2023 Chronicle Outdoors Guide

Whether you’re new to the area or a longtime resident, the southern Willamette Valley is home to great outdoor adventures. Here’s a brief primer on a few of the summer activities in our area.

River Rafting

The Oregon river system is well-known for having great whitewater rafting opportunities, and Lane County is no different. Lenny Stewart came to Oregon from Jackson, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2011, he started working for Oregon Whitewater Adventures (OWA), a business located in Springfield. OWA started in 1988, and currently offers rafting trips on five rivers across Oregon.

“Whitewater rafting as a recreation really exploded in the late 1970’s, so a lot of rafting companies started around then,” Stewart said. “When I found out the previous owners were selling OWA, I decided to take it over.”

Lenny Stewart has owned Oregon Whitewater Adventures for the past five years. OWA, based in Springfield, provides rafting adventures all over the state.

The rafting tour in our area takes place on the McKenzie river, with ½ day and full day tours starting by Blue River. Lenny invited me to go whitewater rafting with him for the story, and as a journalist writing a beginners guide to outdoors who had never gone whitewater rafting before, the opportunity seemed perfect.

“The McKenzie river is a Class 2 or 3 river, meaning it’s great for an introduction into rafting,” Stewart said.

Half-day trips start at $75 dollars a person, with trips lasting just over two hours on the river. OWA provides life jackets, helmets, splash jackets and pants, and even water booties. For the full day or overnight trips meals are included as well.

The two hour journey is generally taken in a raft that holds six guests and a guide, although bigger or smaller ones can be used depending on the amount of people. Stewart said that because the McKenzie is a lower class river, it’s a common trip for families.

With periods of calm in the river, rafters can get great views of the rapids they are about to engage with. OWA has given names to many sections of the rapids as well, such as: The Vortex, Zipper Ripper (someone’s jacket once caught on a branch and ripped), Dessert, and Seconds (in case you didn’t get enough dessert). 

OWA offers more intense riverrafting around the state, but if you want a great half-day introduction to whitewater rafting, the McKenzie is the place to go.

A day on the coast

One great thing about living in this area is how close it is to the beautiful coast, which includes Florence and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It’s impossible to fit everything great to do on the coast into one section, or one day, but here’s a potential day trip to the Lane County coast:

Hop in the car with family, friends, pets, or solo at 9 a.m. Florence summer weather averages a high of the mid-60’s, so don’t worry too much about overheating in the afternoon sun the way you would in our area. Feel free to get a later start if you’re not a morning person. The coast is about 90 minutes from Springfield, Creswell and Cottage Grove.

10:30 a.m. arrive at the Oregon Dunes Day Use Area (81100 US-101, Gardiner), part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA). The ODNRA has roughly 40,000 acres of dunes, the largest area of any dune system on the west coast. There’s lots to do in this area with regards to the sand dunes, so take your pick based on your interests.

“One thing about the ODNRA is that it was set up by Congress to be a place to come for multiple types of recreation,” said Shane Gill, recreation program manager at the ODNRA. “While it is a world class destination for the off-road folks, it’s also a place folks are coming for fishing and equestrian stuff, and all of those other kinds of things.”

While the ODNRA doesn’t put on the recreation activities, they give what Gill said are often referred to as “outfitter guide” permits to those that do put on the recreation activities, such as ATV rentals and sandboarding. 

Although the ATV riders enjoy all the ATV area’s, Gill said the Oregon Dunes OHV Spinreel Area tends to be one riders often talk about.

“From the off-road community, we often hear that the area around Spinreel tends to be an unknown favorite,” he said. “It’s got a lot of open sand, but it also has some more forested areas than you might not encounter in other areas. You get your mix of both open sand riding and the more technical trail riding.”

Gill says he also feels that the kayaking scene is not as well known in the area.

“There’s the kayak trail that I would say is probably. We get folks that never really knew the kayaking scene existed here,” he said. “It starts over at Siltcoos Lake, and I think that’s kind of managed by Dunes, but it travels through the ODNRA.”

1 p.m. Lunch. Similar to the sand dunes, there’s tons of restaurants to eat at in Florence. Take your pick depending on what you’re in the mood for.

3 p.m. Sea Lion Caves (91560 US-101, Florence). The Sea Lion Caves, open every day 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., is America’s largest sea cave, and is situated just north of Florence, perfect for a post-lunch spot. Ticket prices for the Sea Lion Caves are: adults: $16.00 each, seniors: $15.00 each, children ages 5-12: $10.00 each, children ages 4 and younger: free, and parking: free.

In the summer, many of the sea lions are actually outside of the caves, perfectly visible from the lookout point.

“In the summertime, usually starting in May, they’re breeding and having their pups. Most of our sea lion activities are at our lookout trail. There’s a couple hundred out there, and then we’ve got a couple bulls inside the cave,” said Jim McMillan, a manager at the Sea Lion Caves. “It’s self guided as well, so you can take your time. The average person takes about 45 minutes or so.”

According to McMillan, the summertime gives way to an underrated part of the Sea Lion Caves as well, the lookout trail is perfect for bird watching and whale watching.

“In the summer we get different whales going by, all kinds of different birds and animal species,” he said. “Right now the whales are migrating past, and because we’re elevated above the ocean up here, it’s a great spot to watch for whales.”

4:15 p.m. After hitting the gift shop and heading out from the Sea Lion Caves, drive one mile north to Heceta Beach (92042 Oregon Coast Hwy, Florence). Heceta beach is popular, but has enough parking and space on the beach for big crowds. 

There’s lots to do at Heceta Beach, whether it’s climbing on the rocks, braving the cold and hopping in the water, or our editor’s pick: rockhounding, something the Oregon coast is well-known for.

5:30 p.m. Head home! Feel free to stay and watch the sunset if you’d like, although the summer sunset is late enough that you’d need to make dinner plans in Florence, or eat a late lunch. Arriving back home at 7 p.m. allows enough time to make a short dinner or warm-up leftovers.

Fishing – by Frank Armendariz

Back in 1979, I mentioned to a fishing buddy that I had accepted a job in Eugene Oregon….. His face lite up and he said “man you are moving to the bucket!” And that sums up the multi species angling opportunity that we have in Lane County and at places very nearby. There is something for every angler…. Here are three of my favorites:

*For a multi species experience that includes year round trout fishing, spring salmon and summer steelhead. The McKenzie River is alway on my list of favorite fishing spots. The river’s proximity to Springfield/Eugene also makes it possible to easily “get away” for a couple of hours, with a good chance to catch a few fish.

*While not in Lane County the Main Umpqua River is also on my list. From the southern County the Umpqua River is actually much closer than say Finn Rock Landing on the McKenzie. And the Umpqua is also one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries in the country, where fifty fish landed is only a fair day.

*Last but by no means lesser, in far western Lane County is Siltcoos Lake. The largest lake on the Oregon coast also with a national reputation for its quality largemouth bass fishing. Fortunately, although highly regarded, the notoriety has not spoiled the fishing experience and the fishing pressure is always light. With 28 miles of shoreline, ideally suited to largemouth, you will never have a problem finding water that hasn’t been fished for days, maybe even weeks. 

Rock Climbing

Another great outdoor activity in Oregon is rock climbing. However, it’s a tough hobby to start outdoors. That’s where indoor rock climbing comes in. David Kieffer, program manager at Willamalane Park and Recreation District, helps run the indoor rock climbing program at Willamalane.

“I guess my degree is in recreation, and that kind of work. I worked in Wyoming for three years where I did a lot of climbing experiences,” said Kieffer, who has been climbing for over 15 years. “There’s a really great outdoor scene up there, it’s incredible, and there’s a lot of climbing experiences up there.”

Kieffer said that while there are climbing opportunities in Eugene, Willamalane noticed there was a lack of opportunities in Springfield.

“I wasn’t around for the inception, but it’s a piece that Springfield doesn’t have except for at Willamalane,” Kieffer said. “There’s a couple of walls in Eugene, but not in Springfield, so it was just something that came from community need, and it’s been installed since 2008.”

There are many obvious health benefits to rock climbing, and one that may be underrated.

“It’s all about balance and flexibility. Then there’s some core strength, body control, foot placement coordination, so definitely a cool piece about it is that you can become more coordinated and athletic,” Keiffer said. “I think one other important thing is the social wellness aspect of climbing. It’s an extremely social sport. You can go to any gym and you’ll have people around watching and encouraging you on.”

Kieffer’s been rock climbing for 15 years, but said there’s always room for improvement. Whether it’s improving enough indoors to feel comfortable moving outdoors, or moving to more difficult climbs once outdoors.

“I think one of the aspects of the sport that keeps people engaged is that there’s no ceiling to it, you can always improve,” Kieffer said. “Especially once you get outdoors, there’s always somewhere harder to climb, and there’s always a better technique.”

Willamalane has climbing camps for children ages 5-17 all summer, and is also testing out an open climb time on Fridays. 

Kieffer also noted that Willamalane also has outdoor gear rentals. In the summer, gear check-out is on Friday’s from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Renters must be 18 or older and equipment is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Summer rentals include: river tubes, inflatable kayaks, and inflatable stand-up paddleboards.

5 Great Hikes

  1. Wildwood Falls near Dorena
  2. Dorris Ranch, Springfield
  3. Spencer Butte, South Eugene (dogs are allowed on this trail)
  4. Thurston Hills Natural Area, east Springfield
  5. Elijah Bristow State Park, east of Pleasant Hill



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