Cross Oregon’s Cascade Range or venture inland from the cool, fog dusted coast and you’ll find the reason pioneers braved life and limb to reach Oregon: unfurling between a phalanx of forest flanking mountains to either side lies a patchwork quilt of fertile farms laced by swollen rivers and graced with mild-mannered sunshine. Technically speaking, this rich valley encompasses a sprawl of land stretching from Eugene all the way north to the Columbia River and counts amongst its member some of the state’s largest cities, including Portland, Salem, Corvallis and a further number of modest communities. Named for the Willamette River, which keeps the region well watered, this valley today is known both for its vineyards and its agricultural bounty, from berries and hops to Christmas trees and nuts, and is home to over two-thirds of the state’s denizens.
Portland sits just south of the Columbia River at the north end of the valley, now more urban sprawl then fields or forest, yet home to the largest city park in the country and noted for its green-friendly attitude, visitors will find here a thriving outdoorsy vibe to accompany other offerings. Locals don’t always count this northern city culturally part of the Willamette Valley, though this nuance may be lost on out-of-towners. Neighboring suburbs flourish as cities in their own right, though its still doesn’t take much of a drive down Interstate 5 to find agrarian horizons.
Salem, Oregon’s capital city, extends along the banks of the Willamette River about an hour south of Portland. Numerous state parks and historic sites dot this region, with rural back roads and secluded forest within easy reach for those seeking a spot to enjoy some hiking or biking.
Slightly southwest of Salem and roughly mid-way down the valley is Corvallis, home to the University of Oregon, host to miles of bike paths and within easy driving distance of Newport, on the coast.
Eugene, "The Emerald City” and neighboring Springfield sit amidst verdant trees at the southern end of the Willamette Valley. Though this region has a reputation for the organic products it produces, it also gets a nod from Nike (the athletics brand), which was born here, and its forward-thinking, opinionated, environmentally conscious populous, who tend towards political activism, the arts and the pursuit of outdoor activities. The Willamette Valley reaches an end here at the Calapooya Mountains.