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Ornament Hunting in Willamette National Forest's Sweet Home Ranger District

By Matt Wastradowski

Between Nov. 17 and Dec. 31, 2023, we're welcoming the early excitement of winter during the Willamette Valley Ornament Hunt. This year, ornaments have been placed along hiking trails throughout the Sweet Home Ranger District in the Willamette National Forest, which is bisected by Highway 20 and can be reached from the communities of Albany, Lebanon, and Sweet Home in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

And if you're wondering just what a ranger district is, think of it as a geographic region within a larger area.

Thank you for your interest in the 2023 Ornament Hunt! The event has ended, and we hope you had fun and made lasting memories! Check back in November 2024, when we'll unveil the trails for next year's search!

Trail Difficulty

We've hidden ornaments on wheelchair-accessible trails, family-friendly footpaths, and strenuous hikes all over the Willamette Valley. Please check to make sure your chosen trail is suitable for your experience level and abilities; if it sounds easier or tougher than you'd like, we have another 20 or so trails you can choose from throughout the Willamette and Umpqua national forests.

Weather Forecasts

Snow isn't unheard of in late November and December throughout the West Cascades. Before setting out, check the latest forecast via the National Weather Service, and keep updated on road conditions through the Oregon Department of Transportation's TripCheck website (which features traffic webcams, road closures, and alerts on an easy-to-use map). Bonus points for calling the Cottage Grove Ranger District a day or two before leaving-just to make sure your chosen trail is passable and in good condition.

One Ornament

We hate to be a wet blanket, especially because we understand the joyous moment that comes with finding ornaments along your chosen trail. But please only take one ornament per household so other families can enjoy the same thrill. Every ornament on a given trail features the same design, so you're not missing much by grabbing just one.

Hungry after a long day of searching for an ornament? We don't blame you. You'll find plenty of excellent restaurants spanning a variety of cuisines in Sweet Home and Albany. You'll also find a mix of motels, RV parks, and campgrounds with year-round cabins along Highway 20 en route to the Sweet Home Ranger District.

Everyone in your group will find something to love at The Point Restaurant and Lounge, which dishes sandwiches, burgers, comfort food fare, pasta, steaks, seafood, and a full breakfast menu. Ingredients are sourced from Oregon growers and producers whenever possible, adding a touch of freshness to every meal.

The Point Restaurant and Lounge

Enjoy your favorite family-style Mexican dishes at Casa De Reyes. The eatery's menu includes tostadas, burritos, flautas, and a few less-common dishes (like molcajete-a Mexican stew crafted with fresh vegetables).

Casa De Reyes

Albany may sit an hour or more west of some trails within the Sweet Home Ranger District, but if your travels bring you to the city, Brick & Mortar Cafe is always worth a stop in downtown. The brick-walled eatery specializes in thoughtfully prepared breakfast and lunch dishes—with excellent bloody marys, a filling chicken-and-waffles entrée, and hearty omelets. 

Brick & Mortar Cafe

Albany sits in the heart of the Willamette Valley—and surrounded by dozens of scenic wineries beloved as much for the vintages they pour as the scenic views from their vineyards.

We've rounded up a few favorite wineries in the Salem and Albany area—along with a few ideas for enjoying your time after hunting for an ornament. They're all part of the Willamette Valley AVA, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Wineries Around Albany

We've put together a few ideas in the area and in Albany-which sits to the west and offers fun for the whole family.

The newest addition to the Linn County Park System sits in the midst of a regal fir forest on the banks of the South Santiam River; in addition to tent and RV sites (some of which are closed in winter), the park hosts four cabins, as well as three yurts (some a short walk from the parking area). The lodgings at River Bend County Park come with heaters, power, and beds for a comfortable stay in all seasons; the cabins even offer riverside views. 

Albany may sit an hour or more west of some trails within the Sweet Home Ranger District, but it'll likely be much closer to where you stay for the night. So if your ornament hunt is a family affair, make time for the Historic Carousel & Museum of Albany in downtown Albany. There, kids of all ages can ride 41 animals on the carousel, which dates back to 1909; those hand-carved and hand-painted creatures include a seven-foot-tall giraffe, cats, zebras, unicorns, and even dragons.

You need somewhere to put that snazzy new ornament, so why not harvest your own Christmas tree in a national forest? We've put together a guide to planning your trip, snagging the appropriate permit, and having fun while searching out this year's perfect tree.

Stay in a 1940s-era historical home just across Highway 20 from Foster Lake. Home to a handful of themed rooms, Foster Lake Inn & Vacation Lodge offers private bathrooms, Wi-Fi, a common seating area, and more.

Just across Highway 20 from its namesake reservoir, Foster Lake RV Resort hosts year-round offerings that include log cabins (with electric heaters) and fully furnished suites adorned with Western-inspired bric-a-brac.

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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