7 Epic Outdoor Adventures near Eugene, Oregon

On the doorstep of the Cascade Mountains, the vibrant college town of Eugene, Oregon, is by nature a place to explore the great outdoors, both near the city or on Oregon’s storied coast, just an hour’s drive away.

From sandboarding in Florence to whitewater rafting on the McKenzie River, these seven epic outdoor adventures near Eugene are high on thrills and energetic fun in the Beaver State.

Sandboarding in Florence

san boardingClaudia Laroye

The coastal city of Florence is an hour west of Eugene. It’s home to the growing sport of sandboarding. Florence has the world’s first sandboarding park and hosts competitions that bring in expert sandboarders from around the world.

Before competing at that level, take a lesson from a champion sandboarder at Sand Master Park. While there are similarities to snowboarding, riding the sand has its own quirks, like frequently waxing and buffing the board, leaning back while riding and a less forgiving surface compared to soft snow. After a few sandy spills, you’ll get the hang and carve your own path down the dunes.

Cycling Covered Bridges

cyclingTravel Oregon and Travel Eugene Cascades Coast

The 36-mile (58-kilometre) loop of the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway in Lane County is just a 30-minute drive (or a bit longer by bike) from Eugene. Spending a day riding in this picturesque region at the base of the Cascades, home to more covered bridges than any other county west of the Mississippi, is time well-spent.

The route is well-signed, mostly flat and very scenic. In addition to the charming town of Cottage Grove, you’ll pass through farm country, forests and through six covered bridges, including Centennial Bridge, Swinging Bridge (not covered), Chambers Bridge, Mosby Creek Bridge, Stewart Bridge, Dorena Bridge and Currin Bridge.

Kayaking the Siltcoos River

kayakingTravel Oregon and Travel Eugene Cascades Coast

This unique source-to-sea kayaking trip (about 1.5 hours from Eugene) travels down the short Siltcoos River, about three miles (4.8 kilometres) from its source at Siltcoos Lake through the Oregon Sand Dunes and out to the Pacific Ocean.

Siltcoos Lake, like many lakes near Oregon’s coast, was formed long ago when sand dunes shifted and blocked the river channel. Once the new lake filled, the river cut a new channel through the sand and out to the ocean. Kayak your way through coastal forests and then into the open sand dunes before reaching the Pacific Ocean. There is one small dam that requires a short portage, approximately halfway down the river.

Dune Buggy Fun on the Oregon Coast

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Just 90 miles (145 kilometres) from Eugene is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, home to towering hills of sand that stand as high as 500 feet (152 metres) and cover more than 50 miles (80 kilometres) of Oregon’s Central Coast. They’re also home to some high-energy dune buggy fun.

Hop into a custom-built Sand Rail, a specialized vehicle made for zooming across the dunes, and hold on tight as the experienced driver reaches speeds of nearly 50 kilometres per hour, catching air on the steeper dunes. It feels like a thrilling roller coaster ride—with a lot more grit.

Hiking the Central Cascades

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There are loads of spectacular hikes in and around Eugene, and if you drive about 1.5 hours east, you’ll find one of the prettiest and most accessible, Clear Lake. Located at 3,000 feet (914 metres) above sea level, the five-mile (eight-kilometre) loop trail is mostly flat but does go through forest and along exposed lava rock sections.

This lake was formed approximately 3,000 years ago when ancient volcanoes erupted and filled the valley with lava, blocking the flow of the McKenzie River. The water is at a constant temperature of 1 C year-round, and the near-freezing conditions have preserved trees underneath the water that are still visible after thousands of years.

Horseback Riding on the Coast

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Saddle up for a beauty of a horseback ride on the sandy beaches and dunes of the Oregon Coast north of Florence. The beach rides pass through forests and wetlands before emerging onto the wide, open beach of the iconic coastline

Beginners can take it easy while more experienced riders are welcome to trot at a higher pace on the beach and splash through the surf at the water’s edge. The dune rides explore the everchanging landscape of this unique landscape, all within a salty view of the ocean.

Whitewater Rafting the McKenzie River

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Oregon is flush with water, and whitewater rafting on the crystal-clean McKenzie River is one of the best ways to enjoy some of the state’s wet and wild rivers.

The river water runs straight off the Cascade Mountains and is very cold, but it’s nothing that layers and waterproof gear can’t handle. With a mix of waves and Class II-III rapids, the McKenzie is great for beginners or experienced rafters alike. And it’s not all white water: there are calmer sections that are perfect for floating along, taking in the views of the Cascade Mountains and Oregon’s famous forests.


Disclosure: The writer was a guest of Travel Oregon, Sand Dune Frontier and Sand Master Park.

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