Visiting Eugene, Oregon, isn’t like visiting other cities that center their tourism on large monuments, Instagram-worthy restaurants, or shops always stocked with the newest trends. Instead, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find city life and human traces strongly intertwined with nature. The swift Willamette River runs right behind the apartments of college students; if you walk to Autzen Stadium wandering through a forest is inevitable, and the trailhead for Mount Pisgah is a quick exit off the highway.
The Times Square of Oregon isn’t one of electronic billboards, yellow taxis, and street vendors asking for your ears, money, or taste buds. Rather, it’s a waterfall that stands 611 feet high. A two-hour jaunt from Eugene will take you to the exhilarating Multnomah Falls. It may attract millions of people each year, but it offers a view that can’t be recreated by lights and technology. While near the Columbia River, I suggest following the historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway to get a sampling of the wide variety of waterfalls Oregon has to offer, and possibly finding a secret trail or two.
A quick trip outside of Eugene (you can go north or south) is a lesser-known activity that you can do in both Cottage Grove and Albany: the Covered Bridge Tour. Pack a picnic and some friends into your car, or take your bikes on the trail to explore bridges that have hosted trains, horse-drawn buggies, and dirt roads. You might even run into some turkey vultures, families of deer, or get a glimpse of a coyote.
If you go an hour east, Tamolitch Pool is a sight that should not be missed. The shocking teal blue color of the pool looks as if it could be inspiration for a coloring crayon. While the water here might be too cold for a dip, heading south 10 minutes will take you to the warm waters of Belknap Hot Springs.
You also can’t miss exploring the coast. The winding Highway 101 guides you along the cliff sides of beaches that will take your breath away. Stop in Florence for a warm latte at Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters, and afterward, if you’re feeling adventurous, bundle up in your warmest Ducks gear and rent a sandboard to surf the dunes that are parallel to the sea.
I have been immersed in the foggy hills, rainy days, and hushed forests since I was seven. I quickly grew fond of the stunning opportunities I had to hike in my aunt’s backyard, take my dog for a walk surrounded by towering pine trees, and live directly between rumpled-up farmland and the sloshing waves of the coast.
While I imagine my career will take me to big cities and the sounds of car horns and bustling people, I will undoubtedly return home where a comforting breath of fresh air and unexplored wilderness is waiting just a step off the plane.
—MELISSA EPIFANO, CLASS OF 2017
Sahalie Falls is part of the Mckenzie River Waterfall Loop Trail. For more information on hiking the McKenzie: visitmckenzieriver.com