Exploring Oregon Wine Country

With summer upon us and ample Covid-19 vaccine supplies, there is no excuse for not getting out to explore and enjoy Oregon Wine Country. The following outdoor delights were personally recommended by some of the Willamette Valley’s best winemakers, whom you can be sure have excellent taste. So lace up your sneakers, grab your dog/bike/ friends/partner/picnic basket, and a bottle of Oregon wine, and get out there.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Banks-Vernonia Trail

Stretch your legs and clear your head with a ride along this 21-mile scenic bike route built along a disused railway line dating from the 1920s. Jim Witte, former owner of A Blooming Hill Vineyard, points out that you’ll touch on some of wine country’s best locations starting in Hillsboro, home to superb wine store Primrose & Tumbleweed, traveling through Forest Grove, Banks, Yamhill, Carlton and ending in Vernonia. The trail is paved and open to all non-motorized uses including runners, cyclists, walkers and horseback riders.

Cascade Head

Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV recommends hiking Cascade Head, a promontory outside Lincoln City. Trails wind upwards through coastal rainforest and emerge into grassy fields speckled with wildflowers. “It is an incredible experience to go there and be on the edge – that’s the big thing about Oregon – you’re on the edge of something, the edge of America. There is nowhere else to go. It’s a phenomenal feeling.”

His colleague Ryan Kelly-Burnett concurs, highlighting the memorable moment when the path winds along the rim of the cliff and there is nothing but a sturdy rope between you and the Pacific 200 feet below.

Cascades

The 700 mile sprawl of the Cascade Mountain Range is at the heart of Oregon’s outdoor appeal. The Cascades boast seven different national forests, Oregon’s highest peak, Mount Hood, and the Columbia River Gorge. Pattie Björnson of Björnson Vineyard is a fan of skiing and hiking – though she doesn’t get as much time for it as she would like. The two main ski resorts are Mount Hood near the northern border, and Mount Ashland in the south, but there are plenty of on and off-piste skiing opportunities between. Non-athletes can enjoy scenic drives or walks, as the season dictates.

Columbia River Gorge

Carved out by the Missoula Floods some 14,000 years ago, the Columbia River Gorge is a rugged canyon marked by waterfalls – including Multnomah, Horsetail and Bridal Veil falls, evergreen forests and world-class water sports. “I’m not the tourist board,” Adelsheim founder David Adelsheim jokes, “But I recommend the Gorge.”

Its wind-whipped river waters lure kiteboarders and windsurfers, who are joined by boaters, kayakers and whitewater rafters. There are seemingly endless hiking and biking trails to explore, and plenty of brew pubs, wineries and restaurants when you’re ready for some R&R.

Summer on the Oregon Coast

Depoe Bay

David Adelsheim recommends the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it seafront town of Depoe Bay for fresh seafood. Local fishermen bring cod, rockfish, plus Chinook and Coho salmon, halibut, albacore tuna and Dungeness crab into the tiny port (“the world’s smallest navigable harbor” according to the town chamber of commerce), supplying a range of casual and fine dining restaurants. Our pick is the lauded Tidal Raves, which combines a stunning location with exquisite fresh seafood. After your meal mosey a the sea wall for a glimpse of the resident grey whale pod.

Jackson Bottom Wetlands

“A beautiful, beautiful location,” says Holly Witte, (former) owner of A Blooming Hill Vineyards. Jackson Bottom is is a 635-acre wildlife preserve. Despite being within the city limits of Hillsboro, it provides a tranquil sanctuary for people and animals alike. Meander along its many trails an, past open waters – fed by drainage from the city streets – and rolling meadows and upland ash and fir woods, and keep an eye out for the abundance of resident ducks and geese, deer, otters, beavers, herons and birds of prey. You may even spot a bald eagle. If not, you can see one of their nests (rescued after its occupants up-graded) when you visit the education center.

Mary’s Peak

Illahe winemaker Brad Ford is a fan of Mary’s Peak, “One of the few places you can see the whole valley and the ocean. It’s an amazing view.” Reaching 4,097 feet, Mary’s Peak is the highest mountain in the Coast Range, topped with an alpine clearing perfect for unwinding with a picnic after your trek up. On a clear day (one can hope, right?) you will be treated to a panoramic view of the Pacific coast to the west and of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Range to the east. Look for Mt Thielsen to the southeast and Mt Adams to the north – if you’ve got good binoculars you might get a glimpse of Mt Rainier.

Hagg Lake

Fishing fans flock to Hagg Lake to ply its stocked waters, but there is plenty to do even if you don’t own a pole. Nestled in rolling hills outside Forest Grove, at the base of the Coast Range, it has miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, observation decks for wildlife and bird watching, plus two boat ramps and plenty of picnic spots. Juanita and RJ Lint from Plum Hill joke they might start selling worms to lure passing fishermen into the tasting rooms. Those of a serious athletic bent might want to sign up for the annual Hagg Lake triathlon/duathlon, which takes place in July.

Hagg Lake

McDonald Forest Trails

Avid trail-runner and winemaker Joe Wright of Left Coast loves the McDonald Forest Trails on the OSU campus. “It’s like having 9000 acre backyard,” he says gleefully. The trails range from the Old-Growth Trail a short, gentle hike through ancient Douglas fir forests; to Dan’s Trail, which climbs almost 800 feet in three miles. If you’re looking to learn more about Oregon woodlands a number of the paths including the Forest Discovery trail and Calloway Creek trail include interpretive markers.

Opal Creek

Opal Creek “shows you what Oregon once was,” says Dominio IV’s Patrick Reuter. With over 20,000 acres of steep tree-clad hills to explore via some 35 miles of trails, it is a chance to escape into true wilderness. “There was a mining village that was converted to more of a tourist destination… you can still walk in some of the shafts,” says Patrick. Or follow Opal Creek up to see “cascading pools with lush, green trails.” The area is one of the largest areas of old growth forest left in Oregon and is home to an incredible array of plants and wildlife, including the owls, hawks, beavers, deer, bear and even mountain lions.

Pacific City

A great day – or weekend – out on the central Oregon coast, Pacific City has just the right blend of amenities, scenery and small-town charm for Mike and Drenda Bayliss of Ghost Hill Cellars, who wish they could get there more often. The beach is dominated by Haystack Rock, aka Chief Kiawanda – named for a chief of the native Nestugga tribe. Venturesome spirits have made sand-boarding (like snowboarding but, you know, on sand) a popular pastime on Pacific City’s towering dunes. After that quad-crunching workout retreat to the Pelican Pub & Brewery for award-winning craft beers, great seafood-oriented pub meals and an amazing ocean view.

Silver Falls

One of Oregon’s treasures, according to Pattie Björnson: “You can walk behind waterfalls. It’s absolutely gorgeous.” That would be South Falls, where the trail leads you behind its 177-foot wall of water. You’ll find it on the Trail of Ten Falls, an unforgettable nine-mile hiking route that weaves through a dense forest, passing a series of breathtaking waterfalls along a rocky canyon, before descending to follow a winding creek at the forest floor. When you’ve finished your jaunt unwind at the South Falls Day-use area which has barbecue pits, picnic shelters, tables, a playground, horseshoe pits, and a doggy play area.

Shady afternoons

L. L. Stub Stewart State Park

Recommended by RJ and Juanita Lint of Plum Hill Vineyards, the park, located just off Hwy 47, is a perfect wilderness bolt hole in the heart of Willamette Valley wine country. You can camp out here, or visit by day to enjoy almost 2,000 acres of rolling hills, forest glades, streams and wildflowers, criss-crossed by over 25 miles of trails. You can hike, run, mountain bike, ride horseback, or test your hand-eye coordination on its 18-hole disc golf course.

Timberline Lodge, Mt Hood

Timberline Lodge is a scenic spot that captures another essential element of the Oregon experience. The Lodge was built as part of a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression. “It was built for employment purposes really,” says Patrick Reuter of Dominio. “A lot of the bedspreads, curtains, iron-work and things were hand-crafted by people who didn’t know how to do [the work] before, but they were taught as part of this project.”

Built using local materials, the Lodge was personally dedicated by President Franklin D Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor. It represents the state’s collaborative, communal spirit, as well as being a striking artefact of craft and design. Plus there are the stunning views from 6,000 feet and the chance to cool your heels on the flanks of a volcano.

Share your favorite wine-country excursion in the comments!

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