Your Guide to the South Willamette Valley Food Trail
The South Willamette Valley Food Trail shows off landscapes, producers, growers, and artisans that can’t be found anywhere else in the region. After all, the food trail is where the mighty McKenzie River flows out of the Cascade Range and into the Willamette River, where vineyards cover rolling hillsides along backcountry byways, where farms have grown flavorful crops for generations, and where urban eateries pull from these disparate landscapes and inspire each bite with a mouth-watering taste of the South Willamette Valley.
In all, nearly 60 businesses span the far-reaching food trail, each showcasing something new and unique about the region. You’ll find creative restaurants, working farms, myriad markets, overnight stays, and more—with the counterculture vibes of Eugene at the heart of it all.
So if you’d like to hit the road and enjoy the area’s many offerings, here’s the lowdown on the self-guided South Willamette Valley Food Trail.
What is the South Willamette Valley Food Trail?
Your self-guided tour through the South Willamette Valley Food Trail will take you to 55 home-grown businesses—including scenic wineries, enticing eateries, family farms, and local markets. Along the way, you’ll enjoy meals lovingly prepared with ingredients sourced from the rivers, forests, and fields around you—like steelhead and chinook salmon, all manner of berries, lavender, apples, pumpkins, wine grapes, and hops. Visit as many stops as you’d like—or as few as you’d like; your choices are limited only by your time and appetite.
With so many stops, we’d suggest focusing your exploration on one region—maybe the Cascade foothills and McKenzie River along Highway 126, for instance, or the eateries and shops around Cottage Grove—and spending an afternoon or day sampling the best of that area. But if you have some time and want to dig deeper, a handful of lodgings make it possible to spend an overnight trip or full weekend exploring the wider food trail, as well.
Of course, you could also weave food trail stops into your day’s other outings. So if you’re mountain biking the forested hillsides around Westfir and Oakridge in the Cascade foothills, consider a post-ride pint at 3 Legged Crane Pub & Brewhouse, housed in an English pub setting—or an overnight stay at the comfortable Westfir Lodge & Mountain Market.
Where is the South Willamette Valley Food Trail?
The vast majority of the South Willamette Valley Food Trail covers Lane County—with most stops in the heart of the Willamette Valley and a few more in the Cascade Range foothills and along the McKenzie River. Eugene and Cottage Grove are the biggest communities in the area—though you’ll also find stops in and around Veneta, Junction City, Westfir, Oakridge, and Creswell.
Driving between Veneta or Junction City at the western edge of the food trail and the community of McKenzie Bridge at the eastern edge takes about one hour, 20 minutes; driving from the trail’s northern edge near Monroe to its southern border at Cottage Grove, meanwhile, takes about 45 minutes via Route 99W and Interstate 5.
What Can You Do Along the South Willamette Valley Food Trail?
Given how spread out the South Willamette Valley Food Trail can be, we’d recommend zeroing in on a preferred region and making the most of the wineries, craft breweries, restaurants, and home-spun shops in that area.
Follow Highway 126 east from Eugene and into the Cascade Range foothills, for instance, and you’ll come across McKenzie River Lavender, where vibrant blooms cover the farm in colorful hues of purple every July; Upriver Organics, a sprawling U-pick blueberry farm and market (open May-Dec.) along the banks of the McKenzie River; and McKenzie General Store & Obsidian Grill Restaurant, serving a menu of locally sourced fare—including wild-caught salmon tacos, burritos crafted with Oregon-grown black beans, and onion rings served with a tangy marionberry bourbon barbecue sauce. You can even catch your dinner with A. Helfrich Outfitter, which offers guided fishing trips in flat-bottom drift boats that were invented for use on the McKenzie River.
If you’re hanging out around Eugene, a bevy of breweries, cider makers, and fresh meals await with a variety of local flavors. WIldCraft Cider Works pours a mix of seasonally produced, naturally fermented ciders that draw on the South Willamette Valley landscapes for unique flavors; the Ninkasi Better Living Room pairs award-winning ales and lagers with a menu of locally sourced cuisine in Eugene’s hip Whiteaker neighborhood; and the always bustling Provisions Market Hall dishes breakfast, lunch, and dinner alongside local wines and beers, cookware, and locally inspired gifts for sale. And the open-air Lane County Farmers Market hosts 50 vendors selling fresh produce, artisan goods, locally foraged mushrooms, baked goods, and more.
South of Eugene, you’ll find plenty to love in Creswell and Cottage Grove—including Creswell Bakery, noted for scratch-made pastries crafted from local ingredients (as well as hulking cinnamon rolls); Saginaw Vineyard, which hosts a tasting room and U-pick berry farm; and the creative Bohemia Food Hub, which hosts a food cart pod, grocery store, and shared kitchen space for start-up eateries in downtown Cottage Grove.
And while you could spend entire weekends exploring the farms and vineyards along backroads and rural highways in the South Willamette Valley, we’d suggest starting with a tasting flight at King Estate Winery, the largest Biodynamic-certified winery in North America; grabbing locally grown hazelnuts (a Willamette Valley specialty) from the seasonal stand at Thistledown Farm; choosing among fresh produce, artisan goods, and hot foods at Veneta Downtown Farmers Market; and seeing what’s new at Hentze Family Farm—which offers U-pick opportunities, tractor tours, an on-site food truck, and the occasional farm dinner just outside Junction City.
And if you want to enjoy a night or two in the South Willamette Valley, a handful of lodgings along the food trail make it easy to slow down and enjoy the sites. Spend the night on a working farm at the Territorial Farm Stay and Stable near Junction City or Sweet Springs Family Farm, a bed-and-breakfast near Cottage Grove. And away from the valley, Eagle Rock Lodge hosts overnight stays on five acres of forestland and gardens along the McKenzie River.