Calling All Weirdos: There’s a UFO Festival in Oregon

The second-largest UFO fest in the country is back this September.

Take him to your leader. Or favorite winery. | McMenamins UFO Festival
Take him to your leader. Or favorite winery. | McMenamins UFO Festival

Whatever you think your September travel plans are, cancel them. Reroute to McMinnville, Oregon. Bring your tin foil hat.

Even on a regular weekend, this laidback town in the Willamette Valley is a worthwhile getaway. An hour southwest of Portland in the heart of Oregon’s charming wine country, there are vineyards you can ride your bike through, and tasting rooms to sample their famous terroir-driven Pinot Noir. There’s a walkable, Rockwellian downtown lined with maple trees where you can catch a movie in a theater tucked inside of a pizza shop (yup, you can take your slice in), or duck into a store that specializes in artisanal jam. There’s the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, home to Howard Hughes’ massive wooden Spruce Goose.

And then, for one very special weekend each year since 1999, there are aliens. The town’s population swells as thousands of ETs, Wookies, Yodas, Coneheads, astronauts, and possibly the family from 3rd Rock from the Sun all show up for the annual McMenamins UFO Fest, the largest of its kind outside of Roswell itself. This year, the close encounters happen on September 24 and 25.

Smile for the vacationers. | McMenamins UFO Festival

Base camp is the McMenamins Hotel Oregon, built in 1905, boasting a rooftop bar with 360-degree views—perfect for spotting flying objects. And you may actually see one, because unlike some of those other UFO festivals out there, McMinnville’s is inspired by an actual sighting in 1950, when farmers Evelyn and Paul Trent took what is now the most famous photographic evidence of a hovering UFO. The photos made national news and were even published in Life magazine (and have yet to be debunked).

This year’s festival will be particularly lit, and not just because they skipped last year and need to make up for it. There’s also that long-awaited government’s UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) report to discuss.

When worlds collide. | McMenamins UFO Festival

The speaker roster includes PhD Michael Masters on his theory of “extratempestrials” —which suggests that aliens are humans from the future who developed the machinery to return to the past, or something—and MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) Colorado State Director Katie Griboski, who will be discussing the notorious Clearview Ranch in Colorado, dubbed the “Close Encounter Capital of the US.”

Reinerio Hernandez will talk about experiencing multiple direct contacts, National UFO Reporting Center Director Peter Davenport and ufologist James Clarkson pick apart what the June 25th UAP report actually revealed, and there’s a panel to ask all your burning extraterrestrial questions not covered.

Shindigs and vendor fairs in and around the hotel are free; tickets start at $25 for presenters. And though the annual parade is cancelled until next year, there’s still a costume contest where you can show off some out-of-this-world attire, so start working on that now. We’ll be the ones in the tinfoil hat.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She has her costume all picked out.