A 150-mile-long valley in Oregon, the Willamette Valley is worth a visit at any time of the year. From wine-tasting events, horseback riding, and dining at a farm to enjoying stunning valley views, cycling, and going berry picking — there’s always something travelers can enjoy in this laid-back yet vibrant region.
Although a year-round destination, chances are you’re wondering when the best time to visit Willamette Valley is so that you can take advantage of all the valley has to offer.
Whether you’re looking for the best time to visit local farms, engage in outdoor activities, have a walk in the vineyards, or stick to a budget, we have you covered.
Why You Should Visit Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley is so much more than just a world-class wine destination. While sipping your way through one of the best wine locations in the world alone is definitely worth a visit, there are other areas worth exploring, activities worth engaging in, and sights worth seeing.
Let’s see what they are:
- Along the valley, you’ll come across cute historic towns such as McMinnville. Besides being a family-friendly destination full of cool streets and restored buildings, McMinnville is also named one of the nation’s foodiest towns too.
- The valley provides opportunities for a myriad of recreational activities, such as mountain biking, birding, hiking, boating, fishing, and biking. For hiking, we suggest the Columbia River Gorge. If you’re hesitant about biking, don’t be, as (almost) all roads are bike-friendly. If you wish to spend some time in the woods, hunt some Oregon truffles. If you’re into intense mountain biking, the Black Rock Mountain Bike Area (BRMBA) is for you.
- If you’re up for a day trip, check out some of the best Oregon Coast beaches.
- Can’t decide whether to spend your day lying on the beach or enjoying mountain views? Going to Marys Peak gives you a little bit of both.
- If you aren’t into wine, you may be pleased to learn that Oregon is also world-famous for its breweries. Our top suggestion is Wolves & People.
- Spend some time in the Willamette Valley cities such as Portland, Eugene, Salem, or Hillsboro.
- Relax at Clear Lake.
- Visit Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. With stunning smells and a myriad of out-of-this-world colors, going to the gardens is an experience no one should miss on their trip!
- Engage in self-pampering. Relax at the Allison Inn & Spa and treat yourself to massages, facials, and a full spa experience.
- Enjoy versatile accommodation. From renovated silos on farms, spa hotels, and Airbnb to ranch houses and random hotels, the valley is full of distinct lodging options.
- Take an iconic drive and enjoy the scenery. If you run out of ideas or feel like you’ve seen/done it all, just drive around the valley’s area. You may either take the Silver Falls Tour Route or the Over the Rivers & Through the Woods Scenic Byway. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. More adventurous drivers can plan their own routes.
- As you can see, there are many reasons why you should visit the Willamette Valley. Now that that’s clear, let’s see when’s the best time to do so!
Overall Best Time to Visit Willamette Valley
It’s always the best time to visit a beauty such as Willamette Valley, but the prime time to go is any time from April through June, also referred to as the Willamette in Bloom period.
In April, the temperatures are between 59.7°F and 41.3°F. Humidity is still high, and on average, there are 12 rainy days. May temperatures range between 66.9°F and 47.1°F.
The month commonly has nine rainy days and around 69% humidity. June visitors should be ready for temperatures fluctuating between 73°F and 52°F. June sees similar humidity as May but with fewer rainy days.
April is a great time to attend the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival. With a plethora of blooming tulips and a playful atmosphere, the festival is described as one of the must-see spring attractions in the area.
Moreover, nature lovers can enjoy newly blossomed trees and flowers along the roadside and inhale the fresh spring air. The weather allows travelers to combine various outdoor activities with museum tours and wine tasting.
Cycling is a great option for biking enthusiasts too. While the spring season is great all throughout, going in May is absolutely superb, as it’s Oregon’s official wine month!
May also marks the beginning of the South Willamette Valley Food Trail, so make sure to take a farm tour, try out interesting beverages, or go to some food tastings.
In addition, this is the perfect time to spice up a family holiday by taking your children to see calves, chicks, ducklings, and lambs on a nearby farm.
Cheapest Time to Visit Willamette Valley
Budget-minded travelers should consider visiting Willamette Valley in its Harvest season, that is, in September or October. Tourism is the slowest these two months, and hotels are usually reasonably priced.
In September, the temperatures vary between 76.3°F and 53.5°F. Rain is uncommon (more or less four days in the entire month), and humidity is around 61%.
October sees temperatures ranging between 63.3°F and 46.5°F. The number of rainy days increases, though, to around 10 days per month, as well as the humidity (76%).
That said, rain doesn’t begin till later in the season, but make sure to pack accordingly and dress in layers. Also, regardless of how chilly or rainy it gets, you can always end the day with a glass of Pinot Noir and a stunning view of the valley.
If wine sampling isn’t your thing, you can always add a Bavarian touch to your journey and opt for an Oktoberfest celebration in the region instead.
Being the largest folk festival in the Northwest, Mt Angel Oktoberfest provides guests with fun, a nice selection of beers and local ciders, along with plenty of sauerkraut and sausage.
Most venues at the festival offer free admission, apart from three premium ones, such as Weingarten, Biergarten, and Alphinegarten.
Least Busy Time to Visit Willamette Valley
The least busy time to visit Willamette Valley is either January through March, also known as the Cellar season, or in November and December, often referred to as the Giving season. Winters in the valley are slow, foggy, and misty.
In January, the Willamette Valley temperatures range between 47°F and 34.9°F. It’s also one of the months with the most humidity (84%) and 13 rainy days. February temperatures are between 49.9°F and 35.2°F.
Humidity is still high, and there are around 11 days with rainfall. In March, the weather starts getting a bit better, with temperatures fluctuating between 54.6°F and 38.1°F. However, humidity and rainfall still dominate the month.
Visiting the valley in the Cellar season helps travelers prepare for a dynamic summer, whereas visiting in the Giving season allows them to embrace the upcoming fast-paced spring.
These two periods see less crowded tasting rooms and offer visitors an intimate wine-sampling vibe. Perfect for travelers who wish to explore the valley in solitude!
That said, note that wine-sampling hours may be somewhat reduced, and it’s the vineyard owners who may typically fill your glasses.
However, winter is the perfect time to sit near a flickering fire, toast a marshmallow or two, and enjoy splendid wine with those next to you. Plus, this is the time when guests can enjoy one-on-one time with vineyard owners or even winemakers.
November sees temperatures between 52°F and 39.5°F. Heavy rainfall and humidity are back in the game, and the same applies to December too. In December, the temperatures usually fluctuate between 45.5°F and 34.9°F.
With snow also covering the mountaintops, and fog, mist, and cloud-filled skies dominating the area, visitors are in for a gloomy yet majestic Willamette Valley experience.
Worst Time to Visit Willamette Valley
This section is probably the most difficult to address, as there really isn’t a bad time to visit the Willamette Valley, let alone “worst.”
That said, if we had to go with a specific season, we’d say avoiding going to the Willamette Valley in summer (July or August) may be wise.
It’s arguably the busiest season — there’s a plethora of cyclists on the road, so you need to be careful while driving. Lodging also costs more than usual, and guests often need to call ahead to book wine-tasting room hours.
Lastly, weekend crowds just make things more stressful. Still, the sunny days and warmer temperatures draw travelers to the Willamette Valley in summer like a moth to a flame.
It’s truly a bustling time of the year. Wineries also extend their work hours to accommodate as many guests as they can. On top of that, many offer attractive evening events.
Food trucks appear out of nowhere, runners plan races from one winery to another, and there’s a general feeling in the air that everyone’s having fun. In July, the temperatures fluctuate between 82.5°F and 56.6°F.
August visitors should expect temperatures in the range of 83.5°F and 57.8°F. Both months see lower humidity compared to the winter months. Gentle rain may surprise you in summer, but this is rare.
Things to Consider
To make sure your Willamette Valley trip goes according to plan, take note of the following tips:
- If you’re planning activities such as hiking, fishing, or boating, make sure to always check road and weather conditions, as well as relevant boating and fishing regulations, before you embark on such adventures.
- Whenever you’re staying in the valley’s natural areas, remember to pick up your garbage, stay on the designated trails, and be mindful of other visitors.
- When you visit specific locations, check for any relevant rules you should follow. For instance, if you go to Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, you’re not allowed to bring drones, and dogs should be on a leash.
- Decide what you hope to get out of your Willamette Valley trip and choose when to go accordingly. For instance, if you want nice weather, don’t mind higher prices and crowds, and wish to engage in outdoor activities, go in summer. If cold weather doesn’t bother you and you prefer staying indoors and spending some time in the vineyards, plan a winter trip.
- Dress in layers, especially in months with unpredictable weather. Bringing some cute scarves and a vest comes in handy too.
- To take your social media profile(s) to the next level, bring a camera. A high-quality smartphone will also do. The valley is full of photo opportunities, so it’d be a shame to miss out on taking some stunning photos.
- Unless you’re visiting Willamette Valley during its Cellar season, brace yourself for an influx of seasonal allergies. Oregon’s pollen and grass have been known to cause issues even for people with very mild allergies, so pack appropriate allergy medication.
- After the COVID-19 pandemic, most wineries have an appointment-only policy, so plan your wine-tasting experience well in advance, regardless of when you visit.
- Wineries are usually crowded during weekends, so if your itinerary schedule allows, visit mid-week.
- For a carefree wine-tasting adventure, make sure to get a designated driver.
- While Willamette’s Valley is world-famous for its Pinot Noir grape, don’t be afraid to try different grape varieties and expand your wine horizons. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
- After your wine haul, don’t forget to buy a few bottles and take them back home with you!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is considered the Willamette Valley?
This is a rather lengthy question and geographically slightly complicated. Simply put, it stretches throughout the middle part of Oregon, covering multiple cities. It’s surrounded by mountains on three sides; namely, the Cascade Range, the Oregon Coast Range, and the Calapooya Mountains.
The Willamette Valley is home to some of Oregon’s biggest cities: Beaverton, Gresham, Eugene, Salem, Hillsboro, and Portland. It also covers Cottage Grove, Springfield, Eugene, Albany, Keizer, Dallas, McMinnville, and Corvallis.
Parts of these counties also belong within the Willamette Valley: Washington County, Benton County, Linn County, Douglas County, Lane County, Polk County, Marion County, and Yamhill Country.
It’s worth noting that Polk and Marion are often referred to as Mid-Valley.
What is Willamette Valley, Oregon known for?
First and foremost, the Willamette Valley is known as a fertile wine region. Apart from its wine-worthy popularity, this beautiful valley is famous for:
- Being home to around three-quarters of the entire Oregon population;
- Some of the most exquisite farm-to-fable dishes;
- Attracting whitewater rafting enthusiasts;
- The Willamette meteor (the story goes that the largest iron-nickel meteorite discovered in North America comes nowhere other than Willamette Valley);
- Its white oak trees (the tree became a recognizable symbol of the valley).
What does Willamette mean in Native American?
The term “Willamette” is believed to stem from the colonized pronunciation of the word “Wallamt,” meaning “still water.” The word used to denote a place on the river close to Oregon City.
What tribes lived in Willamette Valley?
The native Americans who lived in the Willamette Valley were called the Kalapuyans — the word denoted “people of the tribal nation.”
The Kalapuyans’ major tribes were the following ones:
- The Tualatin, dwelling along the Tualatin River and the Wapato Lake in Gaston and part of the Willamette River;
- The Yamhill, dwelling along the South Yamhill River;
- The Ahantchuyuk, dwelling along the Molalla and Pudding Rivers;
- The Santiam, dwelling along part of the Santiam River;
- The Luckiamute, dwelling along the Luckiamute River;
- The Chenapinefu, residing in the central valley;
- The Muddy Creek people, located at Monroe;
- The Tsankupi people, dwelling along the Calapooia River;
- The Long Tom people, dwelling along the Long Tom River;
- Chafin, Peyu, and Winefelly, residing in the southern Willamette Valley.
How many AVAs are in the Willamette Valley?
There are nine American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the valley, each with its own unique soil, climate, and specific features that contribute to the high-quality wine production process.
- Eola-Amity Hills;
- Ribbon Ridge;
- Tualatin Hills;
- Van Duzer Corridor;
- The Yamhill-Carlton District.
Is Willamette wine good?
Not only is Willamette wine good but it’s also known worldwide! Namely, the Willamette Valley has received recognition as one of the world’s premier Pinot Noir grape-growing regions.
Other lesser-known but equally important wine varieties feature: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, and Chardonnay.
Why is Willamette Valley good for wine?
Many factors contribute to making the valley a good and fertile region for wine production, with the most important one being its balanced climate.
The Willamette Valley has been blessed with a maritime climate — it has mild yet wet winters, rainy springs, and warm summers typically accompanied by cool evenings. This climate is said to be perfect for cool-climate and early-ripening grapes.
According to the Willamette Valley Wine Association, an astounding 48% of the valley’s vineyards (more precisely, 13,170 vineyard acres) are classified as sustainable.
As a matter of fact, its location places the valley globally in the 45th place for “ideal climate for viniferous grape growing.”
All in all, the valley is perceived as a region securing the ideal balance of soil, humidity, and temperatures. This all helps make the valley a world-class wine region and allows wine varieties such as the ones we outlined in the previous question to prosper in the Willamette Valley.
Plus, the warm summer days and cool evenings are key to ensuring the perfect environment for the grapes to maintain their natural acidity levels.
How many wineries are there in Willamette Valley?
The valley is home to over 700 wineries, each one with its unique features, conditions for visits, and special services. With such a vast choice, you’ll certainly find the type of winery to satisfy all your wine-tasting requirements.
Looking for a dog-friendly winery? Check out the Elk Cove Vineyards. Wondering if you may bring your children along? The J.L. Kiff Vineyard says yes. Want wineries that allow walk-ins? Opt for Natalie’s Estate Winery.
What are the best luxury hotels in Willamette Valley?
Here are the best four luxury hotels in Willamette Valley:
- Known for its top-notch service and celebrity-like treatment, the Atticus Hotel provides guests with exquisite accommodation, private parking, free bikes to explore the area, and a nice terrace.
- Located right next to Portland’s Pioneer Square, The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Portland has a first-rate location score, and it’s perfect for a two-person trip. The hotel provides guests with a business center, a 24/7 fitness center, and a billiards room.
- Situated within a reasonable walking distance from the city center, Sentinel, a Provenance Hotel provides guests with complimentary fitness classes, world-class service, high-quality amenities, 24/7 room service, and a bar, to name a few.
- Radiating with great comfort and a sophisticated atmosphere, The Duniway Portland, A Hilton Hotel is just a few steps away from shopping avenues, nightlife venues, and the MAX Light Trail. The hotel provides guests with access to a heated indoor lap pool, a fitness center, a rooftop patio space, and a coffee bar.
From luxurious rooms and glamorous amenities to their location and fine dining services, these Willamette Valley hotels offer what every traveler needs for an exclusive stay in the region.
Can you swim in the Willamette River?
In general, swimming in the Willamette River is perceived as being safe. However, this wasn’t always the case, as bacteria exposure was a major concern in the past. This all changed with the support of relevant research endeavors.
For instance, since 2012, the city of Portland and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have been keeping track of and managing the river’s bacteria levels.
As the river has a large watershed, it’s good for people to keep in mind that it may not always be safe to swim in it — pollutants may end up in the water from a myriad of sources.
If the water appears to be bright green or very thick, don’t go swimming in it. Another tip would be to stay out of the river after heavy rainfall, as that’s when most bacteria reach the water.
So, When Should You Visit Willamette Valley?
Heading to the Willamette Valley at the best time of the year is key to ensuring the perfect stay in this wine utopia.
- The prime time to plan your trip is anytime during the Willamette in Bloom period (or the April–June period). The air is fresh, the flowers are in bloom, and the vines give birth to new leaves. There are many ways to experience the spring buzz while there — we suggest starting with a wine tour! Note that crowds are larger at this time of the year, though.
- Visit the Willamette Valley in its Harvest season — September and October — for a cheaper journey at the expense of the mild weather the valley is known for. The overall tourism may be rather slow these two months, but that’s what makes it perfect for budget-minded travelers such as yourself.
- If you wish to avoid crowds and skip the busy season, go either in the Cellar season (January through March), or in the valley’s Giving season (November or December). While the outside may be yucky and gloomy, the inside is cozy and warmed by special wines, nice food, and engaging discussions.
- The worst time to visit the Willamette Valley is in summer, in July or August. Not only is summer the busiest season, but also the most expensive one as that’s when everyone travels. While hotel and airfare prices soar, booking in advance may save you some money.
All in all, whether you’re traveling to the Willamette Valley to try out cool wine, enjoy an urban happy hour vibe, or observe the fantastic valley views, you’re bound to have an amazing time!