The Willamette Valley is a region of the U.S. state of Oregon. Centered around the Willamette River, and home to the state's three largest cities and much of the state's agriculture industry and the Oregon Wine Country. This area of the Pacific Northwest was one of the first Western areas to be settled, thanks to the Oregon Trail that ended in Oregon City near Portland.
- Albany - Home of World Timber Carnival.
- Corvallis - In the Willamette Valley, the home of Oregon State University.
- Cottage Grove
- Creswell - Home to Foster Farms and Luke Jackson of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Eugene - At the southern end of the valley, the home of the University of Oregon.
- McMinnville - This is another city that has a high concentration of wineries in the area.
- Monmouth - Located in the Willamette Valley in between Corvallis and Salem. Home of Western Oregon University.
- Mt. Angel
- Salem - State Capital of Oregon, located south of Portland.
- Silverton - Cozy community of murals and creekside dining; gateway to Silver Falls
- Sweet Home
Standard American English is the predominant language, but Spanish is not uncommon throughout the Valley due to a growing Hispanic population. Outside of the urban immigrant communities, there is a colony of Russian speakers in the Woodburn-Gervais area in northern Marion County, the Old Believers, who continue a unique religious culture.
The Willamette Valley is a broad, flat alluvial plain nestled between two mountain ranges, the Coast Range to the west and the Cascades to the east. Its highly fertile soil drew the first American settlers to Oregon in the 1840s and it remains the center of population in the state. The valley is said to begin in the south at Eugene, where the McKenzie meets the Willamette River, which then meanders through the farmland past Albany, Independence, and Salem, reaching the head of navigation at the Falls in Oregon City, and thence through Portland to the Columbia River.
It has a Mediterranean climate, quite moderate in temperature. Although the Pacific Northwest is known for its rain, it has a reliably dry season from approximately June through September. July and August are especially dry and pleasant.
Portland is the state's only large metropolitan area and the center of much of its culture and economics. It is known for its progressive attitudes and quirky enthusiasms-- "Keep Portland Weird" is a popular slogan. Yet it is a cosmopolitan city as well, as befits its size and sophistication.
To the south of Portland, the vineyards and farmlands dominate, as well as many small- and moderately-sized towns which retain unique histories that invite the visitor to explore. See Aurora, the former utopian commune, now a center of antique shopping. Or stop by Mt. Angel, famous for its German Catholic heritage and Abbey, and the celebration each September at its Oktoberfest, when the local charities come together to raise money for the year from thousands of people from all over the world. Or look out over the fields and see the onion domes of an Old Believer Church near Gervais.
The second and third largest population areas in the state, Eugene/Springfield and Salem/Keizer, are in the valley as well. Eugene is home of the University of Oregon and has a young, vibrant arts scene and a liberal attitude. Salem, the state capital, has suffered from its proximity to Portland's cultural reach, but has its own hidden gems, as well as an architectural treasure in the Art Deco Oregon Capitol Building. Other cities of size include Corvallis (home of Oregon State University), Albany, Dallas (not the one in Texas), Woodburn (a mix of Hispanic, Anglo, and Russian Old Believer populations), and McMinnville.
- Interstate 5 runs the length of the Willamette Valley from south of Eugene to Portland. The valley is also located along US Hwy 99, including both US 99W and US 99E parallel to I-5 at each side. Eugene is a two-hour drive south from Portland, and approximately a 5-hour drive south from Seattle. The Bay Area is another nine-hour drive south.
- Interstate 84 connects Portland to points east through the Columbia River Gorge, while US 30 follows the river northwest to Astoria along the Pacific. U.S. 20, U.S. 26, and state routes 58 and 126 go over the Cascades through high mountain passes. These may be restricted or closed during the snowy winter months. U.S. 20, U.S. 26 and State routes 18 and 126 go over the slightly lower Coast Range to the Pacific Ocean. Be aware that these mountains also contain forest and logging roads; during the winter months, motorists are often lost and sometimes die when trying to take these routes, so stick to the main highways during these times.
Part of the Oregon trail runs through this area
- Bike paths along the Willamette River
- The McKenzie River corridor (fly fishing, rafting)
- Hendricks Park Rhododendron Garden.
- Mt. Pisgah Arboretum.
Woodburn Company Stores is a large and modern outlet mall just off Interstate 5 in Woodburn, about 15 minutes by car north of Salem. It is especially popular with those who come to enjoy Oregon's lack of sales taxes.
The Willamette Valley has emerged in recent years as one of the premier wine producing regions in the country, even garnering international fame. As of 2013, there are over 300 individual wineries in this one region alone. The climate, latitude, and geology is particularly suited to the production of top-quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.
A favorite local activity is wine tasting. Most wineries have a public tasting room you can visit during the day to sample their lineup of wines for a modest tasting fee. The tasting fee is often waived if you purchase a bottle or two. The highest concentration of wineries is centered around the town of Dundee, but there are other pockets of wineries near Newberg, Carlton, McMinnville, Salem and Eugene.
Wineries are open year-round but the high season is typically from June through October when the chance for rain is low and daytime temperatures are pleasant.