Follow these food trails to satisfy a hunger for world-class food, landscapes and meet the folks who make it happen
written by Cathy Carroll
No matter what, food not only sustains us, the better it is, the better we are, and the more fun we have. Now is the time to connect with some of the best food in the world, grown in Oregon, and the people who farm it, ranch it, brew it, crush it and cook it.
With spring in full swing and summer on its way, following food trails through some of the state’s most compelling landscapes is our preferred way to feed body and soul. Each region has a trail designed to take you off the beaten path and get a locals’ view of where to go to eat well and satisfy not just your appetite, but a hunger to discover new food, new places and new people.
These trails cover hundreds of miles, stretching from the Pacific to the mountains to the desert. Here’s a glimpse of what lies ahead down the road, and resources for details on what’s in season, where to stay and planning your journey. We wish you happy trails.
South Willamette Valley
Let’s start with a staple—bread. Find it in its purest forms: first in fields of grain, then ground at a stone grist mill and finally at a bakery turning out loaves of crusty, rustic goodness, plus cookies and pastries. Camas Country Mill, Sue and Tom Hunton’s third-generation family farm southwest of Junction City, is a testament to flavor direct from the field.
The Huntons want visitors to taste the terroir, especially when much of Oregon wheat is shipped around the country and the globe. These flavors hearken back about a century, when one-room schoolhouses, like stone grist mills, supported rural communities. The local nineteenth-century, one-room Lower Fern Ridge School, which the Huntons saved from decay and brought to the farm, where they restored it, completes the atmosphere for a culinary journey to bygone days.
At neighboring Thistledown’s, the classic red barn with white trim will keep you in a nostalgic mood (interrupted only by taking a great selfie). Stroll the farm, abundant with herbs, lettuce and asparagus in May before strawberry, blueberry and blackberry season bursts onto the scene in June.
At nearby Hentze Family Farm, a century-old affair, pick your own summer fruit, then head to their Cook Shack beside a canopy of walnut trees (among the first things planted here starting in 1902). Four generations of Hentzes serve up Americana in the form of crispy hot sandwiches and fries. Start imagining cherry cobbler and black cherry ice cream (grandma Hentze’s recipe) dripping down your chin, and make it reality by returning for their annual cherry festival in mid-July.
It would be wrong to stick to food trail terra firma when the 90-mile McKenzie River teems with dinner potential in May and June, following the release of more than 100,000 rainbow trout from state hatcheries.
Let some seasoned pros give you a great experience catching something delicious. A Helfrich Outfitters has been guiding on the McKenzie and surrounding rivers since the early 1920s. Savor the river-to-pan experience on a day trip’s lunch fish fry.
Naturally, food trails wind throughout wine country. In late June, when fragrant, flavorful lavender debuts, venture to Chehalem Flats Farm Market to pick a peck of purple bouquets and scoop up local lavender infused honey, maple syrup, vinegar, jams and kombucha. Raid their freezer for lemon and honey lavender Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches, handmade and sourced in Portland.
Eastern Willamette Valley
Within a fifteen- to forty-five minute drive from Portland, get berry-stained fingers and savor fresh food right off the farm as you pet animals, crunch hazelnuts, nibble chocolates, sip local wine, watch a rodeo or shop for Western wear.
Oregon Farm Loops’ online maps and guides and your appetite can steer you to each flavorful foray—to “Farmlandia,” Canby, Molalla and Marion loops. Expect to find strawberries, boysenberries, kale, beef, eggs, lamb and honey now, and use the loops’ graphics to gauge when to head out later this summer for peaches, nectarines, tomatoes and more.
Each loop details about twenty stops, from farm stands, markets, tours, U-pick flowers and produce to festivals, wine tasting and farm-to-table dinners.
The loops are popular and growing, with a new honey farm, a hops farm that serves beer, and several meat producers who are eager to meet those who enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Start in downtown Sisters at the cafe named for the small, Western-themed city. Sisters Coffee Company still has the rustic atmosphere of the 250-square-foot wood cabin where it was founded in 1989, and was the area’s pioneer in roasting beans in five-pound batches. Sit under the shade of ponderosas on the patio of the 6,000-square-foot flagship cafe and roastery, and nibble entrees such as salmon lox toast with herbed goat-and-cream cheese, lemon fennel slaw, pickled onion and black sesame seeds. Sip a steamed breve espresso with upgrades such as barrel-aged bourbon stout syrup, caramel and a sprinkle of smokey Maldon salt.
Work off the buzz on the mountain trails or at the Metolius River, and refuel back downtown at the Boone Dog Pizza food truck, where wood-fired creations are made with locally and ethically sourced ingredients such as garlic cream, ricotta, blue and mozzarella cheeses, smoked bacon, black pepper and fresh basil. Nosh in the adjacent garden and grab a microbrew there, too.
Stroll to Sisters Meat and Smokehouse for artisanal offerings elevating any sandwich, from the Reuben to French dip. It may be the only place where bologna on white could sound this appetizing.
Walk to Mahonia Gardens Farm Stand and the Sisters Farmers’ Market for the May harvest of chard, lettuce, kale, spinach, carrots, radishes, turnips, rhubarb and fresh eggs. In June, you’ll find beets and broccoli, fennel, kohlrabi, and famous sweet local strawberries.
If downtown Bend is your base, wake up to caffeine and inventive pastries from Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, Megaphone Coffee Company or Nancy P’s. With the nearby Box Factory and the Old Mill District, choices rival the number of microbrews poured on the Bend Ale Trail. From Italian, Japanese, Asian fusion and Mexican to Wagyu steak, artisan pizza and ice cream, you can keep it casual or opt for craft cocktails and stylishness.
Climb or hike amid the lofty spires of Smith Rock State Park near Terrebonne and bring picnic fare from the Redmond Farmers Market. Call ahead to visit nearby Central Oregon Ostrich, one of the largest ostrich hatcheries in the Northwest and an advocate for humane farming. Discover why raising these birds is environmentally friendly and yields delicious, low-fat red meat.
Terrebonne’s Rainshadow Organics farm store is a destination for vegetables, pasture-raised eggs and meat, bone broth, lard, pickles, plum jam, applesauce, hot sauce, tea, drinking vinegars and occasional farm-to-table dinners and camping.
Begin a culinary crawl here with the Whisky & Rocks Farm Loop to get a taste of this region’s vast landscape with waves of grain. The past year may have prompted an eat-dessert-first attitude, so start your trek with Petit Noir Chocolates in Milton-Freewater. Seasonal creations such as shortbread with intricate, traditional German designs are sprinkled with rose petals and lavender buds. At Freewater Cider Company, sample the enhanced aromatics produced by their unconventional fermentation of whole apples.
Keep it sweet on the River to Hills Farm Trail between Boardman and Pendleton. Explore family farms known for watermelons, honey and lavender.
Community Merchants in downtown La Grande is the source for Union County-raised beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken, eggs, greens, locally made salsa, bison from Wallowa County and cheese from Umapine. Get cherry- and berry-stained lips at the La Grande Farmers’ Market.
A great time to hit the trail here is at the kickoff of rodeo season at the 114th Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, June 7 to 13 in Union. Soak in the food-growing lifestyle by staying nearby at Almosta Farm in Cove, which raises goats, honey bees, chickens and organic produce and fruit.
The region’s restaurants are increasingly featuring local meat on their menus, including at the Geiser Grand Hotel restaurant in Baker City. Curious about life on a working ranch? Tell Geiser Grand owner Barbara Sidway, and she will arrange a visit for you.
Heading north to Wallowa Lake, its glacial waters ringed by mountains, this idyllic spot is for all kinds of play, followed by picnicking. Even visitors can keep it local and authentic by ordering the area’s meat, produce and chocolates through Genuine Wallowa County Provisions. The online marketplace delivers and lets you shop as a guest with no membership fee.
Bring your pet with you to Barking Mad Farm B & B outside of nearby Enterprise. Sip coffee on the wrap-around porch as you watch the sun rise over the Wallowas and spy on the neighbors—deer, buffalo and eagles. Linger there, because the host will be bringing out your breakfast made from local, organic ingredients. Wind down the day at Terminal Gravity with craft brews such as the thick, creamy, Arrowhead Chocolate Stout brewed with cacao from local pals Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph.
May and June are ideal months to explore here prior to peak season.
Dunbar Farms in Medford is emblematic of the laid-back, high-flavor experience. Stop at The Honor Barn for the farm’s arugula, kale, spinach and bread and flours made from grains. Take what appeals and drop cash or a check in the box any day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Head into the Tasting Room from Thursdays to Sundays for paninis, salads and the farm’s Rocky Knoll wines. With a trailer converted into a stage for music every Friday, spread out on the big lawn and keep it real.
At Oshala Farm in Grants Pass, Elise and Jeff Higley are taking reservations for monthly tours of their organic herb farm after a year hiatus during the pandemic.
“Our goal of the tours is not only to give people a glimpse into what it takes to grow herbs and food on scale, but to also give them tips on how to grow some of their favorite herbs in their own garden,” said Elise. Guests can expect to get their hands dirty in May and June doing seeding and transplanting and later in summer, harvesting and processing.
At The Oregon Cheese Cave in Phoenix, self-described cheese “queen” Melodie Picard introduces aficionados and neophytes to cheeses from around the state and the globe in her 225-square-foot shop. Born in Normandie, Picard believes her accent helps sway visitors into trying new styles, whether it’s sheep’s milk cheese or vegan Vtopian from Beaverton.
Take a deeper dive into the cheese experience at Pholia Farm, on twenty-four acres about 10 miles outside of the town of Rogue River. At the base of Elk Mountain, Gianaclis and Vern Caldwell offer a glimpse into raising happy, healthy animals sustainably and how that translates to delicious cheese. If you find you don’t want to leave, stay. Take cheese-making classes and check into their refurbished 1970 Airstream or tiny Bunk House, surrounded by the original 220-acre Spring Brook farm started by Gianaclis’ parents in the 1940s.
Counterbalance quiet evenings on the farm with festivities such as Brews, Bluegrass & BBQ on June 6 at RoxyAnn Winery in Medford, with eight hours of music in a family-friendly fundraiser for the Rogue Valley Food System Network. The Southern Oregon Lavender Festival, June 25 to 27 and July 16 to 18 unfolds at farms such as The English Lavender Farm in Applegate, where you can sip lavender lemonade and take home farm-made French grey salt with lavender, herbes de Provence with lavender and lavender jams, honey, syrups and salted caramels. Live music will lilt from barn to fragrant field.