Scenic escapes in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon

Couples' retreats, getaways and escapes in and around Eugene, Oregon

Autumn scene, vineyard, winery buildings
The King Estate Winery, Oregon’s largest winery at 1,033 acres, is a Tuscan-style estate only a 30-minute drive from downtown Eugene. — Rachel Coe photo

Eugene, Cascades and Coast GeoTour, McKenzie River edition

This is the first official geotour on the West Coast and one of only 10 in the world. A real life treasure hunt, the geotour has been set up so that a GPS or smartphone is able to guide you to 36 scenic and historic hot spots with caches along more than 70 miles of the river, from the Eugene-Springfield area out to the Cascade Mountains.

Each of the caches contains a code word for you to complete a passport that can be picked up at the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Adventure Center in Springfield, or printed out online. The entire geotour takes about a weekend to complete, and completed passports earn a unique wooden geocoin crafted by a craftsman from Vida, Oregon.

The second half of the geotour, which will highlight “the city to the coast” of Lane County, is set to kick off in the spring of 2013 with an additional set of caches and a connecting geocoin.

Willamette Valley wine tour

With a cooler climate than California and rolling hills and valleys, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become a major producer of fine wine and was just voted the third top wine destination in the United States by TripAdvisor. Seventeen wineries dot the valley’s hillsides, producing their world-renowned Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

The King Estate Winery, Oregon’s largest winery at 1,033 acres, is a Tuscan-style estate situated atop the rolling oak- and fir-covered slopes in the Coast Range foothills, near the southern terminus of the valley yet still only a 30-minute drive from downtown Eugene. Sustainably farmed, the winery is a certified organic vineyard complex and the largest contiguous organic vineyard in the world.

Just up the road, Sweet Cheeks Winery sits on 104 acres of sloping hillside. Bring a picnic lunch to eat as you enjoy the beautiful patio overlooking the vineyard while sipping reserve Pinot Noir.

Heceta Head Lighthouse bed and breakfast

Perched on jagged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Heceta Head Lighthouse bed and breakfast provides an opportunity to room at one of the last remaining lightkeeper’s cottages on the Pacific Coast.

An easy one-hour drive from downtown Eugene, the historic bed and breakfast offers guests private parking, amazing oceanfront views and a seven-course gourmet breakfast served with a seasonal selection of artisan cheeses, sausages, produce and pastries. The keeper’s house and lighthouse are both circa 1894 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

While the lighthouse is currently undergoing a $1.3-million restoration and will be closed to tours until the project completion date, estimated for August 2013, guests at the keeper’s house are still welcome to view the exterior of the 56-foot tower, which has been rated the brightest light on the Oregon coast. When not encased, its Fresnel lens casts its beams 21 miles out to sea from a height of 205 feet above the ocean. It is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in the country and recently won the 2012 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence award.

Guests at the keeper’s house also enjoy access to Heceta Head Trail and the beach below. Part of a seven-mile network, the trail leads to the beach and wildlife-viewing areas; here, you can see natural caves, tidepools, sandy beach, waterfowl and marine creatures.

Alternatively, the Heceta Beach RV Park & Mini Mart offers year-round RV accommodations in the area.

Cycling the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path system and Row River National Recreation Trail

From the sparkling coastline to winding river paths to old-growth forests, the Eugene, Cascades and Coast region is a cyclist’s paradise.

The Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path System is a picturesque paved path suitable for both pedestrians and cyclists, and runs on a 12-mile loop through Eugene along both sides of the Willamette River, through parks and across bridges. It is accessible from parking lots at several points along the path, such as the Valley River Center shopping mall.

The Row River National Recreation Trail is a 20-minute drive south of Eugene in Cottage Grove. The paved 15-mile path goes to Culp Creek, replacing the original tracks of the Oregon Pacific and Eastern Railway. It overlooks the Dorena Reservoir, goes by several covered bridges listed in the National Register of Historic Places and past a spot where a scene from the movie Stand By Me was filmed. Start at the convenient trailhead right in Cottage Grove or park and bike from the scenic Mosby Creek Bridge.

In addition to the lake views and covered bridges, watch for osprey, heron, ducks and bald eagles in the grassy marshes—and in the spring look for blue camas flowers. Although the origin of the trail’s name (rhymes with “cow”) is rooted in an early-1850s dispute between two men battling over cattle and sheep grazing rights, don’t be dissuaded from a stay in Cottage Grove for lunch. The city is a National Register-listed Downtown Historic District and offers a number of coffee shops and restaurants as well as pubs adorned with artistic murals that document the small town’s spirit, history and community pride.

The West Cascades Scenic Byway: Aufderheide Segment

Aufderheide is one of Lane County’s four official state West Cascades scenic byways. The byway connects highways 126 and 58, winding through 60 miles of lush Willamette National Forest and along the clear waters of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers.

Westfir marks the beginning of the Aufderheide National Forest Scenic Byway (Forest Service Road 19) about 40 miles southeast of Eugene on Highway 58, just north of the town of Oakridge. The first attraction is Oregon’s longest covered bridge, the 180-foot Westfir Bridge (a.k.a. Office Bridge), which stands across the street from the Westfir Lodge Bed and Breakfast, original headquarters for a series of lumber companies. At the bridge, the road joins the north fork of the middle fork of the Willamette River as it twists through a canyon lined with 1,000-foot rock walls.

Moving north you’ll come to Constitution Grove and a gentle, looped trail through 200-year-old undergrowth, where the trees bear plaques engraved with the names of the founding fathers. Farther north, the road steadily climbs to a 3,600-foot summit at Box Canyon, where you’ll find a log cabin replica of the original Box Canyon guard station built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. 

As the road descends along the south fork of the McKenzie River, you’ll pass the Cougar Reservoir, where there is a turnoff for the refreshing Cougar (Terwilliger) Hot Springs. End at the Delta Old-Growth Grove Nature Trail, where you’ll have the opportunity to park and walk among Douglas firs and western red cedars up to 180 feet tall and 500 years old. The road is also bike-friendly, but take note that it is generally closed from November to April due to snowfall.

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