Making the Most of Your February “Free Day” in the Willamette Valley
Later this month, we’ll all wake up on a weekend morning and enjoy the most elusive of gifts: Leap Day 2020 falls on a Saturday, giving us all a “free” weekend day to enjoy as we see fit.
Naturally, we have a few ideas for making the most of Leap Day in the Willamette Valley—from seasonal outings to indoor fun. So whether you’re looking to soak in one of our relaxing hot springs or check out one of our vaunted museums, here’s a guide to spending Leap Day in the Willamette Valley.
Soak in a Hot Spring
Even into February, winter has maintained an icy grip on the Willamette Valley and Cascade foothills. So if you’re looking to warm up sooner than later, beat back winter’s chill with a soak in one of the region’s mineral-rich hot springs, fed by volcanic and geothermal activity below the Earth’s surface.
Take Advantage of Cellar Season in Wine Country
Winter brings cellar season to the Willamette Valley—along with a chance to slow down, taste at your own pace, and enjoy a quiet Wine Country experience.
The quiet time of year means fewer crowds at your favorite wineries, so it’s a good time to see what winemakers are loving, whether they have a particularly good year in stock, and to sample what’s new and different about the latest blends. Tasting room fireplaces and patio heaters give the atmosphere a cozy charm, while thoughtful food pairings encourage visitors to try something new. Learn more about cellar season in the Willamette Valley.
Warm up Next to the Fireplace at Gilgamesh Brewing
Every summer, the creekside patio at Gilgamesh Brewing offers one of the most enjoyable outdoor dining experiences in the Willamette Valley. But even as temperatures fall in autumn and winter, the brewery maintains that relaxing atmosphere indoors—with a fireplace for keeping warm.
It’s part of a broader ski lodge theme at the brewery, noted for a wooden exterior and A-frame entryway—so the fireplace, and leather couches surrounding it, is a natural fit.
Go Foraging for Truffles
You won’t know what to look for, because there is nothing to look for; truffles grow underground, usually in the root systems of Douglas fir trees. So team up with a pro and her Lagotto Romagnolos to track down one of the valley’s most iconic delicacies. There’s no greater thrill than when a dog starts digging and you find your first marble-sized prize.
Want to learn more about Willamette Valley truffles—but don’t know how to start? We’ve got you covered with a truffle foraging guide that explains truffle-foraging basics, where to look, how to schedule a guided tour (highly recommended), and where to enjoy truffles in some of the region’s best-loved restaurants and wineries.
Hike to a Waterfall
All of our lowland rain and mountain snow this winter means it’s prime season for waterfall hikes. Sure, Silver Falls State Park gets all the love, and not without reason: The Trail of Ten Falls is among the most iconic trails in all of Oregon, passing in front of (or behind) a whopping 10 waterfalls.
But if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, consider a trek to some of the region’s other falls: Alsea Falls and Green Peak Falls, both in the heart of an old-growth forest, are positively torrential this time of year. And outside Lebanon, McDowell Creek Falls is just one of many highlights along a three-mile loop trail.
Stay Dry in One of the Willamette Valley’s Celebrated Museums
If you’d rather escape the elements rather than hike in them, stay dry in one of the Willamette Valley’s many museums.
One of the most popular is the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. The museum is home to numerous planes, none more famous than Howard Hughes’s all-wooden Spruce Goose, and celebrates the lives of important aviators throughout history.
Looking to enjoy a little culture? Stop by the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University—the third-largest art museum in the state. The museum’s exhibits range from classical works to permanent displays from Pacific Northwest and Native American artists.
And the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health serves to educate visitors on how mental health has long been treated in Oregon—as well as exploring the Oregon State Hospital’s sometimes tragic history. A mix of permanent and rotating exhibits tell the stories of the patients, volunteers, and employees of the hospital; one such exhibit is dedicated to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, which was written by Oregon author Ken Kesey and filmed at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
Explore the Uniqueness of The Living Rock Studios
Howard B. Taylor was many things: a surveyor, a rock mason, a painter, an artist. So in 1985, he brought those disparate experiences together and opened The Living Rock Studios.
The Living Rock Studios is a two-story, 800-ton rock building that contains 75 wood carvings, 125 paintings of birds, and a series of seven Biblical “Living Rock Pictures”—created from thin slices of rock and lit from behind. Some of those Living Rock Pictures depict the birth of Christ and Moses and the burning bush.
Taylor died in 1996, but more than two decades later, The Living Rock Studios carries on his legacy with displays of his work, art exhibits, and more.