Fun Fall Excursions in the Southern Willamette Valley

Ideas for lovely fall foliage hikes, farm fun, and kid-friendly wineries near Eugene, Oregon.

The Willamette Valley is a lush 150-mile long valley in the heart of Oregon from Portland down to Cottage Grove. With the Willamette River flowing through it and surrounded by mountains on three sides, it boasts the perfect climate for a booming agricultural area, as well as abundant outdoor activities. With fall foliage just nearing its peak and harvest season in full swing, now is a great time to visit for a fall foliage hike, enjoy a little “agritainment,” or wine and dine your way through the region.

Ideas for Lovely Fall Foliage Hikes Near Eugene, Oregon

Spencer’s Butte (Eugene, OR)

Spencer’s Butte is a heavily trafficked, 1.7 mile (741 feet elevation gain) local landmark in Eugene, and a favorite urban hike for locals and visitors alike. It is a relatively easy hike (technically listed as moderate), and it offers wonderful panoramic views of Eugene and even glimpses of the mountains. We have enjoyed hiking Spencer’s Butte every season, but fall is especially nice because the temperatures are cooler and you can enjoy some colorful fall leaves on your ascent to the top. COVID-19 update: This trail is so popular that it bottlenecks in quite a few places, so make sure to wear your mask, and consider going during less popular times (i.e. not on a beautiful weekend day). Also, be sure to be on the lookout for poison oak, and don’t let your children or dogs wander through the brush without taking care.

Mt. Pisgah (backside) (Eugene, OR)

Mt. Pisgah is another wonderful (and very popular) local trail near Eugene with a spectacular view at the top. I have traversed the main (3+ mile) route up and down Mt. Pisgah many times. Yet, what I didn’t realize is that there are more than 30 miles of trails to explore including the (arguably) more beautiful and less popular East Trailhead. At 5.25 miles and 1,161 feet of elevation gain, this is not an easy hike and is best for older children and the physically fit. The East Trailhead is located off Ridgeway Road off Highway 58 near Pleasant Hill. It starts on a gravel road, meanders through farmland, and climbs up to the same breathtaking summit you reach from the main route. Although the kids grumbled a bit about the length, the view at the top is always worth it and can be enjoyed every season of the year.

Dorris Ranch (Middle Fork Path) (Springfield, OR)

I had been to Dorris Ranch once before for a special event being held in one of their historic buildings, but I had never explored the sprawling walking paths with my family until recently. One nice Sunday, I packed up the family, and we went back to explore the trails. Dorris Ranch is the nation’s oldest hazelnut (filbert) farm and a national historic site. Explore the more than four miles of walking paths and you will wander through orchards, forestlands (including through nice fall foliage), and along the Willamette River. The trails are great for bike riding too! (Hazelnut or filbert? More on that here.)

Patterson Mountain (Lowell, OR)

We hiked Patterson Mountain for the very first time this year, and it was stunning. The 2.3 miles (600 feet elevation) hike is a good length for kids, and includes a stop at a shelter and through beautiful old growth. The view at the end is awesome! More information here but the exact details are available in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes / Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades.”

Ideas for Local “Agritainment” Excursions Near
Eugene, Oregon

Have you participated in farm fun known as “agritainment?” If you live close to an agricultural area and you like going on outdoor excursions with your kids, chances are, you have. In the Willamette Valley, farm-based entertainment (such as pumpkin patch excursions, hayrides, fruit picking, and wine harvest events abound starting in the late summer through the holiday season).

Visit a Pumpkin Patch (Junction City, OR)

Our favorite pumpkin patch near Eugene is Thistledown Farms (Junction City, OR). The farm features a sprawling U-pick pumpkin patch which is accessible via a short stroll down the wagon road OR you can pay for a wagon ride. The farm also has a hay bale maze, animals (such as goats and chickens), and hot cider and donuts to go (my son is still talking about these). (If you are not feeling that adventurous, you can also just stop by their farm stand, and pick up pumpkins and anything else you desire.) COVID-19 update: Yes, the pumpkin patch is open this year, with mask and social distancing requirements. It opened on October 2nd and will be open daily from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Good to know: Make sure to wear appropriate footwear, especially if you are going to walk out to the patch instead of paying to take the wagon ride, the road can get dusty and mucky. 

Visit an Orchard and/or Pick Apples at a U-Pick Farm (Harrisburg, OR)

Our favorite orchard to visit near Eugene is Deterring Orchard (Harrisburg, OR), with one caveat, and that is that it is not organic. I am a big supporter of organic agriculture and prefer to buy exclusively organic produce when possible. That said, this is a lovely family farm setting and they have done so much to create a fun environment for the whole family, so we continue to visit. Some of the featured activities during their “Apple Daze” include a playground, mechanical bull, cider barn, treasure mining, wagon rides, apple blaster, corn maze, and a hay maze. COVID-19 update: All Apple Daze activities are still happening, but wait times may be longer and masks are required when a six-foot distance is not feasible. Online ordering is also an option if you are uncomfortable browsing their market (pre-pick, U-pick, and canned goods).

Hit the South Willamette Wine Trail Over Thanksgiving Weekend

We love visiting family-friendly wineries with kids because it is a good way for us to nurture one of our adult passions (food and wine) in an environment that is relatively forgiving to families. During Thanksgiving weekend, many Willamette Valley area wineries open their doors to visitors during the “Thanksgiving Wine Trail,” and many feature special events like music or (once) even a chocolate fountain (this was a BIG hit with the kids)!

We have visited and enjoyed the following four wineries among the wineries mentioned in the list for 2020 with our kids:

Silvan Ridge Winery is one of the most kid-friendly in the area with a large field for kids to play, food truck options, picnicking allowed, well-behaved dogs allowed, and a stage with free music during the summer months. 

Sweet Cheeks Winery is usually worth a visit but is so-so (in our opinion) in terms of its kid-friendliness. In particular, they have a lovely fountain, which many kids gravitate towards but are not allowed to play in. This – along with a somewhat crowded patio with fewer options for kids to spread out – makes it best for babies or older, well-managed children, but may be a challenge for the toddler to the preschool set.

Iris Vineyards is in a lovely setting and has plenty of room for kids to roam. In the past, during the holiday season, they have offered toasted chestnuts. The faux villa setting is lovely. 

Saginaw Vineyards is a bit further south but we have enjoyed the setting in the past. 

Cheers to enjoying the beauty and bounty of the Willamette Valley this fall!

Copyright © 2020 Tournesol Adventures. All rights reserved.

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