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Matt Wastradowski | 02/21/2020 | Winter
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Making the Most of Your February "Free Day" in the Willamette Valley

Truffle Hunting in the Willamette Valley

Later this month, we’ll all wake up on a weekend morning and enjoy the most elusive of gifts: Leap Day 2020 falls on a Saturday, giving us all a “free” weekend day to enjoy as we see fit.

Naturally, we have a few ideas for making the most of Leap Day in the Willamette Valley—from seasonal outings to indoor fun. So whether you’re looking to soak in one of our relaxing hot springs or check out one of our vaunted museums, here’s a guide to spending Leap Day in the Willamette Valley.

Soak in a Hot Spring

Even into February, winter has maintained an icy grip on the Willamette Valley and Cascade foothills. So if you’re looking to warm up sooner than later, beat back winter’s chill with a soak in one of the region’s mineral-rich hot springs, fed by volcanic and geothermal activity below the Earth’s surface.

One of the most popular outposts is Breitenbush Hot Springs, which hosts several soaking tubs and hot springs—as well as a steam sauna, overnight stays in the lodge, and other self-care offerings.

For a more primitive soaking experience, consider Terwilliger (Cougar) Hot Springs. After hiking a quarter-mile, you'll arrive at a series of six soaking pools that are laid out in a step ladder-like pattern; the lower the pool, the cooler the water.

Take Advantage of Cellar Season in Wine Country

Winter means fewer crowds at your favorite wineries, so it's a good time to see what winemakers are loving, whether they have a particularly good year in stock, and sample what's new and different about the latest blends.

As if that weren’t enough, 11 wineries in Dundee Hills are teaming up for a special event on Leap Day itself: Participating wineries are offering new releases and collaborating on a sweepstakes open to anyone who visits three or more participating wineries that day.

Warm up Next to the Fireplace at Gilgamesh Brewing

Every summer, the creekside patio at Gilgamesh Brewing offers one of the most enjoyable outdoor dining experiences in the Willamette Valley. But even as temperatures fall in autumn and winter, the brewery maintains that relaxing atmosphere indoors—with a fireplace for keeping warm.

It’s part of a broader ski lodge theme at the brewery, noted for a wooden exterior and A-frame entryway—so the fireplace, and leather couches surrounding it, is a natural fit.

Go Foraging for Truffles

You won’t know what to look for, because there is nothing to look for; truffles grow underground, usually in the root systems of Douglas fir trees. So team up with a pro and her Lagotto Romagnolos to track down one of the valley’s most iconic delicacies. There’s no greater thrill than when a dog starts digging and you find your first marble-sized prize.

Want to learn more—but don’t know how to start? We’ve got you covered with a guide that explains truffle-foraging basics, where to look, how to schedule a guided tour (highly recommended), and where to enjoy truffles in some of the region’s best-loved restaurants and wineries.

Hike to a Waterfall

All of our lowland rain and mountain snow this winter means it’s prime season for waterfall hikes. Sure, Silver Falls State Park gets all the love, and not without reason: The Trail of Ten Falls is among the most iconic trails in all of Oregon, passing in front of (or behind) a whopping 10 waterfalls.

But if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, consider a trek to some of the region’s other falls: Alsea Falls and Green Peak Falls, both in the heart of an old-growth forest, are positively torrential this time of year. Outside Lebanon, McDowell Creek Falls is just one of many highlights along a three-mile loop trail. And Shellburg Falls, just outside Salem in the Cascade foothills, tumbles more than 100 feet over a basalt shelf.

Stay Dry in One of the Willamette Valley’s Celebrated Museums

If you'd rather escape the elements rather than hike in them, stay dry in one of the Willamette Valley's many museums. 

One of the most popular is the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. The museum is home to numerous planes, none more famous than Howard Hughes’s all-wooden Spruce Goose, and celebrates the lives of important aviators throughout history.

Looking to enjoy a little culture? Stop by the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University—the third-largest art museum in the state. The museum's exhibits range from classical works to permanent displays from Pacific Northwest and Native American artists.

And the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health serves to educate visitors on how mental health has long been treated in Oregon—as well as exploring the Oregon State Hospital's sometimes tragic history. A mix of permanent and rotating exhibits tell the stories of the patients, volunteers, and employees of the hospital; one such exhibit is dedicated to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", which was written by Oregon author Ken Kesey and filmed at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Explore the Uniqueness of The Living Rock Studios

Howard B. Taylor was many things: a surveyor, a rock mason, a painter, an artist. So in 1985, he brought those disparate experiences together and opened The Living Rock Studios.

The Living Rock Studios is a two-story, 800-ton rock building that contains 75 wood carvings, 125 paintings of birds, and a series of seven Biblical “Living Rock Pictures”—created from thin slices of rock and lit from behind. Some of those Living Rock Pictures depict the birth of Christ and Moses and the burning bush.

Taylor died in 1996, but more than two decades later, The Living Rock Studios carries on his legacy with displays of his work, art exhibits, and more.

A rustic resort surrounded by mountains and forests offering cozy cabins, vegetarian meals, massage, hot springs (clothing optional), sauna, swimming, hiking and more. Reservations required.

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