Fall Foliage Hikes and Farm Fun in the Southern Willamette Valley

Ideas for lovely fall foliage hikes and farm fun 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.

Fall Foliage Hikes in the Southern Willamette

Stunning fall colors on the ascent to the top of Spencer Butte.

Spencer Butte

Website | Directions | Eugene | Free!

Spencer 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. In fall, temperatures are cooler, and you can enjoy some colorful fall leaves on your ascent to the top. COVID-19 tip: 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. 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. We learned that the hard way!

Mt. Pisgah East Loop Hike

Website | Directions | Eugene | $5 day parking fee or Annual Pass for Lane County Parks

Stunning views, beautiful farmland, fall colors, and a Mushroom Festival! Mt. Pisgah East Loop Hike 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 5.6 miles and 990 feet of elevation gain, this is not an easy hike and is best for older children and the physically fit. 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.

Make sure to visit the Mount Pisgah Arboretum website because they have some great classes for the general public year-round like an upcoming insect walk, fall color family walk, and more!

Stunning views and fall colors at the top of Mount Pisgah.

Dorris Ranch

Website | Directions | Springfield | Free!

Hazelnut harvest is in full swing! At Dorris Ranch, the nation’s oldest hazelnut (filbert) farm and a national historic site, you can explore more than four miles of walking paths 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.)

Along the beautiful walking path at Dorris Ranch.

Lone Wolf / Patterson Mountain Trail

Website | Directions | Westfir

We hiked Lone Wolf / Patterson Mountain twice in the past year, and it was stunning. The 4.8 miles (866 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.”

Stunning panoramic views at the top of Patterson Mountain.

“Agritainment” Excursions in the Southern Willamette

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).

Out in the field at Thistledown Farm.

Thistledown Farm

Website | Directions | Junction City | Free with certain fees for special activities

Our favorite pumpkin patch near Eugene is Thistledown Farm (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.)

Tip! 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. 

Detering Orchards

Website | Directions | Harrisburg | Free!

We’ve enjoyed visiting Detering Orchards in the fall (for the “Apple Daze” festival) and spring (for U-pick cherry-picking). There’s a petting zoo, playground, corn maze, fresh-pressed cider, pumpkin patch, U-pick, and more in a fun environment for the whole family. They even have select hard ciders for the grownups, and often have homemade tamales and caramel apples too.

Bonus! Hit the South Willamette Wine Trail

The Willamette Valley is a wine-lovers paradise! 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. In early fall, weather is still spectacular for outdoor dining and sipping, and during Thanksgiving weekend many Willamette Valley area wineries open their doors to visitors during the “Thanksgiving Wine Trail.” Many feature special events like music or (once) even a chocolate fountain (this was a BIG hit with the kids)! I don’t see updated information for 2021 but will post more when I do.

Fall is truly one of my favorite times of the year in this beautiful region. Cheers to enjoying the beauty and bounty of the Willamette Valley this fall!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 12, 2020 and was thoroughly revised and refreshed on September 24, 2021.

Copyright © 2020 Tournesol Adventures. Updated in 2021. All rights reserved.

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