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Pacific Northwest> From Craters to Caves Ashland & Southern Oregon

Pacific Northwest

A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

From Craters to Caves
Ashland & Southern Oregon

Click Here for a List of Hotels, Bed and Breakfasts
and other Places to Stay along this Itinerary

ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN'S GUIDE: Southern Oregon has so much to recommend it. In fact, it's one of our favorite parts of this beautiful state, and perhaps one of the least explored. The changes in topography will alone astound you: vineyards planted on gently rolling hills, great crashing rivers, labyrinths of subterranean marble caves, huge expanses of sylvan forest, and lake-filled volcanic craters 6 miles wide, to name but a few of the natural marvels here. There are many ways to approach the exploration of this diverse area but for the purposes of this itinerary we recommend making Ashland your home base and we guide you round its many delights. From there we visit a few local wineries, take you on a scenic drive through the Applegate Valley, and on to the Oregon Caves National Monument. We'll also explore the beautiful Rogue River Valley, Crater Lake, and the Umpqua National Forest.

Recommended Pacing: If you try all or even most of the recommendations in this section, you will very easily fill an entire week (seven days); especially if you devote at least two nights for theatergoing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and spend three days exploring Ashland. The Applegate Valley tour, with a visit to historic Jacksonville and a local winery, is an easy half-day or day-long loop, but it would better to take two days if you decide to continue on to the Oregon Caves and the Holland Loop wineries. The Rogue/Crater Lake/Umpqua trip is spectacular, so you won't want to rush it: we recommend at least two full days to cover the entire loop. For example, one day to get from Ashland to Steamboat-assuming that you bypass Crater Lake or take only our abbreviated visit to it-and a second day to get from Steamboat back to Ashland. However, if you are pressed for time, Crater Lake is an easy day trip-up and back the same way from Ashland.

ASHLAND

Perhaps best known for its award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland is a thoroughly charming place: a small town and culturally sophisticated destination spot. Occupying a corner in the gentle Rogue River Valley, it is protected between the magnificent Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. It's conveniently located only 15 miles south of the Medford/Rogue Valley International Airport, served by both United Airlines and Horizon Air, and is an easy 5˝- to 6-hour drive north from San Francisco, or 4 to 5 hours south from Portland via I-5. You'll have no trouble finding stellar accommodations in this town-it's where some of Oregon's finest inns are located. We were hard pressed to end our listings where we did! This is a walking town, to be sure. Take all the time you want to discover parks, bookstores, cafés, boutique shops, and galleries.

The gem that is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), located at 15 S. Pioneer Street, is not to be missed. Operating nine months of the year (from February through October, with the outdoor theater open from June), OSF presents both classic and contemporary plays in repertory, using Shakespeare as its standard. Plays are performed most days of the week in three theaters simultaneously: the contemporary Angus Bowmer (named after the drama professor who started the festival in 1935), the intimate Black Swan, and the open-air Elizabethan Theatre, designed to look like England's fine old Globe Theater. Since the festival is enormously popular, performances sell out months in advance. Don't let that discourage you from showing up even at the last minute, however. Some of our best success stories occurred when we arrived at the box office on the morning or the evening of a performance, taking advantage of the inevitable cancellations and no-shows. The Festival Box Office is very professionally run-let the folks who work there give you tips on how to increase your chances of getting in at the last minute. (Open Monday from 9:30 am to 5 pm, and Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 8:30 pm; 541-482-4331, www.osfashland.org.) Many inns are within easy walking distance of the festival grounds and the downtown area, so park your car once, pick up an OSF schedule, and revel in all you can accomplish on foot!

A wonderful variety of extra activities are scheduled at OSF every week: backstage tours (this is especially fun at the Elizabethan Theatre), informal chats with the actors, lectures by the directors or "dramaturgs," and in summer, an always-enchanting pre-performance show in the main courtyard. At the corner of Pioneer and East Main you'll find the Festival Exhibit Center, showcasing costumes, props, audio and video footage from the earliest performances, and over 60 years of photographs. (Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, mid-February to October.)

Directions to the OSF grounds: Coming from the north on Main Street, turn right on Pioneer. From the south, take Siskiyou Blvd, which veers right to become Lithia Way as it nears the festival grounds. Turn left on Pioneer.

Lithia Park occupies about 100 acres adjacent to the Shakespeare Festival grounds. It's a lovely place to stroll between shows. Notice the drinking fountains in Lithia Plaza, which is surrounded by restaurants and shops, but be careful which fountain you choose for a drink! Some produce a sulfurous, lithium-laden mineral water that bubbles up just east of the city, and it's definitely an acquired taste. Early Ashlanders had hoped to build a world-class spa around the local lithium springs, but the idea never quite took off.

There are many excellent delis and bakeries in town, perfect for stocking up on picnic fare. Ask your innkeeper for recommendations. Chateaulin Fine Wines & Gourmet Foods, for example, presents a marvelous high-end assortment of pâtés, cheeses, and wines. It's located at 50 E. Main Street next to Chateaulin Restaurant Français. (Open daily from 11 am to 6 pm.)

Now ranking number ten of the "Best Small Art Towns in America" according to the Ashland Gallery Association (AGA), Ashland boasts an intriguing assortment of art galleries. First Friday Gallery Walking Tour (from 5 to 8 pm on the first Friday of every month) are becoming more and more popular, as is the annual Taste of Ashland Walking Tour in spring. You can meet artists in a casual atmosphere while sampling a local red from the Rogue Valley's best wineries as you amble through galleries downtown and in the Historic Railroad District. Phone the AGA at 877-752-6278 for details. The city is also very proud of its Schneider Museum of Art on the University of Southern Oregon campus. Facilities include four small galleries where a broad range of exhibitions is presented. (1250 Siskiyou Blvd; open from 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday to Saturday; and till 7 pm on the first Friday of each month; 541-552-6245, www.sou.edu/schneider.html.)

The Ashland area is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the western U.S., a history that began as far back as the 1840s when immigrant Italians and Swiss, fresh off the Oregon Trail, decided to grow grapes and bottle wine here. Today, the Rogue Valley, where hot days and cool nights create the perfect climate for Bordeaux varietals, produces some excellent red wines.One of these wineries is Weisinger.

From downtown, head south on Siskiyou Blvd About 4 miles from the Shakespeare Festival Center, turn right at Weisinger’s Vineyard & Winery. Stroll up to the tasting room and prepare for the friendliest of welcomes. Family-owned and -operated, the Weisinger Vineyard produces all its wines from grapes grown in southern Oregon. Bordeaux varietals are available here, as well as Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot, an exotic Italian blend called Mescolare, and many other fine wines. Step out onto the deck and enjoy the mountain views. Browse through the gift shop-deli and consider assembling a picnic lunch to take with you. (3150 Siskiyou Blvd; open from 10 am to 6 pm, May to October; and from 11 am to 5 pm, November to April; 541-488-5989, www.weisingers.com.)

APPLEGATE VALLEY SCENIC DRIVE

This loop takes you through some lovely countryside to historic Jacksonville, then on to a local winery to sample some of Southern Oregon's finest wines; with the option of then either heading back to Ashland via Grants Pass, or continuing on to the Oregon Caves and another two wineries.

From Ashland, head north on E. Main, which becomes N. Main, then Hwy 99. Just past the town of Phoenix, turn left on South Stage Road and follow the well-placed signage for 6˝ miles to historic Jacksonville, population barely over 2,000. The short stretch of rural road leading you to town is absolutely lovely: rolling hills, pear and apple orchards, ranches, and well-manicured vineyards. In 1851, two prospectors en route to California discovered gold unexpectedly along a creek in this area, and by 1853, little Jacksonville had become the county seat. Farmers, merchants, bankers, and saloon innkeepers prospered. The Oregon-California Stagecoach Line ensured lots of traffic to keep the budding economy strong, but in 1884 the railroad replaced the stage and bypassed Jacksonville altogether. Adding insult to injury, the county seat moved to Medford in 1927 and Jacksonville was doomed to obscurity. In 1978, however, the town was recognized as a National Historic Landmark District on the National Historic Register and today is Oregon's most extensive and complete example of a late 19th-century mining community. Only eight towns in the whole U.S. carry this distinction. Walking tours past historic sites are detailed in brochures that you can collect at the Jacksonville Information Center at the Rogue River Valley Railway Depot, corner of Oregon and "C" Streets. (May to September hours: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5 pm, weekends from noon to 4 pm; all other times of year: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 4 pm, Saturdays from noon to 4 pm; 541-899-8118, www.jacksonvilleoregon.org.) Park your car and stroll up and down the streets. The town is very small, so it's easy to get around on foot. Be sure to visit the unusual Jacksonville Cemetery, where plots are clustered by religious denomination, including Jewish, Masonic, and Catholic sections. The first burial took place here in 1859.

Each year from mid-June to September, Jacksonville hosts The Britt Festival (www.brittfest.org), long considered the Pacific Northwest's premiere outdoor summer performing arts festival. Britt presents dozens of summer concerts, featuring world-class artists in jazz, folk, country, pop, dance, and classical music. Its performance venue is a naturally formed amphitheater set among majestic ponderosa pines on the beautiful hillside estate of 19th-century photographer Peter Britt. Tens of thousands of music lovers travel from all over the West to enjoy Britt's high-energy performances and casual, relaxing atmosphere. The grounds are located downtown at Fir and 1st Streets. Box office numbers are 541-773-6077 and 800-882-7488.

About 9 miles southwest of Jacksonville on Hwy 238, turn left in the town of Ruch onto Upper Applegate Road, drive 1 mile, and turn right onto the Valley View Winery property. Enjoy a glass of wine among rose bushes in the garden area overlooking the vineyard. Originally established in the mid-1850s by Peter Britt of Britt Festivals fame (see above), Valley View Winery is owned and operated by the delightful Wisnovksy family, who has cleverly transformed a pole barn into a winery and tasting room. Because the Applegate Valley is considerably sunnier, warmer, and drier than elsewhere in western Oregon, Valley View can specialize in grapes that grow best under these conditions: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. The Anna Maria label, which represents the finest wines they make, is also available for tasting. (1000 Upper Applegate Road; open daily from 11 am to 5 pm; 541-899-8468; www.valleyviewwinery.com.)

Leaving the winery, return to 238 west and continue down a narrow two-lane road through more of the lush and gentle Rogue River Valley surrounded by national forests. As you enter Murphy, watch for signs leading you to Grants Pass as Hwy 238 turns and begins to head north. (Skip to the next paragraph now if you will not be extending your tour of the area. Otherwise, continue on to Grants Pass.) Grants Pass was once a stopping point on the Oregon-California Stagecoach Line. It got its name in 1863 when settlers building the main road through town got news that Ulysses S. Grant had captured Vicksburg. The town is now a central point for many downriver (the Rogue) rafting trips and a good place to inquire about them. Some 40 miles of the Rogue River from Grants Pass to Gold Beach at the Pacific Ocean are protected within the Siskiyou National Forest, where the only access is by foot or raft. For more information about supervised and unsupervised opportunities to explore this gorgeous stretch of river, call the Siskiyou National Forest Service at 541-471-6500. River rafting trips generally run from May through October.

Take 238 through Grants Pass and pick up I-5 South (a particularly beautiful stretch of freeway) to return to Ashland.

Option: Oregon Caves and Holland Loop Wineries

Note: If you choose this extended version of the trip, you might consider spending the night at an inn in Jacksonville (see listing).

In Murphy, cross a small green bridge over the Applegate River to continue on to the Oregon Caves and Holland Loop. Turn left on New Hope Road in the direction of Wilderville, then in about 3˝ miles turn left on Fish Hatchery Road, following signs to Wilderville/Hwy 199. Look sharp and carry a good area map: these signs are very subtle. Wend your way through tiny towns, green pasturelands, llama farms, and horse ranches. Beautiful! When Fish Hatchery dead ends after 6˝ miles, turn left, then left again onto Hwy 199 South in the direction of Cave Junction. Turn left off Hwy 199  going south onto 46/Oregon Caves National Monument.

You have a couple of choices at this point. A visit to the Oregon Caves National Monument will be an unusual treat for anyone who has never experienced a limestone/marble cave before. Keep in mind that cave tours are not for the claustrophobic! The monument's elevation of 4,000 feet plus the necessity to maneuver many hundreds of steps inside the cave (there's a vertical rise of about 218 feet), make the tour strenuous for some. The complete tour lasts about 75 minutes and covers half a mile. It is narrow, low, and damp with temperatures running in the 40s. Wear good shoes and warm clothes and enjoy the adventure! Hours vary-call 541-592-2100, www.nps.gov/orca. The Visitor Center is located on Hwy 46 as you head east to the caves themselves so stop there first to orient yourself and ask questions.

Now that you're here in the Illinois River Valley, consider a jaunt along the 7-mile Holland Loop to visit two of the area's wineries. Keep in mind that these tasting rooms are still fairly simple compared with others but don't let that stop you from experiencing the delights of this out-of-the-way countryside winery. To take the winery tour, you'll turn right on Holland Loop Road off of Hwy 46, not far from where it joins 199 and before the Oregon Caves Visitor Center. On the Loop Road, drive 2 miles to Bridgeview Vineyards and Winery. Follow the gravel road to the tasting room which is set on a deck overlooking a well-manicured vineyard and a lake stocked with trout, where many a Canadian goose or swan takes up residence, too. Bridgeview is a family-run business, like most of the wineries in the area, and the staff will greet you warmly. Robert and Lelo Kerivan first arrived here in 1979, closely followed by their son, winemaker, René Eichmann, in 1980. The winery you see today was completed in 1986. Reflective of the family's German heritage, its 75 acres are densely planted in the European style of vine spacing to grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Müller Thurgau, and Early Muscat. In 1998, Bridgeview added a 100-acre vineyard in the Applegate Valley to plant Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals. Meticulous attention to pruning ensures that each vine produces fewer grapes with correspondingly greater varietal character. (4210 Holland Loop Road; call for tasting hours: 541-592-4688 or 877-273-4843; www.bridgeviewwine.com.)

Leaving Bridgeview, get back on the Loop Road, then turn right on Kendall. Follow signs to the remote Foris Vineyards Winery. With the distinctive honor of being the Pacific Northwest's most southern winery, Foris is situated on the back terrace of the Illinois River Valley. It's almost hidden in the Siskiyou Mountains, so the road to it is half the fun. Varieties produced include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Early Muscat, alongside some wonderful Cabernet and Merlot that come from vineyards located elsewhere within the Rogue Valley appellation. (654 Kendall Road; open daily from 11 am to 5 pm; 800-84FORIS; www.foriswine.com.)

Leaving Foris, turn right onto the Loop Road, then left at the dead end (46) to return to Cave Junction, unless you will be visiting the caves, in which case you'd turn right at the dead end. When your travels are over, retrace your steps (46 to 199 to 238 to 99) to return to Ashland.

ROGUE-UMPQUA SCENIC DRIVE

Just when you thought you knew southern Oregon, you get a glimpse of the wonders along this route and realize your vision was far too limited. Start in Ashland and take I-5 North to 234 east, toward and through the friendly town of Gold Hill. (A quicker route to Crater Lake would involve getting off I-5 about 15 miles sooner and following 62 North, which we'll soon join a little less directly.) Enjoy this lush valley byway to Hwy 62 and then head north. You'll pass through small towns like Shady Cove, which attracts anglers and river rafters from all over the area, through two state parks (Casey and Joseph Stewart), drive past the town of Prospect, and up to historic Union Creek. Stop when you see signs near Union Creek to the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge Interpretive Center so you can marvel at the river as it thunders through deep and narrow chasms here.

To bypass Crater Lake altogether, which may be necessary depending on time and the weather, take Hwy 230 just north of Union Creek. From this stretch you'll still have an impressive view of the peaks and ridges that remain of Mount Mazama following its eruption more than 7,500 years ago. Watch for signs to the Crater Rim Viewpoint. Take 230 to Hwy 138 in the direction of Diamond Lake. If you are taking this route, skip now to the final three paragraphs in this itinerary. Otherwise, we'll take you now to Crater Lake.

Whether you want only a glimpse or a full day at Crater Lake National Park, you'll enter from the southern entrance off 62 (follow the signs from Union Creek). At 1,932 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., which accounts for the intensity of its vibrant blue color. Only six other lakes in the entire world are any deeper than this! The lake resides inside the caldera of a collapsed volcano called Mount Mazama. It is encircled by mountains that stay blanketed in snow nearly all year and makes for a truly memorable visit at the right time of year (usually July through September). There is a weekly per-car admission charge.

Our first stop is the Steel Information Center, open at all times of the year. It's a humble setup but a good place to get oriented. Enter the park from Hwy 62 and turn left where the road dead ends to head north, following the signs to the Information Center. An 18-minute video will introduce you to the Crater Lake story. Pick up a detailed area map only if you're going to spend the day in the park; otherwise we'll guide you. (Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm; 541-594-2211.)

Head north again on Rim Drive. In its entirety, Rim Drive (open July to mid-October) is 33 miles long and steers you along the edge of this awe-inspiring caldera. Without stops it would take you about two hours to complete, but we're going to recommend some spectacular trails (choosing only the easiest), viewpoints, and branch roads along the way, so that you can really appreciate where you are. And don't worry: we'll tell you where to exit if you're here only for a quick visit.

These stopovers appear in order as you take Rim Drive in a clockwise direction from the Steel Information Center:

The Sinnott Memorial Overlook (in Rim Village on the south side of the lake and open in summer only) is your first chance to see this beautiful lake. Rangers offer excellent lectures here. A 100-foot paved path leads to unimpeded views in all directions.

The Watchman offers one of the most breathtaking views on the entire drive (good news for those moving on soon). It's also the closest view you'll get of Wizard Island, which formed after the initial collapse of the volcano more than 7,500 years ago. Consider taking the hike to the site of a former fire tower (almost 1˝ miles round trip). The view from there is amazing.

For the visitor ready to leave the park now, it's shortly after The Watchman that you'll exit in the direction of Diamond Lake on Hwy 138. These travelers should skip now to the final three paragraphs of this itinerary. Otherwise, continue along Rim Drive to linger at these additional spots:

Cloudcap (a 1-mile spur road west of Rim Drive) is the highest point accessible by car. You'll have nearly an aerial view of the lake from this vantage, as well as a 360-degree view of the superb surroundings: dense forests, the Klamath Basin with its own lake, and Mount Scott, which at 8,926 feet is the highest peak in the park.

Phantom Ship (you will view it from Kerr Notch where Rim Road meets Pinnacles Road) offers a glimpse at a 300-foot-long island (actually an exposed section of lava dike) rising out of the lake, which may remind you of a sailing ship. Hikers can get a closer look via a half-mile round-trip trail.

The Pinnacles (accessed via a 7-mile spur road southeast of Rim Drive at Kerr Notch) takes you a distance away from the lake to witness a piece of volcanic mystery. Here, hundreds of hollow spires, made of pumice and scoria (volcanic ash) and called fumaroles, show the effect of years of erosion. Some fumaroles rise eerily as many as 80 feet above the ground. Signage will describe the fascinating details of their formation.

Return to Rim Drive and if you've had enough, take 62 back out of the park all the way to I-5 heading south back to Ashland. Otherwise, continue on Rim Drive until you see the next set of signs for exiting the park (just past The Watchman in the direction of Diamond Lake on Hwy 138).

Certainly you might consider booking a room at the Crater Lake Lodge in Rim Village. While the lodge is not among our recommendations for best places to stay, it is convenient. Reservations are best made well in advance by calling 541-830-8700 Monday to Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. The lodge is open in summer months only.

Continue our Rogue-Umpqua loop excursion by taking Hwy 138 through the resort community of Diamond Lake, nestled between Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen, and on into the thick of the gorgeous Umpqua National Forest. This part of the state is legendary for fly-fishing for steelhead trout, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and many other recreational pursuits. It's a wild and verdant area that passes dramatic rock outcroppings (Old Man Rock and Eagle Creek) as well as the beautiful Toketee Reservoir and Swiftwater Park.

If you have the time, don't miss an opportunity to pull over and enjoy at least one of the many well marked trails, including Susan Creek Falls, Toketee Falls, or Watson Falls. See our listing for the Steamboat Inn for one of our favorite recommendations. It's a perfect choice for overnighting in this area so that you can really enjoy its rich magnificence-at least try to have a meal there. In the community of Glide, stop at Colliding Rivers to admire the spot where the North Umpqua and the Little River converge.

Carry on to the town of Roseburg, then take a beautiful stretch of I-5 southward back to Ashland, or to our recommended inn in Jacksonville.


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A Few Nearby Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts:   List Them All

A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Country Willows Bed & Breakfast Inn
Ashland, Oregon, United States
$ 120-210

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[ icon ] Steel Information Center
Union Creek, Oregon, United States
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[ icon ] Crater Lake Lodge
Crater Lake, Oregon, United States
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[ icon ] Jacksonville Information Center
Jacksonville, Oregon, United States
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[ icon ] Grants Pass
Oregon, United States
[ icon ] Ashland
Oregon, United States
[ icon ] Union Creek
Oregon, United States
[ icon ] Shady Cove
Oregon, United States
[ icon ] Jacksonville
Oregon, United States

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