Located in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, sunny Grants Pass is a nice base for awesome outdoor experiences, along with great local foods, wines, and microbrews. The Rogue River—which runs 215 miles from the headwaters near Crater Lake National Park to Gold Beach at the Pacific Ocean—has a stretch close to Grants Pass that is officially designated a National Wild and Scenic River. The vast Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lies west of Grants Pass; Crater Lake National Park sits to the east. The local river rafting, hiking, biking, and fishing are all fantastic.
In addition to the glorious outdoors, the Grants Pass region has some interesting pioneer-era history which you can explore at several local sites and attractions. There is a thriving local wine and craft brew scene, which you can enjoy at the region's eateries or on a driving tour or wineries and breweries.
Oregon's Rogue River is famous for its beauty, and rafting opportunities include wildlife viewing. A number of outfitters in the area—particularly in the nearby town of Merlin—offer whitewater rafting and float trips. Some sections of the river offer exceptional fly fishing. Along the river, you'll find parks, campgrounds, lodges, and charming towns offering accommodations and amenities.
People come from around the world to take advantage of the Rogue River's untamed majesty: Some sections offer Class I and II rapids, suitable for a thrilling family float trip. Others offer a greater challenge, with numerous Class III and IV rapids. You can do your raft trip with an expert guide, or float on your own. From mid-May through the middle of October, float permits are required and competitive for the wild and most remote section covering Grave Creek to Watson Creek. Raft trips can last for a few hours or for several days.
While most traffic on the Rogue River is non-motorized, one special type of jetboat can handle the white water. Jetboats can take you to a magnificent and wild section of the Rogue that is otherwise inaccessible to most of us. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions provides narrated tours through famous Hellgate Canyon in an exciting trip focusing on scenery, wildlife, and history. They offer various excursions, including brunch, lunch, and dinner journeys.
The Rogue Valley and nearby Applegate and Illinois Valleys are home to a number of vineyards and wineries, making southern Oregon a wonderful destination for foodies and wine lovers. Top wineries (all open daily) to visit include:
- Schmidt Family Vineyards: Stop by for wine tasting and a memorable flatbread pizza lunch, or have a fresh salad. Wander and relax among their lovely gardens in Grants Pass.
- Troon Vineyard: This warm and welcoming place in the Applegate Valley in Grants Pass teaches visitors about Troon wines, biodynamic winemaking, and the local wine scene, with the landscape of the Siskiyou Mountains all around.
- Woolridge Creek Winery: Savor wine and taste some artisan cheeses and cured meats on the outdoor patio or inside by the fire in the tasting room. Visit their 56-acre vineyard in the Applegate River Valley in Grants Pass.
Check out the ancient cave system—with marble formations being the main attraction—at Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve, about 90 minutes from Grants Pass. The park includes over 4,500 acres, where you can enjoy numerous trails for hiking, wildlife watching, and viewing the Siskiyou Mountains.
Physically-fit people will enjoy the ranger-guided, 90-minute tour (fee and reservations required). Adventurous and fit cavers can do the Off-Trail Caving Tour in the summer for an introduction to caving. Before or after your cave tour, explore the Oregon Caves Visitor Center, where you can learn about the natural and human history of the Oregon Caves and the nearby lands and pick up a souvenir from the bookstore.
The charming and historic Chateau at the Oregon Caves is nearby (though closed for renovations.) Ranger-led lodge tours are available or explore the lodge's public areas and services on your own.
With all the parks, forests, rivers, and mountains that surround it, the Grants Pass area offers excellent hiking opportunities. Recommended day hikes include:
- Cathedral Hills: This system of trails is located within 400 forested acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). There are 10 miles of trails for bikers and horseback riders as well as for hikers. You'll have your choice from easy to moderate to difficult loop trails in this park around 10 minutes south of Grants Pass.
- Rainie Falls Trail: Following the Rogue River from Grave Creek Bridge to the falls, you can watch the colorful rafters and kayakers on the river, enjoy the scenery, and, in season, watch the salmon migrations on this 3.6-mile trail about 45 minutes from Grant Pass by car.
In addition to all the river recreation and hiking trails, the Grants Pass area offers many other opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
- Riverside Park: This Grants Pass city park is a fun place to wander and explore. Kids will enjoy the whimsical playground and open lawn spaces. Play spaces include baseball and soccer fields, and a disc golf course. For relaxation, hang out in the rose garden or at one of the picnic tables or shelters.
- Fishing Near Grants Pass: The Rogue, Applegate, and Illinois Rivers are all rich in salmon, trout, and steelhead. Lake Selmac and Lost Creek Reservoir offer world-class bass and trout fishing. There are dozens of fishing guides and outfitters that serve Grants Pass visitors.
The local community hosts a number of special events and festivals throughout the year, including:
- Amazing May: A whole month of special events of pre-summer fun, including the Boatnik Races on the Rogue River, the Native American Arts Festival, and the Spring Wine Stroll.
- Back to the 50s: The cars and music of the 1950s are celebrated at this popular weeklong summer festival in July which includes outdoor movies, food, and more.
- Art Along the Rogue: Street painting and chalk art decorate the streets of Grants Pass during this special two-day event in October, which also features live music.
It was the Applegate Trail—which in Nevada branched from the California Trail north into Oregon—that brought pioneer settlers to Southern Oregon. The history of this Westward Migration route and the settlement of the Applegate Valley, the discovery of gold, and the building of the railroad are some of the things visitors learn about at the Applegate Trail Interpretive Center. You'll find the center in the town of Sunny Valley, Oregon, about 20 minutes from Grants Pass.
Pottsville preserves the pioneer era of Oregon's history with two museums of artifacts that include war memorabilia and medals, mining equipment, typewriters, large equipment such as tractors, the old Pottsville Fire Truck, and more.
The "Pioneer Town" buildings and outdoor exhibits are open to the public; if you'd like to tour the museum or the Pioneer town, an appointment is required. Pottsville Historical Museum and Pioneer Town are located in Merlin, just a 15-minute drive from Grants Pass.
Hunt for Ghosts
You can check out the paranormal activity at a southern Oregon Ghost Town. This Golden State Heritage Site preserves the remains of Golden, a 19th-century mining town that was abandoned. Golden was once home to 100 people and served as a center for many others who worked in more remote locations. The 1850s mining camp eventually gave way to a town which was established around 1890. Four buildings remain including the church, a commercial building, and one home.