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The Insider's Guide to Visiting Farms, Markets, and More Around the Willamette Valley

By Matt Wastradowski

There are seemingly countless ways to enjoy the rich bounty of the Willamette Valley: Find the juiciest berries around at our U-pick farms, sip wine on vineyards where the grapes were grown, enjoy small-batch beers using farm-grown ingredients, or dine at our many restaurants dishing fresh, seasonal fare.

With such a renowned farming community-and so much to eat and drink along the way-we wanted to share a bit about how to make the most of your time exploring the farms and food of the Willamette Valley. Here's our guide to the region's farm loops and food trails, when you should consider visiting, how much time you should give yourself, and more.

There are hundreds of farms and related businesses (such as markets and restaurants) dotting every corner of the Willamette Valley-so it can be tough to know where to start exploring.

Generally speaking, the best way to begin is to pick a region within the Willamette Valley and explore that area in-depth; trying to cover the whole valley in one day (or even one weekend) can mean a lot of driving-with little time to slow down and really enjoy the sites at stops along the way.

Fortunately, a pair of programs have been created to make Willamette Valley's farming communities more accessible to visitors.

One is the Oregon Food Trails program, which can bring together 50 or more farms, markets, food stands, restaurants, craft breweries, wineries, artisan producers, and even boutique lodgings across a designated region in the Beaver State.

Currently, the Willamette Valley hosts three food trails:

Meanwhile, the Oregon Farm Loop program comprises four distinct loops throughout the Willamette Valley, each hosting 15-20 farm-related stops:

While the loops and trails feature different businesses, they generally spotlight the same kind of businesses: agricultural-themed stops in their many forms. That means you'll encounter dozens of U-pick farms, restaurants dishing locally sourced meals, craft breweries making beer from Willamette Valley hops, wineries pouring vintages from our verdant vineyards, and even overnight stops that offer easy access to the surrounding attractions.

Berry u-picks can be found all over the Willamette Valley.

These aren't loops or trails in the sense that you have to follow a designated path and hit all the stops-although we'd be really impressed if you did. The self-guided nature of the farm loops and food trails means you can explore whatever sounds interesting, whenever it sounds interesting. So if you want to pick fresh berries at the height of summer, you can do that while bypassing other stops. And if you'd rather skip the region's wineries in favor of the Willamette Valley's craft breweries, have at it.

There's no hard-and-fast rule for when to visit participating businesses, but the Willamette Valley's growing season (roughly speaking, March-October) is a good guide.

Some businesses, such as wineries and restaurants, remain open all year long-but may offer reduced hours in fall and winter. Other, more seasonal businesses (including U-pick farms) tend to close altogether between October or November and March or April. But you can find farm-fresh food and goods at these five indoor farmers markets all winter long.

Apples are ripe for picking all around the Willamette Valley from late August to October.

If you're planning a visit in late fall or early spring, consider calling or checking the websites of your preferred destinations to see whether they're open. And whenever you're visiting wineries, check ahead to see whether they're requiring reservations.

The self-guided nature of the farm loops and food trails means you can plan a trip of anywhere from a few hours to whole weeks.

But if you're looking for a broad introduction to the Willamette Valley's home-grown goods, we'd suggest taking a weekend to visit a local farmers market, enjoy farm-to-table fare at the region's eateries, sip your way through a couple wineries or craft breweries, and grab some fresh-baked goods or artisan items for the ride home.

If your schedule allows-and if your favorite fare is in-season-there is no more quintessential Willamette Valley experience than plucking fresh fruit at the region's U-pick farms; give yourself anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to enjoy the farm experience and pick succulent cherries, berries, apples, and more.

Your pup is welcome to join you as you sip on the lawn at Four Spirits Distillery.

For many of us, a trip just isn't the same without our furry, four-legged family members. But keep in mind that many stops along the farm loops and food trails are working farms-and host farm animals that might not warm to Fido as quickly as the rest of us. Before heading out, have a plan for where you'd like to visit-and check in to see if those spots are pet-friendly.

Generally speaking, working farms with farm animals ask that you leave any pets in your vehicle-but many breweries, restaurants, and wineries have dog-friendly patios. But rules vary from stop to stop, so plan ahead whenever possible.

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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