traffic only.
From Cottage Grove follow the Territorial Highway toward Veneta. Along this 46 mile drive you'll pass plenty of vineyards and farms - and a craft brewery! Alesong Brewing & Blending is an unexpected treat for beer lovers in wine country. This small batch brewery barrel ages their wild beers in French oak wine barrels and blends them with local fruits and herbs. Their tasting room is open daily all summer.Alesong Brewery by Joni Kabana
Iris Vineyards is your next tasting destination. This lovely estate is the perfect place to picnic overlooking the grapes. Among the other wineries you'll pass along the way include Sweet Cheeks Winery and Sarver Winery.
Continue along Territorial Highway through the small town of Veneta. Here you'll want to stop at Our Daily Bread, another former church converted into a fantastic restaurant and bakery. Complete with stained glass windows, a church steeple and lines out the door on Sunday mornings, Our Daily Bread is very popular for breakfast (ask for the cinnamon rolls). Their northwest regional menu featuring soups, salads and sandwiches is also great for lunch and dinner.
Just down the road, across Highway 126 and north, is Perkins Peninsula Sate Park on Fern Ridge Reservoir. Stretch your legs, take a dip in the lake, picnic or launch a canoe for a paddle. This the area's marshy wetlands, this is an excellent place for bird watching and wildlife spotting.
Continue on Territorial Highway to Junction City. There are many more vineyards along the way with the largest cluster of tasting rooms called the Prairie Mountain Wineries. Pick two or three to visit and plan a picnic dinner with a gorgeous view of the grapes. As with all farms and winery tasting rooms, call ahead to confirm their hours as each often has a different schedule.Benton Lane Vineyard View
Stay at the casually cozy Territorial Farm Stay for an immersive farm experience. Or check in at the Inn at Diamond Woods, a spacious vacation rental that works well for large groups and pairs well with golf on the Diamond Woods Golf Course.
Junction City to Eugene
Drive back along Highway 99 South to Eugene, stopping to shop at farm stands and u-picks fields. Enjoy lunch at Camas Country Mill Store & Bakery, another wonderful foodie destination housed in an historic schoolhouse. A third generation family farm grows grains, cereals and legumes; processes them at their own mill and then bakes heavenly breads and treats. Camas Country Mill Store & Bakery is open year-round and often offers bread baking classes and other great events.Camas Country Mill Schoolhouse & Bakery by Joni Kabana
Or, from Junction City, drive south along River Road paralleling Highway 99. On this route you can stop at Thistledown Farm (open seasonally) for fresh produce and flowers. Buy hanging baskets at the market or wander the u-pick flower fields. The beautiful red barn is a classic icon of the area farms.Thistledown Farm by Jamie Hooper
It may be the end of the road, but the adventure goes on. Back in Eugene continue your wine tasting quest by visiting the city's urban wineries. One of the unique destinations is Civic Winery in the heart of downtown. Here their sustainably-selected wine bar offerings are complemented by their own amphorae fermentation, a traditional wine making technique using large clay pots.Civic Winery by Colin Morton
Bring the experience all together by enjoying a final culinary indulgence at Provisions Market Hall in the 5th Street Public Market. Farm-to-table is exemplified in this charming cafe and marketplace created by Eugene's own locovore royalty, Excecutive Chef Stephanie Kimmel. Toast the farmers, the winemakers and the chefs you met along your journey!