From award-winning wines to a white oak savannah preserve, ocean beaches, and a visit to Bart Simpson’s Springfield, a road trip through central and southern Oregon is a delight. Top with fine dining, nationally recognized museums, stays in historic hotels, and jaw-dropping views of the Cascade Mountains, my six favorite stops are over an 8-day road trip through central and southern Oregon.
My trip was sponsored by Willamette Valley Visitors Association, Travel Lane County, Discover Klamath, and Travel Ashland. All thoughts and ideas are my own.
1. Amity And Monroe
Our journey began in Portland, where we headed south on Oregon Route 99 to Willamette Valley Wine Country and the small town of Amity. The Willamette Valley is celebrated for the world-class wines they produce. This area is also part of the Great Oaks Food Trail, a wine and culinary journey celebrating the bounty of vineyards and local farms.
Our first stop was the organic, biodynamic vineyard, Keeler Estate, where we enjoyed an ATV tour of the beautifully landscaped property, vineyards, and oak savannah. The Keelers have preserved the oak savannah, one of the few remaining in the entire state. Then, time for a wine tasting of the award-winning wines.
We continued to Monroe, where we enjoyed lunch at Yeasty Beasty, a delightful pizza and beer restaurant. Close by is Benton-Lane Winery, where we enjoyed a tasting with the general manager. Benton-Lane is located within the Lower Long Tom AVA, one of the newest AVAs in Oregon. The winery produces award-winning wines with an emphasis on biodynamic and organic practices. Add the charcuterie board to your tasting — it is superb!
From Monroe, follow the 99W South until it meets Oregon Route 126. Then follow the 126 to the Pacific Ocean and the historic town of Florence. With its soaring sand dunes, miles of ocean beaches, and scenic coastal Highway 101, Florence is a historic town that draws many visitors.
Check into River House Inn, an award-winning hotel sitting on the banks of the Siuslaw River. Our room overlooked the river, and we relaxed and enjoyed the river happenings — from the ebb and flow of the tides to the wildlife looking for their next meal. River House Inn is located in historic Florence and is steps away from dining and shopping.
The following day, head north on US Route 101 to Sea Lion Caves, America’s largest sea cave. An elevator takes you down 200 feet into a huge cave overlooking the barking sea lions frolicking in the sea and on the rocks. Admire the large creatures – males can weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Take time to read the informative placards to learn other interesting facts.
- We wore masks during our visit as nature’s “sweet smells” can be strong in the enclosed area.
- Also, the area is not ADA accessible. The steep path to the elevator has stairs.
- Continue north on Highway 101 for another 2 miles as the road hugs the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Soon you reach the parking lot for Heceta Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is one of the most photographed on the Oregon coast, and the beacon is the strongest on the coast, visible 21 miles at sea.
- A parking pass is required. Use your state parking pass or purchase a daily pass for $5 at the convenient ticket machine.
- Hike up the half-mile trail to the 56-foot tower built in 1894. Gaze out over the National Wildlife Refuge to view the nesting seabirds. During spring and summer, look for migrating gray whales.
3. Eugene And Springfield
From Sea Lions Cave, head south back to Florence, then east on 126 to the city of Eugene. Check into the Campbell House Inn, located in the historic district and a short walk to the 5th Street Market. Initially constructed in 1892, the landmark boutique inn features inviting manicured lawns with outdoor furnishings and excellent gourmet breakfasts.
Eugene is nationally recognized as “TrackTown, USA” and the home of the nationally recognized University of Oregon, beautiful parks, and great dining.
That evening, we enjoyed dinner at Marche, a favorite amongst locals. The cuisine is French-inspired. My recommendation is the duck liver mousse.
Next morning, enjoy a stroll through the 12-acre Rhododendron Garden at Hendricks Park, Eugene’s oldest city park. Besides the gorgeous plants, the park offers outstanding views of the city.
We head over to Hayward Field to celebrate the history of track and field and learn why Eugene has been given the title of “TrackTown, USA.” Also fascinating is the history of Nike shoes, constructed initially for the Eugene athletes. Take time to stroll through Hayward Hall, the tribute to Eugene’s notable athletes, coaches, and track events. This summer, Eugene is hosting the World Athletics Championships, the first time this event has been held in the U.S.
Right across the street from Hayward Field is the Museum of Natural & Cultural History, where you can learn about Oregon’s history. Visit the museum store to find great science gear for kids of all ages. The site is fully wheelchair accessible. You can also tour some of the exhibits online.
Pro Tip: Limited free parking is available. Check in at the museum desk for your free pass.
We enjoyed dinner at the unique Black Wolf Supper Club — just a short distance from the 5th Street Market. The fried chicken is out of this world. We teamed it with Granny Appleslaw and hush puppies. A meal to delight a king!
After another gourmet breakfast at Campbell House Inn, we headed east to Springfield, often called Eugene’s Sister City. Springfield has come into its own as a destination. Claiming to be “The Springfield” of The Simpsons, the city offers a mural tour commemorating this. Another famous resident, Ken Kesey, is honored on a two-story mural on the side of the Odd Fellows Building.
Ready for some libations? Recently opened on Main Street is the Iris Vineyards Tasting Room. The family-owned estate winery is located nearby. The 36-acre vineyard produces award-winning wines, including the 2020 Pinot Gris Best of Show Award at a recent McMinnville Wine & Food Classic. Surrounding the vineyard are the restored woodlands illustrating their belief in being “careful stewards of the land and natural environment.”
A few steps away from the Iris Vineyards Tasting Room is Plank Town Brewing Company, where you can pick up a delicious sandwich and salad. Team with samples of the craft brew to enjoy once you reach your hotel later this evening.
4. Klamath Falls
Follow Highway 58 south along the scenic Dexter Lake through the Willamette National Forest to Oakridge and the Willamette Pass. The journey takes 2-3 hours, depending on the weather. Choose a scenic spot to enjoy your lunch. Join Highway 97 into Klamath Falls. Highway 97 follows 20 miles of Upper Klamath Lake, the state’s largest fresh body of water.
Klamath Falls, located in the Klamath Basin, is called the “City of Sunshine” because it boasts over 300 annual sunny days. With six national wildlife refuges, nationally recognized museums, and historic walking tours, there are activities for all to enjoy. Located in the Klamath Basin, the area is home to over 353 species of birds and 490 wildlife species.
Check in to the Fairfield Inn & Suites, a delightful hotel on the bank of Lake Ewauna and within walking distance of the downtown. Our room overlooked the lake, and we enjoyed relaxing and watching the wildlife.
Spend 2-3 hours strolling along the Link River Trail, an easy 1.5-mile trail in the middle of the city. Another popular birding trail is the Wingwatchers Lake Ewauna Interpretive Trail which loops along the western shore of Lake Ewauna. Kayak Tours of the Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge are available through Roe Outfitters.
We enjoyed dining at Rooster’s Steak and Chop House, within walking distance of our hotel. The menu offers a variety of steak and seafood, beautifully prepared, delicious to the taste, and excellent service.
Plan a day beginning at the Klamath County Museum. Stroll through the exhibits that tell the stories of the Native Americans, area pioneers, and WWII. View the remains of the Japanese fugo, the balloon bomb that exploded in 1945. Japan had used the jet stream to launch the fugos. A party of seven had tripped the balloon bomb found in the woods, resulting in the death of six people.
Download and begin the free audio tour titled “Modoc War: A Homeland Lost” at the museum. The audio tour details the conflict between the Modoc People and the U.S. Army as it directs you on a 2-hour journey along Highway 39. Do plan a few hours at the Merrill Historical and Modac Museum, a hidden gem with exhibits and details of the Modoc War. Also housed in the tiny museum is a tribute to one of their native sons, Carl Barks, the American cartoonist best known for his work at Disney, including Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck.
We enjoyed two days in the Klamath Basin area and look forward to returning.
Travel along Highway 66 through the forest and mountains west to Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is known for its beautiful parks and gardens, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, curative waters, fine dining, and Southern Oregon wines. Ashland is proud to have ranked in the top ten of “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.”
Explore and taste the Southern Oregon Wine Scene with a stop at Belle Fiore Winery, Estate, & Vineyard. Enjoy the opulent Old World Architecture with sweeping views of vineyards and the valley. Sample the wine and food pairings. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available.
Lithia Springs Wine Garden offers tastings of wines from four wineries in the Applegate Valley. The wine garden is part of the mineral springs resort. We were thrilled to meet wild turkeys in the front garden!
Check into the historic Ashland Springs Hotel, the beautifully restored European hotel steps away from the theater district and great dining. Bar Juliette is the newest restaurant on the plaza. The owners come from a tradition of award-winning restaurants, and it is apparent that Bar Juliette is already popular with the locals. We enjoyed the clams, a delightful spring salad, and a delicious selection of desserts.
The second restaurant that we enjoyed was Osteria La Briccola, which features Northern Italian cuisine. The homemade pastas are real winners. I chose tonnarelli della briccola with spaghetti, clams, shrimp, and mussels perfectly prepared in white wine and light tomato sauce. I highly recommend this dish!
Our scenic journey nearing its end, we headed north on Interstate 5, where we discovered The Happy Donut at Exit 103 near Myrtle Creek. Plan ahead when visiting this local favorite; they close at noon.
We continued our journey to Corvallis, where we celebrated the end of our scenic road trip back in the Willamette Valley and the Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail at Block 15 Brewery & Tap Room. The selection of craft beer and delicious sandwiches made a perfect ending to our scenic trip through central and southern Oregon.
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