Rider Account: Willamette Valley Bounty by Bike
The Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, Oregon’s first designated Scenic Bikeway, winds through the fertile Willamette Valley, where moisture, soil and mild temperatures come together to create a harmonious climate for food growing and year-round riding.
Filling your fridge or panniers with foods grown within sight of the roads that make up the bikeway is not only easy — it’s delicious. And since I live in Salem, which is right on the bikeway, I get to ride it and see the changes each month of the year.
Riding here, I could eat local strawberries in June, blueberries in August, peaches in September and fresh hazelnuts in October. Plus, hops for beer brewed locally and grapes for wines made locally. And I do mean local. Around here, buying local does not mean stuff from the same state — it means buying stuff that grew in a field within easy biking distance. The first time I rode past a hop farm, I could not figure out what those long poles and wires were for. Then I saw the long hop vines wrapping themselves around the wires that were held up by the long poles.
The northern terminus of the bikeway is at Champoeg State Heritage Site, where you’ll find regular car camping, hiker-biker camping and, by arrangement with the park manager, multi-day parking. It’s the perfect place to ditch your car for a few days and just ride.
When you leave Champoeg heading south on the bikeway, the first major agricultural landmarks you’ll come to are all hops farms, interspersed with hazelnut farms and even one flower farm.
There are also some great places to stop when you reach Salem. One of the most popular with cyclists is Venti’s Café, which boasts the tagline “good, clean food.” Of course, they also serve local beer and wine.
The bikeway winds right through a park located on the side of the state capitol building, giving cyclists the opportunity to view the building that houses the legislative and executive branches of Oregon’s government, and more importantly to some cyclists, the opportunity to take a nice rest on the lawns surrounding the capitol.
South of Salem, the route passes by vineyards and berry farms and the Ankeny Vineyard and tasting room, which sells food and is about as welcoming to bikes as a place can get.
On the southern end of the bikeway the route does have one significant hill, which feels even longer because the rest of the route is so flat. The hill starts just south of Brownsville, which is probably not the best spot for a hill because almost every time I have ridden it I first stop in Brownsville for lunch, resulting in climbing on a full belly.
But after the climb, it’s just a simple cruise to the official southern terminus at Armitage County Park, with regular car camping as well as hiker-biker sites.
Driving from my house to the southern end of the route takes less than three hours. Riding it can take a day or two. Spending a night camping or at a bed and breakfast in Brownsville or the bike friendly Best Western in Albany before heading back makes me feel like I’m on an adventure far from home.
Some people ride the bikeway one way and take the Amtrak train from Eugene to Portland or Seattle to return. Others connect with more challenging roads and ride to other destinations. I just turn around and ride the bikeway in the other direction. It amazes me how different it looks and feels to simply ride this route in the opposite direction, when all the agricultural views are a few days further into their growing season.
Alex Phillips is a bicycle recreation specialist for the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department. Reach her at Alex.Phillips@oregon.gov.