For some, celebrating the Fourth of July means you’ll be hosting a cookout and viewing the fireworks with loved ones at home. For others, Independence Day means traveling to locations like Willamette Valley, Oregon, for new experiences and stunning natural scenery. If you’re planning your trip during the week of the Fourth of July, you’ll be happy to learn there are quite a few Fourth of July in Willamette Valley activities.
Whether you prefer to enjoy a messy slab of ribs, learn about the Wine History Timeline of Willamette Valley, or view the magical fireworks from a rooftop eatery, there’s a unique way for everyone to celebrate this federal holiday.
Below, we explore ten top ways to spend American Independence Day while visiting Willamette Valley.
Brief History of Independence Day in America
Revisiting the history of this holiday can make celebrating more impactful for everyone, regardless of age. Even before it was a national holiday, this day saw annual celebrations and festivities. Due to growing hostility toward Britain and the circulation of literary items such as Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet, independence became a common desire amongst those living in America.
In June of 1776, Richard Henry Lee proposed independence for the colonies from Britain. However, the decision was delayed by Congress. Instead, it elected a five-man team (which included John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert R. Livingston) to create a statement that dictated the reasons for the separation from Britain. This document later became the Declaration of Independence, which the Continental Congress approved on July 2, 1776. However, it was not until July 4 that delegates from the 13 colonies embraced the Declaration of Independence. On July 6, the Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to announce the Declaration of Independence.
Fun Fact: John Adams believed the Independence Day celebrations should occur on July 2. He wrote home to his wife, noting that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
Fourth of July celebrations officially began the following year in 1777, even though the Revolutionary War was still occurring. It was during this year when fireworks became associated with the holiday, beginning in Philadelphia. Initially, the fireworks were accompanied by a 13-gun salute as a tribute to the 13 colonies. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday. However, it was not until 1941 that federal employees were allowed to offer July 4 as a paid holiday.
This significant annual holiday is celebrated across the United States with various leisure activities ranging from beach parties to backyard BBQs.
Attend a Live Concert
July Fourth celebrations and live concerts often coincide, making it an excellent time to attend one of the local music offerings. For example, a few years ago, the Evergreen Aviation Museum hosted a local band that had made an appearance on the show America’s Got Talent. In addition to this live concert, the museum offered activities for children, a beer/wine station, and a cornhole competition.
As noted above, these live concerts are often connected to other events, such as the rodeo or local festivals, ensuring a day packed with fun activities for all ages.
Spend the Day at a Rodeo
Willamette Valley hosts multiple rodeos during the week of July 4, allowing visitors the option to watch professional steer wrestlers and other exciting events. One of the largest rodeos in the area is the St. Paul Rodeo, located in a small, charming town usually devoid of crowds. This rodeo typically occurs from June 30 to July 4 annually and includes daily fireworks shows and performances. Additionally, there’s an Independence Day parade on the 4th of July each year. Other activities are available at this celebration, including a BBQ cook-off, kid-friendly things to do, roping competitions, and live concerts.
Enjoy Local BBQ
Willamette Valley is well-known for its culinary offerings, ranging from seasonal fine-dining establishments to top-notch BBQ restaurants. If you traditionally celebrate the holiday by having a BBQ at your home, you don’t need to miss out on delicious ribs and brisket. Options like Storrs Smokehouse are easy to find along your route. This restaurant includes unique offerings, such as Pinot Noir-infused BBQ sauce, a nod to Willamette Valley’s association with wine.
Visit Pittock Mansion
There’s no better way to celebrate Independence Day than by visiting and learning about Pittock Mansion, an important historical site in Willamette Valley. This museum mansion offers insight into how Portland transitioned to an industrialized area. Though you won’t be near the nation’s capital to see historical sites for Independence Day, you can still appreciate the local history by touring this mansion. It’s also one of the attractions that stays open on July 4.
Head to the 4th of July Spectacular
Salem’s Independence Day celebrations (the 4th of July Spectacular) include performances by multiple artists, child-friendly activities, and more. This year, the celebration was moved to the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Those interested in the Salem concert can listen to the acts from the fairground parking lot with a minimal parking fee or enjoy a closer view with a concert ticket.
Go on a Fourth of July Willamette Valley Winery Tour
Since Willamette Valley is famous for its wineries, enjoying the local offerings via a wine tour is a must while in the area. Multiple wine tours are available in the area, allowing you to view the local scenery while exploring the wines in tasting rooms, learning about the wine characteristics, and gaining insight into Willamette Valley’s wine history.
At Wine History Tour’s Willamette Valley wine tours, we pair you with tour guides specializing in the topic of world history. This experience with knowledgeable guides allows you to find connections between the area, its wineries, the origins of winemaking, and the History of Oregon Wine Tourism. Our tours are fully planned to include transportation, a lunch break, and the experience of visiting multiple Willamette Valley wineries, so you can sit back, relax, and appreciate the characteristics of the wines you taste.
Explore Willamette Valley by Car
If you prefer a more relaxed holiday, driving around Willamette Valley is an excellent way to spend the day and learn about the area visually. Many scenic byways and routes are available to take you through winding vineyard areas, majestic mountains, and green forests. Routes are available from a few hours to nine hours, ensuring there’s an option that fits your needs. One of the longer, full-day routes is the West Cascades Scenic Byway which offers views of the Cascade Mountains and other stunning scenery. This scenic byway takes approximately seven to nine hours to complete, as you’ll drive about 215 miles.
Spend Time in Nature at the Oregon Garden
You can spend time in nature and enjoy fireworks simultaneously at the Oregon Garden. This attraction features an impressive 80 acres of gardens to meander through before viewing its annual fireworks show, which lasts about 15 minutes. Additionally, you’ll find family activities, food, and live music at their fireworks celebration.
If you can’t make it to their July 3rd festivities, the garden is well worth visiting as it showcases many of Willamette Valley’s native plants and flowers throughout its 20 specialty gardens. You can bring the whole family to Oregon Garden, as multiple gardens offer hands-on or educational activities for children. Additionally, the gardens permit visitors to bring their dogs daily.
4th of July Kayaking on the Willamette River
The Willamette River offers ample activities for those who prefer to enjoy the holiday while in nature. Kayaking is an excellent way to see the area during the week of July 4. Many companies offer the option to rent kayaks to use on the river, making it a convenient option for those from out of town. Kayaking can be done during the day or even at night with a kayak guide.
Additional activities which can be done on the Willamette River include touring a submarine, boat rentals, paddleboarding excursions, river cruises, and even swimming (when the water quality is acceptable). Depending on which part of the river you’re nearby once the sun sets, you may even be able to catch the firework show launched from a barge on the water. This firework show is part of the Waterfront Blues Festival, another excellent Independence Day activity.
View the 4th of July Fireworks in Willamette Valley
The classic way to celebrate this holiday is by viewing the local fireworks. The charming towns located within Willamette Valley each offer firework shows on the 4th of July, so you won’t need to be concerned about driving far to view them. As mentioned, many of these fireworks coincide with other events offering additional entertainment options.
However, if you solely want to view the fireworks, multiple restaurants in the area offer rooftop views. One of the best options for rooftop viewing is the Rooftop Bar at Hotel Oregon. You can enjoy the fireworks from this bar as they illuminate the mountain scenery in the background while sipping fun cocktails.
Though it’s considered a wine-centric area, Willamette Valley offers diverse activities for all ages, making it an excellent area to visit for the Fourth of July. From colorful fireworks to some of the best BBQ cuisine around, visiting Willamette Valley to celebrate Independence Day will leave you with fond memories and the desire to return for additional holidays and experiences.
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“Fourth of July 2023: Where to Find Parades, Rodeos, Music, and Fireworks in Oregon.” Oregonlive, 27 June 2023, www.oregonlive.com/entertainment/2023/06/fourth-of-july-2023-where-to-find-parades-rodeos-music-and-fireworks-in-oregon.html. Accessed 12 July 2023.
History.com Editors. “Fourth of July – Independence Day.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 21 Aug. 2018, www.history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th.