Welcome to Polk County, Oregon – a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. Let us take you on an adventure as we explore the top things to do in Polk County, Oregon.
As you travel the back roads of this picturesque region, you’ll encounter an array of attractions that are sure to capture your heart. From the enchanting covered bridges and tranquil parks to the lush vineyards and award-winning wineries, there’s something for everyone in Polk County.
Take a trip back in time to Independence, the final destination of early wagon trains to Oregon, or explore the quaint cities of Dallas, Monmouth, Falls City, and portions of Salem and Willamina. Experience the warmth and hospitality of local bed and breakfasts, providing a cozy retreat among the surrounding hills.
Come discover the hidden gems of Polk County, where adventure awaits. As you would expect, nature takes center stage in Polk County. This is a place for those who want to escape the bustling cities and enjoy the hills and mountains of Oregon.
1. Explore the cities of Polk County
Polk County is small. You won’t find huge cities here neither you will find sprawling metropolises. Regardless, there are two towns that should be on your radar.
Dallas is the official county seat of Polk County. It’s also the biggest town in the whole region. It has a cute downtown with some great restaurants and bars and Polk County court building is a nice historical sight.
Dallas is a good place to stay a few nights as you explore Polk County. As the biggest town, it has the most convenient facilities such as restaurants and shops.
Independence was once the endpoint for the Oregon Trail. As such it’s one of these places that carry immense historical significance.
Take a stroll through downtown Independence, which boasts a plethora of historic buildings and a quaint, small-town feel. For a unique experience, hop on the Buena Vista Ferry and float across the Willamette River while taking in breathtaking views of the surroundings.
Independence is also an excellent base for exploring these parts of Oregon. The main hotel is right next to the river and river park making it a scenic place to stay.
2. Learn about the local heritage
As the endpoint for the Oregon Trail, this area of Oregon has a very rich heritage. From pioneers that came looking for fortune to the tribes who were here already.
Heritage Museum – Independence
At the Independence Heritage Museum, visitors can explore the city’s fascinating past, from its Oregon Trail roots to its rise as the “Hop Capitol of the World”.
Discover the stories of the Kalapuya Tribe, who called this land home for generations, and the brave men and women who served in the local military. This museum offers a unique glimpse into the past and is a must-visit for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of Independence’s captivating history.
Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center – Grand Ronde
If you’re looking for a unique cultural experience in Oregon, the Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center is a must-visit destination.
This center tells the story of the Tribes and Bands, their traditions, and their enduring resiliency. The Museum celebrates the Tribe’s Restoration and is dedicated to revitalizing their culture. Its mission is to share the resiliency of the land and its people who have lived there since time immemorial.
Polk County Museum – Rickreall
Finally, the best place to learn about Polk County is the local Historical Society. They maintain an interesting museum in Rickreall.
The museum has written artifacts and pictures dating all the way from 1842 to 1943. They tell the story of the first settlers and how Polk County became what it is today.
It’s a non-profit organization run 100% by volunteers. A truly interesting place to visit as the museum is built upon the passion and hard work of the local people.
3. Enjoy Beautiful Nature
Now we have already seen that Polk County is not known for its bustling cities. In turn, there is plenty of nature to explore. If you are someone who loves hiking and walking around nature trails then you’ll love Polk County.
Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge
The Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is one of the premier nature trails available in Polk County. Although not the largest in size it’s definitely got the variety that attracts visitors from all over the nation.
The refuge spans over 2,492 acres and offers a diverse range of ecosystems, making it an ideal habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and plant species. Visitors can look forward to observing populations of endangered and threatened animals and plants.
With over 230 species of birds and a host of other fascinating creatures, including coyotes, Fender’s blue butterfly, and Western pond turtles, there is always something new to discover. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoors enthusiast or simply looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is waiting for you.
Mill Creek Recreation Site
As a trail along the tranquil waters of Mill Creek, the Mill Creek Recreation Site offers a serene day-use site with picnic tables, a seasonal vault toilet, a bulletin board, and ample parking.
This quiet oasis is perfect for those seeking a peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The site is also an excellent option for those looking to disconnect, as the area has no cellphone coverage.
With refreshing waters, visitors can indulge in a swim and bask in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape. We are unsure if swimming is officially allowed or not but it’s hard to resist on a hot summer day.
Ritner Creek Park
The park features well-maintained level paths that offer a comfortable walking experience and scenic views of the surrounding wilderness. Visitors can enjoy the several firepits and picnic table areas for a relaxing picnic or BBQ with family and friends.
The park is also home to a shallow, slow-moving creek where kids can find crawfish and other aquatic life. The park is abundant with wildlife, and the fresh forest smells create an unparalleled sensory experience.
4. Explore picturesque fishing spots
Are you into fishing? If yes, then Polk County will be a place you enjoy. You can find plenty of fishing spots around the streams and rivers of Polk County. Here is a list of our favorite ones:
Buell County Park
Buell County Park is a small and charming park located in Oregon, that offers visitors a serene and peaceful environment. It may be small in size, but it offers a unique blend of outdoor experiences for visitors.
One of the park’s key features is the opportunity to fish right off the parking lot, offering a convenient and picturesque location to cast your line. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or just starting out, Buell County Park is an ideal spot to experience the diverse range of fish that Oregon has to offer.
Nesmith County Park
Nesmith County Park is another excellent fishing spot. Not only it’s a great place to fish but this County Park is picturesque in nature.
Many people come here during great weather to explore the trails of this small park and to take advantage of some excellent fishing spots.
5. Kayaking Opportunities
Looking for a refreshing outdoor activity to enjoy in Polk County, Oregon? Kayaking is the perfect option to get you out on the water and surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the area.
With the Willamette River running through the heart of Polk County, kayaking is a popular pastime for both locals and visitors alike.
Paddle your way through the calm waters and take in the breathtaking scenery, including the lush green forests and rolling hills that make Polk County such a picturesque destination.
6. Biking and Mountain Biking
The forests and hills of Polk County Oregon are great for walking but they also present a nice opportunity for some biking trips especially if you are into mountain biking. Biking is a nice active outdoorsy thing to do in Polk County that you’ll love among the beautiful scenery of the area.
Black Rock MTB Trails
The Mountain Bike trails of Black Rock are undoubtedly one of the best mountain biking places in Polk County. You’ll find multiple trails with exciting turns and jumps around every corner. This is a great place to get your adrenaline pumping and if you love mountain biking this place is a must-see for you.
The winding roads of Oregon coupled with low-traffic present a perfect opportunity for road biking. You can find countless small roads in Polk County that you can enjoy on your bike. Polk County is a great place for road biking especially as the scenery is always nice.
7. Wine Tasting
As you travel along Polk County you’ll often come across beautiful rolling hills filled with grapes. The whole county has a nice tradition when it comes to winemaking and you can find plenty of tasting rooms and wineries to visit on your travels.
Whether it’s a guided tour you are looking for or just a sample of the local wine you can find it amongst the many vineyards in Polk County. If you are interested in wine making or like wine at any capacity then we highly recommend planning some stops along the way.
The Rickreall, Independence, Salem area is especially rich in wine culture with many places to visit but you’ll find wineries in other parts of the county as well.
8. Local Festivals
Finally, as it is with many places in the nation there are a plethora of local festivals to visit. While it may not worth planning your trip around these festivals, we do recommend a visit if you are already in Polk County when they take place.
Krazy Dayz – Dallas, OR
Krazy Dayz is an open-air music festival in Dallas Oregon. It takes up multiple city blocks and it aims to entertain visitors from all over the nation.
Taking place from July 27-30 you’ll be able to attend a variety of concerts along with local food, shopping, and various displays. It’s one of the nicest local festivals in Polk County and it’s a great way to enjoy the small-town atmosphere.
Sounds of Summer – Dallas, OR
Sounds of Summer is another musical event in Dallas, OR. Instead of a few days, the Sounds of Summer is an event that goes on for the whole summer. If you want to know the exact dates for performances check out https://www.dallasor.gov/
Sounds of Summer is completely free and it showcases local musicians. The atmosphere is usually great and there’s even a food truck at the event to sample the local street food selection.
River’s Edge Summer Series – Independence, OR
Independence can’t be without its very own summer music event. The River’s Edge Summer Series runs for multiple weeks in July and August. It’s a family-friendly movie and music event that’s well-loved by both the community and travelers.
Thursday nights during the event are for movies. Starting at 9:30 PM there’s a free movie showing focusing around family friendly movies.
Friday is the day of music. There are usually two bands with one opening at 6 PM and the main attraction taking the stage at 8 PM.
Along with the movies and local performers, there is a nice selection of street food and street shopping available at the event. Great summer fun if you are in Polk County during this time.
Polk County Fair
Finally, Polk County Fair. This is the ultimate Polk County event that you can attend while visiting these parts of Oregon. If you are in town for the fair then you must not skip it. It’s an amazing atmosphere and you’ll find plenty to do inside.
There is usually a great variety of events at the County Fair like baking and cooking competitions. Monster Truck shows, live music, and everyone’s favorite the local Rodeo.