Located in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, sunny Grants Pass is a great base for awesome outdoor experiences along with great local foods, wines, and microbrews. The Rogue River, which runs from the Cascade Mountain Range to the Pacific Ocean, has a stretch near 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 as well, which you can explore at several local sites and attractions. There is a thriving local winery and brewery scene, which you can enjoy at the region's eateries or on a driving tour.
Here are my recommendations for fun things to see and do during a visit to Grants Pass and the Rogue Valley:
Oregon's Rogue River is famous for it scenic beauty and its rafting opportunities. You'll find a number of outfitters in the area - particularly in the nearby town of Merlin - offering whitewater rafting and float trips. Jet boats are available to take you to a magnificent and wild section of the Rogue that is otherwise inaccessible to most of us. Some sections of the river offer exceptional fly fishing. Along the river, you'll find parks, campgrounds, and lodges offering accommodations and amenities.
Rafting & Floating the Rogue River
People come from around the world to take advantage of the Rogue River's untamed majesty. Some sections of the river 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 choose to do your raft trip with an expert guide, or you can float on your own. Permits are required for most sections. Rogue River raft trips can be for a few hours or for several days.
The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the responsibility for managing recreation on the "Wild and Scenic" portion of the Rogue River and provides a comprehensive Rogue River Float Guide, where you can learn about permits, regulations, shuttle routes, river etiquette, and get maps and detailed information about various sections of the river. The Grants Pass visitors bureau also offers an excellent guide to the section of the Rogue between Lost Creek Dam and Grave Creek, which is designated as the Rogue River Water Trail. This guide offers excellent maps that include available riverfront facilities, such as toilets, trails, food, and boat ramps.
Jetboats on the Rogue River
While most traffic on the Rogue River is non-motorized, there is one special type of boat that can handle the white water - a jet boat. Hellgate Jetboat Excursions operates out of Grants Pass, providing narrated tours through famous Hellgate Canyon. The scenery, wildlife, and history are the focus of the trip, which is both scenic and thrilling. Brunch, lunch, and dinner excursions include a fun, family-friendly meal.
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. The wineries can be found in the Rogue Valley and in nearby Illinois Valley and Applegate Valley. Among the top wineries to visit are:
Schmidt Family Vineyards
Stop by for wine tasting and a memorable pizza lunch, where you can wander and relax among their lovely gardens.
Troon Vineyard - Applegate Valley Estate
A warm and welcoming place where you can learn about Troon wines and the local wine scene.
Woolridge Creek Winery
Savor wine on the outdoor patio or inside by the fire in the tasting room, which is open daily.
The marble formations in this ancient cave system are the main, but not the only, attractions at Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve. Physically-fit people will enjoy the ranger-guided, 90-minute tour (fee and reservations required). Adventurous visitors can take in the Off Trail Tour for an introduction to caving. Before or after your cave tour, explore the official NPS visitor center, where you can learn about the natural and human history of the Oregon Caves and the nearby lands. The charming and historic Oregon Caves Chateau is nearby; ranger-led lodge tours are available or you can explore the lodge's public areas and services on your own.
The National Monument includes over 4, 500 acres, where you can enjoy numerous trails for hiking, wildlife watching, and the Siskiyou Mountains viewing.
Day Hiking Near Grants Pass
With all the parks, forests, rivers, and mountains that surround it, you know the Grants Pass area offers excellent hiking opportunities. Here are some recommended day hikes:
Pearce Riffle Nature Trail
Accessed at Tom Pearce County Park on the Rogue River, this easy, improved hiking and biking trail is a family-friendly option.
Cathedral Hills Trail System
This system of trails is located within 400 forested acres managed by the BLM. There are trails for bikers and horseback riders as well as for hikers. You'll have your choice from easy to moderate to difficult loop trails.
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.
4 miles round trip
Other Outdoor Recreation Opportunities Near Grants Pass
In addition to all the river recreation and hiking trails, the Grants Pass area offers many other opportunities to enjoy nature and the outdoors. Riverfront Park, a Grants Pass city park, is a fun place to wander and explore. Kids will enjoy the whimsical playground and open lawn spaces. Playspaces include softball and soccer fields, a disc golf course, and bike trails. 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 literally dozens of fishing guides and outfitters that serve Grants Pass visitors.
Visit Golden Ghost Town
The Golden State Heritage Site preserves the remains of a 19th-century mining town that was abandoned. Wandering among the remaining buildings is a family-friendly way to enjoy the outdoors.
Annual Events & Festivals in Grants Pass
The local community hosts a number of special events and festivals throughout the year, including:
Amazing May (May)
A whole month of special events of pre-summer fun, including the Boatnik Races on the Rogue River.
Back to the 50s (July)
The cars and music of the fifties are celebrated at this popular summer festival.
Art Along the Rogue (October)
Street painting and chalk art decorate the streets of Grants Pass during this special event.
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 is interpreted at the Applegate Trail Interpretive Center Museum in the nearby town of Sunny Valley, Oregon.
Pottsville preserves the pioneer era of Oregon's history with artifacts that include entire building and large equipment. The "Pioneer Town" buildings and outdoor exhibits are open to the public on a daily basis. If you'd like to tour the museum, an appointment is required. Pottsville Museum and Pioneer Town are located in Merlin, Oregon.