Alton Baker Park, along the Willamette River, and the Millrace Canal, which parallels the river for three or four miles, provide escapes from Eugene’s main downtown thoroughfares. The canal is easily accessed from the University of Oregon campus by crossing Franklin Boulevard.
Farther west on the Willamette, near Skinner Butte and the Owen Rose Garden, is the Riverhouse Outdoor Program office (301 N. Adams St., 541/682-5329), headquarters of the Parks Department outdoor program and a roped-off swimming area. This is the place to rent river craft.
Fern Ridge Lake
Reservoirs beyond downtown Eugene provide a wide range of recreation. The one closest to town is Fern Ridge Lake. Camp, picnic, swim, water-ski, sail, or watch wildlife. In addition, fishing for crappie, cutthroat trout, largemouth black bass, and catfish is excellent in early spring. This lake was formed when the Long Tom River was dammed in 1941, and its southeast shore was designated a wildlife refuge in 1979.
To reach the lake, drive 10 miles west of downtown on West 11th Avenue (Rte. 126) toward Veneta, or take Clear Lake Road off Route 99W. Sailboaters and sailboarders launch from marinas on the north and south shores.
The lake is drained in winter to allow for flood control, but the resulting marsh and wildlife refuge host tree frogs, newts, ospreys, rare purple martins (in spring), black-tailed deer, red foxes, beavers, muskrats, minks, pond turtles, and great blue herons. The wildlife area is closed to the public January–March 15 for the protection of wintering birds. There are 250 species of birds found here, including tundra swans, northern harriers, Canada geese, mergansers, peregrine falcons, and egrets, which, with their white plumage, long legs, and large size are spectacularly easy to identify.
To get here, make a right off Route 126 onto Territorial Road and look for a sign on the right. This section of Territorial Road is also part of the Old Applegate Trail, the southern counterpart to the Oregon Trail. This trail ended in the Salem area after coming up through Northern California into Oregon.
Dorena Reservoir, 50 minutes south of Eugene, has camping, fishing, and boating. The Army Corps dammed the Row River to create the reservoir, which can be reached by driving south on I-5 or Route 99 for 20 miles to Cottage Grove. Then head under the bridge below I-5’s Cottage Grove Exit (Exit 174) and pick up Row River Road (it goes up into the mountains, so check snow conditions), which goes 8 miles east to Dorena Lake. Several miles up Row River Road, pick up Layng Road and go 1.5 miles to Currin Bridge, one of the area’s six covered bridges. Another 1.2 miles south down Layng Road is Mosby Creek Bridge.
A popular retreat for locals is Cougar Reservoir and Terwilliger Hot Springs. From Eugene, go 42 miles on Route 126 to the town of Blue River, then 4 miles down Forest Service Road 19 (the paved Aufderheide Drive) up to the west side of Cougar Reservoir. The springs can be reached by hiking to the end of a short trail; thanks to user fees, they have remained a splendidly kept site. This trail overlooks a steep drop-off, so be careful. The several pools in this tranquil forest setting can be crowded on weekends. Purchase a Forest Service Recreation Pass at the trailhead or risk a fine.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel