Modes of transportation: Amtrak trains and buses, public transit, cycling and walking
Length of time: Approximately 3 hours each way between Portland and Corvallis. We travelled to Corvallis from Vancouver but I recommend the journey to Corvallis via a trip from Seattle or Portland to ensure that you’ll make the connection to the local bus between the Albany Amtrak station and Corvallis.
Transportation cost: Varies depending on your route and whether you take buses or trains. If you plan to bring your own bicycle there is a small reservation fee for bringing a bicycle aboard Amtrak Cascades trains and you’ll need to choose trains over buses unless you want to box your bike. From Vancouver the total transportation cost for a trip to Corvallis and back is about $215 per person but we probably could have spent more time looking for deals had our travel dates been flexible.
In early November Kevin and I travelled from Vancouver to Corvallis to see some good friends* who now live there. Corvallis is Oregon’s 10th most populous city with a population of nearly 55,000. The city is situated in the Willamette Valley (learn to say Willamette correctly before you go) in Benton County and is about 90 miles from both Portland and the Oregon Coast. The city is home to Oregon State University and provides a good base for visiting Benton County wineries (we didn’t do this). During our stay we discovered that Corvallis is a wonderful place to live and visit.
We were already familiar with Portland’s bicycle culture (Portlandia has fun with it here and here) so we wanted to venture beyond there to see how another city in Oregon fares with promoting car-free living. Friends aside, what drew us to Corvallis is the positive attention the city receives for livability and particularly for being bicycle-friendly:
- Corvallis has the largest percentage of bicycle commuters in the United States with 9.3% of Corvallis residents regularly biking to work. Corvallis ranked just behind Ithaca, New York for walking with 11.2% of city residents regularly walking to work.
- Corvallis holds a Gold Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists. It first received this award in 2001 and at that time was the first community in Oregon to attain this designation.
- Bicycling.com ranked Corvallis 2nd in its list of the best small bike-friendly cities in the US.
- 97% of collector and arterial roadways in Corvallis have bike lanes (45 miles) and these are supplemented with 16 miles of multi-use pathways.
- The City of Corvallis mandates that 50% of bicycle parking must be covered.
We had a great time in Corvallis, and while early November was still quite beautiful it’s probably worth noting that Corvallis would be an even better place to visit at other times of the year. Here are some highlights from our stay:
- Our friends let us borrow their guest bicycles and we cycled with them along the well-maintained multi-use pathways from Corvallis to Philomath to the Gathering Together Farm for a delicious breakfast. We took rural roads for the ride back and were very pleased by the wide shoulders and low traffic that we encountered. We also enjoyed having a good laugh at a large house we saw en route that had solar panels atop a three-car garage!
- Oregon’s brew pubs are alone worth a visit south from Vancouver. In Corvallis we enjoyed 2 Towns Cider at a local restaurant one evening. We also had a grand time partaking in the Oregon Happy Hour tradition by having fantastic locally brewed beer, tasty small plates and good conversation at Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery.
- We observed first-hand that Corvallis loves growing, eating and buying local. In Corvallis you won’t find many swimming pools in backyards, but you will come across some beautiful gardens, complete with chickens, bees, and makeshift greenhouses. This is a community that likes healthy food and thinks it’s even better when it comes from the garden. We’re particularly grateful to the urban farming friends of our friends who gave us a large jar of honey made by their backyard bees to take back to Canada with us. It almost didn’t make it through the border but we were lucky to be questioned by border guards who had some understanding of urban farming and an appreciation for the love that went into the particular jar of honey that we declared.
- Corvallis is very walkable. Many of the sidewalks are wide and it’s easy to get all over town on foot. We found the OSU campus to be particularly pleasant for walking and there is some really nice architecture to enjoy on the campus.
- Downtown is quite vibrant and it has a good-sized Wednesday & Saturday Farmers’ Market (April-November). We missed the market (only by a few minutes!) but our friends shop there regularly and love it. We did, however, make it to the TEAL Artist Cooperative Gallery, which is only open in November-December each year, and showcases locally made arts and crafts. There was a good selection of well-made items, and the gallery store wasn’t unlike the Craft Council of BC’s shop on Granville Island.
- Some Corvallis establishments are quirky and entertaining — like those you would expect to find in Portland. We particularly liked stopping into the building that houses the independent and locally owned Darkside Cinema. The admission rates had us laughing and the women’s washroom was creatively decorated (I’ll leave you to discover the washroom for yourself when you visit Corvallis).
If you’re thinking about travelling to Corvallis, here are some tips for you:
- If you’re taking Amtrak buses or trains, you can easily get from nearby Albany (the location of the Amtrak station closest to Corvallis) to Corvallis on the Linn-Benton Loop Bus ($1.25 per trip), which is equipped with two bicycle racks like Vancouver’s buses. Unfortunately, the Loop Bus has limited service; it doesn’t run late and it doesn’t operate on Sundays or holidays. (If you’re really stuck you can take a taxi between Albany and Corvallis and I believe this costs about $30 or more.)
- If you’re a confident cyclist you can ride between Albany and Corvallis. Check out these suggested routes on Car-Free Corvallis.
- When you arrive in Corvallis you can pick up walking and cycling resources at the public library (note the great website address: http://www.thebestlibrary.net) and at local bike shops (the Corvallis Cyclery had a good selection of cycling maps). My favourite maps were the Corvallis & Benton County Bicycle Guide, which includes these city and county cycling maps, and the Know Your Trees walking tour map, which identifies hundreds of trees in Central Park and on the OSU campus. These two resources were free!
- There are quite a few online resources for Corvallis and Oregon that will help you plan how to get there and get around without a car. I recommend starting with the Oregon Bicycle & Pedestrian Program and Car-Free Corvallis.
*One of these friends created Car-Free Corvallis, which inspired me to start this Car-Free Vancouver blog.