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Natural Venues That WOW!

Published: May 18, 2021

Natural venues abound in the Pacific Northwest and the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region of Oregon offers unrivaled natural beauty that makes for memorable events. Our natural venues are capable of hosting events such as triathlons, trail runs, and mountain biking in the many miles and miles of natural courses. Our sand dunes can host volleyball and soccer events. Explore our numerous lakes and reservoirs capable of hosting pool-based events or watersports such as speedboat racing and world-class rowing. Our team at the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission is committed to helping you find the best natural venue for your event.

Veneta

Fern Ridge Reservoir is southern Willamette Valley's largest reservoir at 9,000 acres (summer capacity). This ultimate water playground is ideal for water sports such as windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, jet skiing and power boating. Home to the Eugene Yacht Club (EYC) and the University of Oregon Sailing Team, Fern Ridge is one of the best sailing lakes in the Northwest. Fern Ridge also caters to water-land events and was the host of the Triathlon Eugene the Oregon Challenge, Lane County’s first major triathlon in 2011.

Fern Ridge Regatta by Michael Sherman
Fern Ridge Sailing by Michael Sherman

Dexter/Lowell

On the Middle Fork Willamette River near the communities of Dexter and Lowell sits Dexter Lake. With a surface area of just over 1,000 acres, plus its convenient location (about 16 miles southeast of Eugene), it’s a popular area destination for water sports. On the western edge of Dexter Reservoir is Dexter State Recreation Site. This 94-acre year-round day use park is popular for several activities including fishing, swimming, boating and picnicking, and features an 18-hole disc golf course. Dexter Lake is also home to a permanent regatta course (fully buoyed with seven lanes), making it one of the best lakes in the region for rowing competitions, attracting teams from up and down the West Coast. 

The Oregon Association of Rowers’ (OAR) boathouse is located on the north side of Dexter Lake at Lowell State Park, allowing them to take advantage of the permanent regatta course. Each April, OAR (along with the University of Oregon Crew Club and South Eugene Rowing Club) co-sponsor the Covered Bridge Regatta at Dexter Lake, which celebrated its 25th year in 2019. Teams of collegiate, junior, and master rowers travel from all over Oregon as well as Washington and California for a weekend long competition.

Covered Bridge Regatta
Covered Bridge Regatta by Ray Remmers

For those looking for something a little faster, Dexter Lake is also home to “the fastest drag race on the liquid quarter mile”. Columbia Drag Boat Association (CDBA), the premier racing association of the Pacific Northwest, races regularly on Dexter Lake. The CDBA offers a variety of class competitions that offer safe and fun entertainment for the entire family. Watch for Top Alcohol Hydro Drag Boats that can reach 230 MPH along with boats in classes ranging from 7 to 14 seconds. This year, Dexter Lake hosts three weekend long events in June, July and September. 

Oakridge / Westfir

The Oakridge/Westfir area is synonymous with world-class mountain biking. Old growth forests and lush meadows take riders zipping by cascading waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes. The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) recognized just how special this area was by designating two “Epic Rides” in Lane County (Waldo Lake Trail in 2012 and Olallie Ridge in 2013), an accolade saved only for a handful of “demanding, singletrack adventures in a natural setting” around the U.S. The IMBA also honored Oakridge with the designation of a Gold Level Ride Center—one of six in the United States. The designation denotes an acclaimed destination-worthy area with not only some of the best trails in the world, but community support and amenities like accessible trail maps and parking areas designed with riders in mind.

Naturally, the Oakridge area is the place to visit for some of the best mountain biking competitions in the state and draws cyclists from around the nation. Mountain Bike Oregon, which is consistently named one of the Top 10 Best Mountain Bike Festivals, is three full days of biking with a small festival atmosphere. This all-inclusive event (which sells out quickly) offers hundreds of miles of the world’s best singletrack for intermediate and advanced riders, camping on the scenic Willamette River, meals (including beer and wine), demo bikes, yoga clinics, and more.

Sturdy Dirty Mountain Biking Event by Jacob Pace
Sturdy Dirty Mountain Biking Event by Jacob Pace

Gravel cycling has exploded and Oakridge/Westfir is right at the heart of it. As part of their Oregon Triple Crown Series, Mudslinger Events hosts the Sasquatch Duro with three routes to choose from: the 84-mile Monster Squatch, the 59-mile Big Squatch, or the 32-mile Little Squatch. Routes consist of 65 - 70% of gravel.

Trail running has also seen great success in this area as Oakridge has nearly 500 miles of densely forested trails. The Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge takes runners on 40 miles of trails with around 8,500 feet of elevation gain. Spread over three days, this event gives participants a chance to run some of the best and most well known trails in Oakridge before descending for festivities at the finish line.

McKenzie River

The McKenzie River Trail Run, established in 1988, is Oregon’s oldest, continuous ultra marathon. The route runs 31 miles along the beautiful McKenzie and offers its runners a technically challenging course without extreme elevation gains. Runners will catch views of two waterfalls, lava flows, a pristine lake, many log bridges as well as the famous Tamolitch Pool. The McKenzie River Trail Run’s intent is to support as many local products and businesses while hosting an environmentally friendly and safe running experience. Any proceeds from the race are used to support local nonprofits.

McKenzie River Trail Runner by Michael Sherman
McKenzie River Trail Run by Michael Sherman

Cascadia

The Trans-Cascadia is a blind-format, backcountry mountain biking race in the wilderness and small towns of Cascadia, Oregon. It includes four days of racing and a curated backcountry experience of primitive singletrack, gourmet food, and social activities provided by the hosts. Participation in the event is limited and it draws racers from around the world. The event was founded by a group of long-time, bike-industry professionals that hosted the first race in 2015. It is part of the non-profit’s larger mission to promote and build sustainable trails in the Pacific Northwest.

Cottage Grove

The Cottage Grove Dam and Reservoir is located just five miles south of Cottage Grove and is the home of the annual Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove. This USAT-sanctioned race features sprint and Olympic distance courses with individual and relay team options. This premiere event was named as one of Triathlete Magazine’s picks for the Country's Top 22 Triathlons! The course is constructed with the racer in mind; it consists of a calm lake swim and low-to-no traffic courses for the bike and run.

Cottage Grove is also the host site of the annual Oregon Gran Fondo in which cyclists from all over the Pacific Northwest participate. Hosted by Mudslinger Events, the Oregon Gran Fondo was designed to draw the community together and to give everyone a chance to enjoy the fun of riding a bike on the same course as the pros. Riders can choose between two all-road cycling routes for the 117 or 71-miler and two mixed surface routes on the Adventure Route and Mini-Gravel.

Oregon Gran Fondo
Oregon Gran Fondo by Audra Terry

Hosted by Oregon Trail Runs, the Cottage Grove Half Marathon follows the Row River Trail ( "Row" rhymes with "cow.") and finishes on the main street of the town. Overlooking the Dorena Reservoir, the Row River Trail is an easy, paved 16.5 mile (26.6 km) trail providing cycling connections to county and Forest Service roads that lead to the beautiful McKenzie River valley.

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is home to the largest expanse of coastal dunes in North America, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The expansive sand dunes provide a unique all-natural terrain for sporting events. Sand Master Park is the world’s first sandboard park (think snowboarding on sand), with 40 acres of private sculpted sand dunes and a 40-foot ramp. Every July they host Sand Master Jam, the longest running sandboard competition in the world. It’s free to the public (whether you wish to compete or just watch) and draws professional and amateur competitors that go for huge air. 

Sandboarding at the Oregon Dunes
Sandboarding at Sand Master Park Courtesy of Lon Beale

The Oregon Dunes Triathlon and Duathlon include four races with exciting, scenic courses in Dunes City, Oregon. Starting with the swim in the clean and clear Woahink Lake, participants then bike along beautiful, quiet, country roads of Dunes City, and run through the winding trails and campground of Honeyman State Park. The race finishes with an epic and unforgettable climb up the Oregon sand dunes. The event is a USA Triathlon (USAT) sanctioned event and USAT membership is required to participate.

Gravel racing has also made its way to the coast with Mudslinger Events hosting the West Coast Gravel. Racers who complete the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic (60 or 37 mile) the day before will then complete 39 or 34 miles of timed riding plus a solo 3-5 mile ride back to Florence. Explore the shores of the Pacific and wind your way through the Siuslaw National Forests breathtaking backroads that make this a one-of-a-kind race.

Let us help!

Our goal in working with sports planners looking for natural venues is to anticipate their needs and have full knowledge of all the nuances each location offers. To achieve this, we’ve developed important relationships with our city, county and state park and recreation departments that are valuable in locating and securing the right venue for an event. With our abundant natural resources and our focus on maintaining and preserving the beauty of the local environment, our destination is a one-stop shop that exceeds the expectations of the sports planners we work with. Contact us today to learn more.

Author: Katerine Morton

An Oregonian at heart, Katerine Morton grew up in Lane County and attended Oregon State University, where she got her degree in Digital Communication Arts before returning to Eugene-Springfield. She loves running, trying out new restaurants and is passionate about dance.