Ornament Hunting in Willamette National Forest’s Middle Fork Ranger District

By Matt Wastradowski

The beloved Willamette Valley Ornament Contest is back for another year. This Nov. 25-Dec. 31, you have a chance to find ornaments along trails in the Middle Fork Ranger District in the Willamette National Forest. Ornaments have been placed along trails throughout the ranger district, which is bisected by Highway 58 east of Eugene. (And if you’re wondering what a ranger district is, think of it as a specific geographical area within a larger national forest; in this case, the Middle Fork Ranger District sits at the southern edge of the Willamette National Forest.)

As you prepare to find your ornament this season, we’ve put together a guide that encourages you to support local businesses and extend your stay in the region; that includes recommendations for area lodgings, restaurants, and other outdoor activities—because the views don’t stop in winter. Good luck finding your ornament, and have fun this season.

What to Know About the Willamette Valley Ornament Contest

Trail difficulty

We’ve hidden trails on wheelchair-accessible trails, family-friendly footpaths, and strenuous hikes all over the Willamette Valley. Please check to make sure your chosen trail is suitable for your experience level and abilities; if it sounds easier or tougher than you’d like, we have another 20 or so trails you can choose from throughout the Willamette and Umpqua national forests.

Weather forecasts

Snow isn’t unheard of in late November and December throughout the West Cascades. Before setting out, check the latest forecast via the National Weather Service, and keep updated on road conditions through the Oregon Department of Transportation’s TripCheck website (which features traffic webcams, road closures, and alerts on an easy-to-use map). Bonus points for calling the Cottage Grove Ranger District a day or two before leaving—just to make sure your chosen trail is passable and in good condition.

One ornament per household

We hate to be a wet blanket, especially because we understand the joyous moment that comes with finding ornaments along your chosen trail. But please only take one ornament per household so other families can enjoy the same thrill. Every ornament on a given trail features the same design, so you’re not missing much by grabbing just one.

Where to Eat, Drink and Stay Around the Middle Fork Ranger District

Looking for a good meal after your hike? You’re in luck: Oakridge and Westfir host several restaurants that dish a wide range of cuisines. And you’ll find plenty of welcoming motels and lodges around the likes of Westfir and Oakridge—both surrounded by trails adorned with ornaments for this year’s contest. Check the map for a few popular listings:

Westfir Lodge & Mountain Market

 The Westfir Lodge & Mountain Market hosts eight comfortable rooms with plush beds and views of the surrounding gardens (as well as the historic Office Covered Bridge just across the street). Each stay includes homemade breakfast in the lodge's common gathering area, and other amenities include an on-site yoga room and a market selling artisan crafts, local beer and wine, and more.

Arbor Inn Motel

Enjoy a mix of retro charm and modern amenities at the Arbor Inn Motel, which upgrades the old-school motel experience with smart televisions, high-speed Wi-Fi, pillowtop beds, and more.

Cascade Motel

Revel in a touch of elegance at the Cascade Motel, where the deluxe king suite comes with a heart-shaped jetted tub and comfortable queen- and king-sized beds are found in every room. Still, the motel boasts all the amenities you'd want from a relaxing stay: Wi-Fi, satellite television, and in-room coffee and tea makers.

The 3 Legged Crane Pub and Brewhouse

The popular Oakridge pub specializes in English-style cask ales, which go through secondary fermentation in casks (not kegs) before they're served; the resulting beers are likely a bit warmer than what you’re used to—but that warmth lets the beer’s flavors really shine through. Given its English inspiration, it's no surprise The 3 Legged Crane Pub and Brewhouse also dishes a beloved plate of fish-and-chips.

Stewart's 58 Drive-In

Old-school charm pervades Stewart's 58 Drive-In, which opened in 1950 and has been feeding locals and travelers alike ever since; the menu includes burgers, hot dogs, fresh salads, milkshakes and malts, and hearty chili and soups—the perfect way to warm up after a day outdoors.

Dos Mundos

Miguel's Tacos

When you want fresh, homemade Mexican fare in Oakridge, make a beeline for Miguel's Tacos. Specializing in authentic fare, the friendly restaurant serves gorditas, sopes, enchiladas, empanadas, birria tacos, and more.

Where to Play Around the Middle Fork Ranger District

Westfir and Oakridge, both within the Middle Fork Ranger District, are all-season outdoor playgrounds. So if you want to extend your stay after finding your ornament, here are a few ideas for seeing a few regional highlights along the way.

​​Cascades Outdoor Center

The outdoor outfitter is best known for its summertime trips, but there's plenty of fun to be had in winter, as well. Cascades Outdoor Center offers a guided snowshoeing tour to Salt Creek Falls that includes transportation, hot chocolate or tea, and in-depth information on the waterfall and surrounding forest.

Snow blankets the trees and banks on both sides of a stream near Detroit Lake.

Salt Creek Falls Observation Site and Picnic Area and Salt Creek Sno-Park

If you’d rather visit at your own pace, and on your own time, savor a top-down view of Salt Creek Falls (the second tallest waterfall in Oregon) from the Salt Creek Falls Observation Site and Picnic Area; a short, mostly flat path heads between the parking area and an unimpeded viewpoint of the waterfall. And if the season's first snow has fallen—and if you want to take a snowshoe or cross-country skiing trek on your own—check out the challenging trails at the nearby Salt Creek Sno-Park.

Enjoy a soak at McCredie Hot Springs

Following a half-mile, mostly flat hike, visitors can relax with a soothing soak in McCredie Hot Springs (where temperatures range from 98ºF to 114ºF); the adjoining creek's chilly water seeps into some of the pools at McCredie, cooling them down and offering a variety of experiences. Keep in mind that clothing is optional. Learn more about McCredie Hot Springs from Eugene, Cascades & Coast, and check out other hot springs in the Willamette Valley.