Eugene Visitors Guide
The city of Eugene has been called one of America’s most livable cities, and it’s not hard to see why. It is home to the University of Oregon, has renowned cultural activities, abundant recreational opportunities, enjoy a beautiful setting and a mild climate.
Indeed, the area is so pleasant the Kalapuya people, the first inhabitants of the Willamette Valley, are thought to have occupied the area for centuries. But by the mid-1800s settlers were displacing the Kalapuya. Eugene Franklin Skinner built the first cabin in the area in 1846. It was upgraded to a post office two years later. In another two years, Skinner and a local judge had Eugene City laid out. After heavy rains proved their first location to be rather aquatic (the site became known as “Skinner’s Mud Hole”), they moved the townsite to higher ground.
Settlers kept arriving in the fertile region. Several sawmills were built to process nearby timber and by 1858 there were more than 500 people in Eugene City. In 1862 the city was finally incorporated and two years later, changed its name to the City of Eugene.
Now Eugene is home to more than 130,000 people, and with its neighbor Springfield, makes up the second-largest metropolitan area in Oregon, after Portland. It is located 426 feet above sea level and covers approximately 36 square miles.
But statistics do little to describe Eugene. It is a vibrant community, full of active people who make it a point to enjoy their surroundings. A favorite spot to congregate is along the banks of the peaceful Willamette River, which meanders through the city. Miles of biking and running trails line the river in Alton Baker Park. Canoes and kayaks can be rented for leisurely boating. Summer temperatures can reach the 80s and 90s and the cool grass along the river is perfect for outdoor concerts, fairs, and festivals. Additional cycling is available on more than 300 miles of bike paths in Eugene and Springfield, most of them flat. Whitewater rafting and kayaking are popular on the nearby McKenzie, Rogue and Umpqua rivers.
Flower lovers will want to visit the renowned Rhododendron Garden at Hendrick’s Park. The 12-acre garden contains more than 6,000 rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, viburnums, and other plants. Paths wander through the garden to secluded seating areas. The Rhodies bloom from February through July, with peak flowering in April and May. Another flower-lovers mecca is the Owen Rose Garden in Skinner Butte Park where 4,500 roses scent the air. The park is where city founder Eugene Skinner built his cabin in 1846. In all, Eugene has 49 parks that encompass almost 2,000 acres.
Art lovers flock to the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Eugene for performances by resident ballet, symphony and opera companies. Visiting acts have included such luminaries as Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic and the touring companies of the Broadway musicals “Cats” and “Damn Yankees.” The Hult Center was built in 1982 and is home to the popular Oregon Bach Festival held in June and July, and the Oregon Festival of American Music, held in January, July and August.
South of Eugene 25 miles on Highway 5 is the quaint community of Cottage Grove, nestled at the southern edge of Lane County. Its tree-lined streets are home to 8,000 people attracted by its small-town flavor and abundant natural beauty. Primarily a logging and mining community in the past, Cottage Grove’s economy has diversified to include lumber products, manufacturing, health services, agriculture, tourism and more.
Cottage Grove calls itself the “Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon” and features a covered bridge in its municipal logo. There are six such bridges near Cottage Grove and all can be visited within a couple of hours. The oldest of the bridges dates from 1920. At the time, steel and concrete were both expensive, while good timber was not only available but plentiful. Therefore, many bridges of the day were built with wood and then covered to protect them from the elements, primarily rain. The older bridges were largely built by hand.
The newest Cottage Grove bridge is the pedestrian-use Centennial Bridge, built in 1987 with recycled timber from the dismantled Burmbaugh Bridge. The bridge is adjacent to the Cottage Grove City Hall. Mosby Creek Bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Lane County and the only one of the six local bridges open to vehicle traffic. The 78-foot long Chambers Railroad Bridge is the last covered railroad bridge in Oregon. It was built in 1925 to deliver hogs to Cottage Grove. The Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce can provide visitors with directions to the bridges.
Downtown Cottage Grove and nine local homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s an easy stroll through town to visit antique stores, restaurants galleries, and specialty shops. A few blocks from downtown is the Cottage Grove Museum which holds mining and logging artifacts. There is also a display of memorabilia from the Titanic. Theater buffs might catch a locally-produced drama or musical performed by the Cottage Theater.
Cyclists, equestrians, and joggers can set out on the Row River Trail, a paved, 14-mile multi-use path that leads to Dorena Lake and the Cascades. The route follows an old railroad line that used to service outlying timber mills. Dorena Lake and Cottage Grove Lake are both within 10 minutes of town and offer fishing, swimming, boating, and camping.
Past Dorena Lake is the Bohemia Mining District, where abandoned mines, ghost towns, and covered bridges can be explored by car.
Cottage Grove holds several festivals each year: the Covered Bridge Festival, Bohemia Mining Days, Cottage Grove Home Show and the Western Oregon Exposition.
Eugene, Springfield, Cottage Grove Highlights
- Bicycle & Walking Paths over 25 miles of off-street bicycle paths meander along the scenic Willamette River as well as 300 miles of striped street paths in the Eugene/Springfield area. Row River Trail in Cottage Grove is a 13-mile paved trail following an abandoned rail line that serviced outlying timber mills.
- Cottage Grove Museum mining and logging artifacts from the area, a display of Titanic memorabilia and more. Birch & H Streets, (541) 942-3963 or 942-5334.
- Covered Bridges Cottage Grove is home to six covered bridges which can be toured in a few hours. Less than 10 miles from downtown. Maps available at Cottage Grove Chamber (see below).
- Dorena Lake/Cottage Grove Lake fishing, swimming, boating & camping, 10 min. from Cottage Grove.
- Fifth Street Public Market historic market with a colorful collection of shops, restaurants, and galleries, 296 E. Fifth Ave., Eugene, (541) 484-0383.
- Festivals Cottage Grove Bohemia Mining Days in July; Springfield Dorris Ranch Farm Festival in August.
- Hult Center for Performing Arts features world-class performing arts year ’round, One Eugene Center, Eugene, 541-682-5000.
- University of Oregon Eugene comprehensive research university, 1585 E. 15th Ave, Eugene, OR 97403, (541) 346-3111.
- U of O Natural History Museum mysteries of natural science and human cultures past and present, 1680 E. 15th Ave., Eugene, (541) 346-3024.
- Convention & Visitors Bureau of Lane County pamphlets, maps, and information on local attractions and wine tours. 115 W. 8th Street, Ste.190, Eugene, 97440, (541) 484-5307.
- Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce local information, covered bridge maps, 330 Hwy 99 S. Suite B, Cottage Grove, 97424, (541) 942-2411.