Ornament Hunting in the Umpqua National Forest’s Cottage Grove Ranger District

By Matt Wastradowski

The Willamette Valley Ornament Contest is back for another year! This Nov 25 – Dec 31, you have a chance to find ornaments along beloved trails in the Cottage Grove Ranger District in the Umpqua National Forest.

Fun fact: The Cottage Grove Ranger District is the only one of the five participating ranger districts not to be in the Willamette National Forest. Rather, it’s in the Umpqua National Forest—just southeast of Eugene on the western slopes of Oregon’s Cascade Range. (And if you’re curious: A ranger district is a term for a certain area inside a broader national forest.) Cottage Grove is the northernmost ranger district in the Umpqua National Forest and boasts access to towering waterfalls, verdant forests, trickling mountain creeks, and other natural wonders.

So if you’re heading out to the Cottage Grove Ranger District to look for an ornament this winter, why not make a night or weekend trip out of it? We’ve rounded up some popular lodging options, restaurants, and fun activities to help make the most of your time in the Umpqua National Forest.

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 Cottage Grove Ranger District

Hungry after your ornament search? Of course you are! Stop into Creswell Bakery for house-baked pastries or sandwiches (all of which are available to-go), or try Jack Sprats Restaurant for a bit of comfort food.

Creswell Bakery

About 15 minutes north of Cottage Grove, Creswell Bakery has earned a cult following for its artisan breads, house-baked pastries, and filling breakfast and lunch sandwiches (all of which are available to-go if you’re eager to hit the trail). Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible.

Jack Sprats Restaurant

When comfort food strikes your fancy, Jack Sprats Restaurant is ready with a menu chockablock with classic breakfast dishes, a variety of burgers, and a thoughtful selection of vegetarian items—including Thai coconut curry and hazelnut quinoa cakes.

Where to Stay Around the Cottage Grove Ranger District

You won’t find much lodging within the Cottage Grove Ranger District—just a few campgrounds that close for the winter—so your best bet is to make the city of Cottage Grove your base camp for adventure. The community sits at the southern edge of the Willamette Valley, offers easy access to the covered bridges for which it is so famous, and is just more than a half-hour from participating trails.

One of the most popular overnight stays in town is the Cottage Grove Inn, home to well-kept, modern rooms and lavish suites (some of which come with in-room jetted tubs). And if you’re looking for recommendations on what to do nearby, the motel’s friendly staff members know Cottage Grove well and are happy to help.

Where to Play Around the Cottage Grove Ranger District

Beyond the trail (or trails) you hiked in the Cottage Grove Ranger District, you’ll find plenty of recreation in the region—short waterfall treks, rail-to-trail paths, and even historic covered bridges. So whether you’re in the heart of the mountains or want to stop and enjoy the scenery on your way to or from the Willamette Valley, here’s a guide to some of the area’s best outdoor attractions.

Enjoy a stroll or bike ride on the Row River Trail

Beginning and ending in the community of Cottage Grove, the 14-mile Row River Trail is a paved, multi-use path that follows the route of the former Oregon Pacific & Eastern Railroad line. It mostly hugs the shore of the Row River (friendly tip: It rhymes with "cow"), with several trailheads that make it easy to hop off and on the path while exploring an 1800s-era gold mine, trestle bridges, and other natural sights.

Hikers looking around

Check out scenic covered bridges

Cottage Grove is known as the "Covered Bridge Capital of the West," thanks to a half-dozen old-school, wooden structures crossing waterways across the region. So on the way to (or from) your ornament hunt, make time for a detour to the covered bridges of Cottage Grove.

A truck drives through a white covered bridge in the Eugene, Cascades, and coast area of the Willamette Valley, Oregon

Check out a trio of waterfalls

If you're hankering for a bit more time outdoors, consider a few hikes to a trio of impressive waterfalls in the Cascade Range foothills. Across three miles of trails (with just 600 feet of elevation gain), you can hike to the 60-foot Spirit Falls, the 100-foot Moon Falls, and the 105-foot Pinard Falls. Learn more about Spirit, Moon, and Pinard Falls, and check out our ultimate guide to the waterfalls of the Willamette Valley.