The Willamette Valley is legendary among wine lovers. But there are so many fun things in the Willamette Valley for non-drinkers.
If you Google “Willamette Valley,” the first thing that comes up is “Oregon Wine Country” and a plug for the region’s 600-plus wineries. That could be enough to make a nondrinker want to vacation elsewhere. But hold on—this area has many fun activities that don’t involve alcohol. It’s a beautiful part of the US, and it would be a shame to skip it just because you don’t drink. Here are the best sober activities in the Willamette Valley.
Where is the Willamette Valley?
Outsiders might picture a cozy little easy-to-navigate area. But the Willamette Valley is one big valley. It stretches 150 miles and includes Oregon’s most populous cities and 70% of its population. Portland, Eugene, Salem, and Corvallis are all part of the Willamette Valley.
If you’re a nondrinker looking to do things independently while friends or families are hitting the wineries, you’ll need to do some logistical planning. For that purpose, I’ll include some nearby wineries so the teetotalers and the winos can negotiate their activities. Start choosing the most promising activities as you prepare your booze-free itinerary. Visit Willamette Valley has helpful maps.
Get Lost in a Garden
Oregon has many public gardens, but the biggest is the Oregon Garden. This huge property in Silverton is like a bunch of different theme gardens mashed together. It takes a couple of hours to see everything. Some of my favorite parts are the Conifer Garden, full of oddly shaped trees and shrubs; the Sensory Garden, where you can feel the silky trunk of a paperbark cherry and ring a rusty temple bell; and the Children’s Garden, where kids of all ages can dig for fake dinosaur bones in a sandbox.
There’s also a Pet-Friendly Garden; you can bring your dog, which is unusual for public gardens. I appreciate the Oregon Garden being dog-friendly. My options are often limited as someone who frequently travels with my dog. I’ve also stayed at the dog-friendly Oregon Garden Resort right next door. It’s beautifully landscaped and super convenient if you want to be the first person in the garden when it opens. The garden is wheelchair accessible and has a tram if that suits you better than walking. And it’s beautiful in every season.
While at the garden, you might want to check out the Gordon House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only design built in Oregon. Plan and book a 45-minute guided tour.
Nearby winery: Vitis Ridge
Walk Behind a Waterfall
When you live in Oregon, you can almost start to take waterfalls for granted. But the falls at Silver Falls State Park revive Oregonians’ waterfall awe and bowl over folks from drier states. For the full experience, hike the 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls loop (unfortunately, no dogs), including a trip behind a 177-foot water curtain at South Falls. Shorter walks are also available, including some dog-friendly trails. Silver Falls State Park has all the classic Oregon scenery—waterfalls, moss, ferns, and pine trees.
Nearby winery: Silver Falls Vineyard
Show Off Your Downward Goat
Goat yoga seems to be everywhere in the last few years. But it started in the Willamette Valley. You can visit No Regrets Farm & Sanctuary for goat happy hour or a goat yoga class. Located in Bellfountain in the southern Willamette Valley, you’ll be surrounded by hazelnut orchards, fields, and old-growth Douglas fir trees. Goat yoga founder Lainey Morse owns the property and might even give you a personal tour.
New to goat yoga? The goat part is more important than the yoga. Nobody cares how refined your poses are in these classes because everybody’s too busy trying to get selfies with adorable goats. If you don’t like yoga, consider the goat happy hour, just hanging out with the animals for stress relief. If you don’t like goats, try one of the other activities on this list.
Nearby wineries: Monroe Hills Wineries: Bluebird Hill Cellars, Dragon’s Vineyard, Sweet Earth Vineyards and TeBri Vineyards
Brighten Your Visit with Tulips
If you visit the Willamette Valley in springtime, you can wander a tulip farm in full bloom. Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, 35 miles south of Portland, draws crowds with its annual eyeball-stunning tulip festival. Red, pink, yellow, orange—these flowers are bright! You can take a train ride through the tulips, watch a wooden shoe-making demonstration, stroll, preorder tulip bulbs for fall, or buy potted tulips. Runners and walkers who time their visit just right can participate in the annual Muddy Paws Fun Run/Walk, a 3K or 5K that benefits Wigglin Boxer Rescue. You won’t find a prettier place to visit than the 40 acres of blooming tulips with pointy white-topped Mount Hood standing over you. For an added fee, a photographer’s pass allows you early access before the crowds.
Nearby winery: Onsite, at Wooden Shoe Vineyards
I love Enchanted Forest so much. It’s my favorite tourist attraction—one that grew out of a person’s weird passion and then naturally drew a crowd because it was so special. In 1964 Oregon State Highway Department draftsman and father of four Roger Tofte began creating a magical fairyland seven miles south of Salem. He started with the Storybook Trail, where visitors follow a bending, wooded trail to suddenly come across Old Mother Hubbard’s giant shoe or Humpty Dumpty grinning on a wall.
Enchanted Forest opened to the public in 1971 and continued to expand. Over the years, Tofte added a haunted house, Western Town, Old European Village, and kiddie rides. There are also shops, restaurants, games, and shows like the updated fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dorks in the comedy theater. The Enchanted Forest is billed as a family attraction. However, I’m sure I love it just as much as the kids I’ve brought here.
Soak in a Hot Spring in the Willamette Valley
Several hot springs await you in the Willamette Valley, each with its unique vibe. If you like your hot springs with a gorgeous, easy 1.5-mile forest hike and a chance to see nudies, Bagby is a funky hot spring in a natural setting within the Mount Hood National Forest. The hot springs are piped into hollowed-out logs in private log bathing rooms, or you can slip into a communal tub.
Belknap Hot Springs pipes mineral-rich water into two swimming pools overlooking the McKenzie River for something more developed but still extremely beautiful. The grounds include forest trails and a secret garden full of fountains and stone pillars. You can rent a cabin and stay a night or two here.
Breitenbush Hot Springs invites people for day use, personal retreats, and organized workshops on meditation, yoga, and ecstatic community immersion. The vegetarian buffet is excellent. Breitenbush is alcohol and drug-free, although they do now sell coffee. Pools are clothing-optional.
Learn About Alpacas
Animal lovers will swoon at the chance to get close to adorable alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch. Depending on the season, you might hug a baby alpaca, participate in alpaca yoga or help feed the woolly critters inside their big barn. It’s an educational experience as you’ll learn about herd behavior, alpaca mating rituals, and how their fiber is harvested and made into beautiful things you can wear, which you can also buy in the onsite gift shop. Browse the ultra-soft shawls, socks, and scarves, or pick your ultimate alpaca trinket. On my visit, I especially liked the alpaca-shaped cookie cutters.
Nearby winery: Alexeli
Get Spooked in Oregon City
Do you know what livens up history? Ghosts. That’s why I always like to learn about places through haunted tours. Oregon City, 13 miles south of Portland, was established as a lumber mill town in 1829. As the first incorporated city west of the Rockies, it’s had plenty of time to accumulate ghosts. And there’s no host with more ghosts than tour guide Rocky Smith, owner of Northwest Ghost Tours. Rocky has collected so many ghost stories about his hometown that he offers six tours. Plus, an extra special one for Christmas! Which I am dying to take this year.
Ghost tour participants prowl Oregon City’s dark streets, hearing about the 1854 explosion of the steamboat Gazelle and other tragedies that left the town littered with spooks. Rocky is a lively and knowledgeable guide, a high school art teacher, two-term city commissioner, director of the Oregon Ghost Conference, and Oregon City’s 2013 citizen of the year.
Nearby winery: Villa Catalana Cellars
Ride a Carousel
If you’re a carousel fan like me, you’ll love the carousels in Salem and Albany. The volunteer-run Albany carousel was 17 years in the making, as locals carved and painted the animals. I visited the workshop early on and wished I lived there to learn what must be one of the coolest volunteer jobs ever.
Salem’s Riverfront Carousel has eclectic animals: beaver, skunk, llama, and a tennis racket-wielding frog. Salem residents sponsored most of these animals.
Learn About the History of Mental Health
Salem, Oregon, has one of my favorite museums, the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health. This museum is jam-packed with artifacts dating back to its founding in 1883. It traces cutting-edge therapies of the day, from shock treatment to cold water immersion to the more pleasant-sounding beauty therapy of the 1950s. The idea was that people would feel better about themselves after some grooming. There’s a clunky, early version of light therapy—something many Oregonians who suffer from seasonal affective disorder still dabble in.
If this place looks familiar, you might have glimpsed it in the 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Director Milos Forman cast some of the residents as extras. Be prepared for high walls and lots of security when you visit. The old 1883 building is part of a larger campus that still houses the current state mental hospital. Most of the patients are classified as forensic, i.e., criminally insane.
Nearby winery: Redhawk Vineyard and Winery
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A Sober Visit: Willamette Valley for Non-Drinkers
Now we have looked at ten exciting activities to get you started exploring the Willamette Valley. It’s a beautiful part of the planet with many fun indoor and outdoor activities. No wine glass is required. Whether planning a trip to the Willamette Valley or other parts of Oregon, let Wander with Wonder help you find activities for everyone traveling in your group.