Hiking and Biking in the Willamette Valley

Wine isn't the only reason to head to the valley, where you'll also find old-growth firs, misty swimming holes, and volcanic switchbacks with killer views.

By Tuck Woodstock July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Justin Bailie

Marys Peak

The highest point in the Coast Range, this 4,097-foot summit promises sweeping views of both the Pacific Ocean and the toothy, whitecapped Cascades. Follow the East Ridge Trail through towering thickets of old-growth Douglas and noble firs, then hop onto Tie Trail to face vertigo-inducing cliffs and, potentially, some minor creek-fording. As you approach the peak, massive trunks eventually give way to colorful splotches of purple penstemon, red paintbrush, and blue butterflies in the mountain’s upper meadows. Round Trip: 5 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet; Nearest Town: Philomath; Distance from Downtown: 2h 15m

Alsea Falls

Tucked off a backcountry byway in the Coast Range’s foothills, misty Alsea Falls cascades into a shady swimming hole, creating a lush backdrop for envy-inducing summer selfies mere steps from the parking lot. A more private pool awaits a mile upstream, where the lesser-known Green Peak Falls greets grateful hikers. Across the river, madcap mountain bikers gleefully weave through western red cedars on 12 steep miles of repurposed logging roads. Distance: 2.8 miles; Elevation Gain: 400 feet; Nearest Town: Alsea; Distance from Downtown: 2h 15m

Iron Mountain

Budding botanists will revel in this Willamette National Forest hike, where the spongy red-dirt Cone Peak Trail winds through rocky bluffs, stands of old growth, and meadows of tiger lilies, thimbleberries, and more than 300 other flowering species. Less than a mile of steep switchbacks leads to a former fire lookout perched atop the volcanic rock summit, where a viewing deck affords picturesque picnic opportunities and glimpses of distant peaks like the Three Sisters. Round Trip: 7 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet; Nearest Town: Sweet Home; Distance from Downtown: 2h 30m

McDonald-Dunn Forest

This Oregon State University–owned research forest sprawls over 11,250 acres, with 24 miles of public hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. The popular Dan’s Trail doubles as a regional tour, leading west from Chip Ross Park’s oak savannas through ferny forests and a historic pear orchard. A long, steady series of switchbacks up Dimple Hill rewards hearty hikers with a rustic bench overlooking the farmlands, forests, and city below. Round Trip: 7.6 miles; Elevation Gain: 778 feet; Nearest Town: Corvallis; Distance from Downtown: 1h 30m

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William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge   

Founded in 1964 as a winter home for dusky Canada geese, this 5,325-acre sanctuary boasts an array of wildlife habitats, from wetlands to wild prairie. The family-friendly Mill Hill Loop leads nature lovers past wild strawberry, buttercup, and golden paintbrush, through shady woods of Douglas fir and Oregon white oak. Settle into the bench by Gray Creek to spot wood ducks, beavers, and elk—and keep an ear open for the calls of more than 50 bird species. Round Trip: 2.5 miles; Elevation Gain: 100 feet; Nearest Town: Monroe; Distance from Downtown: 1h 45m

  • Watering Hole: Challenge your companions to cornhole on Sky High Brewing’s rooftop patio, where an organic IPA complements commanding views of Marys Peak and the Corvallis cityscape.
  • Do: Sample our 2014 pick for Oregon’s best wine—a 2012 Estate Pinot Noir—at the charming Tyee Wine Cellars tasting room in Corvallis, bordered by hazelnut orchards, untamed wetlands, and family farms.
  • Stay Overnight: A historic Dutch Colonial farmhouse, quaint Hanson Country Inn promises the quintessential B&B experience, from floral upholstery and cozy fireplaces to meticulous gardens and homemade muffins.
  • Go Big: Historic pack-mule trails in the craggy Rogue River Canyon offer plenty of playtime in the rushing rapids, whether it’s a sunny day hike to Paradise Lodge or a four-day, 40-mile supported trek.
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