Food, wine, and wilderness--three things that we love, and few of the reasons you should plan a trip to Southern Oregon.
Oregon has long been an adventure seeker's destination and the southern part of the state offers a diverse mix of landscapes. From lush forests and meadows, raging rivers, and North America's deepest lake, the area is popular with nature lovers.
At the same time, the area has a fast-growing culinary scene with award-winning restaurants, some of Oregon's top chefs, and family-owned wineries set among the region's scenic landscapes.
It is about a five and a half hour drive from San Jose to the Oregon border so a trip to Oregon makes an easy long weekend getaway from Silicon Valley or a road trip stop on the drive up to Portland and points north in the Pacific Northwest. Don't want to drive? Take the overnight Amtrak train from San Jose to Klamath Falls where you can rent a car and use that to explore the region.
Click through the links to see some my picks for the best things to see and do on a long weekend getaway to Southern Oregon.
Visiting Crater Lake National Park
A top reason for heading to Southern Oregon is the chance to catch a glimpse of the dramatic natural beauty of the state's only national park, Crater Lake National Park. At 1,943 feet deep Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, formed more than 7,000 years ago after the volcanic peak Mount Mazama violently erupted and imploded.
There are trails all around the crater rim and hiking opportunities that take you down to the lake. In the summer, you can take a ferry out to Wizard Island to go hiking and get a full 360-degree blue lake view from within the famous caldera.
Crater Lake is one of the snowiest inhabited place in the United States and the weather up at the top of the mountain rim is famously unpredictable. The area can get blizzard-like snowstorms as late as June and as early as September. Call ahead to check weather conditions before you leave.
Active Outdoor Adventures in the Rogue River Basin
The Rogue River is one of Oregon's great treasures, running 215 miles from Crater Lake National Park, through Southern Oregon forests out to the Pacific Ocean. The and it's many tributaries offer diverse opportunities for the outdoor adventurer including world-class fishing, hiking, camping, rafting, and more. The Section of the Rogue River just south of Grants Pass, is known as the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, a federally-protected section that limits development along the river.
To get on the river, check out one of the area's many river tour companies. Rogue Wilderness Adventures offers a varied mix of guided river trips including single day whitewater rafting, fishing, and themed trips like Paddles & Pints (rafting and craft brews) and Hiking and Wiking (hiking and wine). They can also arrange multi-day trips. For a motorized adventure, Hellgate Jetboat Excursions offers jetboat rides led by expert river guides to answer your questions and point out wildlife and scenic vistas along the way.
Take A Stroll Through Southern Oregon's Historic Downtowns
Southern Oregon is full of Gold Rush history. The 19th-Century downtowns that were founded during this era are great places to wander for browsing the shops, galleries, dining, and entertainment options. The towns of Ashland and Jacksonville have long been popular with visitors, but the revitalized downtown districts in the cities of Grants Pass and Medford are worth exploring, too.
These towns are home to a number of important annual festivals and events. In Ashland, the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival draws visitors from around the world to see classic plays by Shakespeare and other writers (February through November). In Jacksonville, the Britt Festival, is one of Oregon's top summer performing arts festivals featuring diverse musical genres in an outdoor amphitheater on the wooded property once owned by 19th-Century Oregon photographer, Peter Britt.
Exploring Southern Oregon Wine Country
Southern Oregon's wine history began in 1873 when local pioneer and renowned photographer Peter Britt, opened Oregon's first winery. Though the industry was setback during Prohibition in recent decades the industry has exploded. Today there are five distinct wine regions in Southern Oregon and 150 wineries. The region's wide day-to-night temperature shifts--the highest in the United States--and varied landscape creates a very diverse wine region, currently growing and crafting more than 70 types of wine.
Here are a few of my favorites winery and tasting experiences from a recent trip to the Rogue and Applegate Valley wine regions.
In the Rogue Valley, visit Kriselle Cellars for rich red wines with a stunning view of the valley vineyards at the foot of Table Rock. In the Applegate Valley, visit Red Lily Vineyard to sample Spanish varietals like tempranillo and grenache, at their outdoor tasting bar on the shores of the Applegate River. Stop by Plaisance Ranch, to try their award-winning French-inspired wines and pick up grass-fed beef from their historic working ranch. Stop into Valley View Winery, the Applegate Valley's longest-running winery, a reincarnation of Peter Britt's historic brand.
Don't want to drive? Book a driver through Wine Hopper Tours, a company that offers guided, expert-led wine tours of the Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley wine regions. Pickup is available from Ashland, Medford, Jacksonville, and Grant's Pass.
Locally Crafted Foods & Farm Tours
Southern Oregon is a growing culinary and "agritourism," or agricultural tourism, destination for travelers who love visiting farm stands and learning about food. There are lots of opportunities to taste locally-grown foods, explore the farms, and visit the places where these products were made.
Pennington Berry Farm, a family-run berry farm and bakeshop in the Applegate Valley. Farmer Sam Pennington grows over 200 types of nd his wife, Cathy Pennington, makes homemade pies, baked goods, and jams using her Italian grandmother's family recipes. Step inside their rustic, renovated barn to sample a daily changing selection of homemade berry jams, pies, and baked goods. Be sure to try some of their hard-to-find varieties like lusterberry, kotataberry, and tayberry.
Visit the Rogue Creamery Dairy Farm just outside of Grants Pass, to sample their award-winning cheeses, fresh from the source. Walk around the site and get a glimpse of the cows and learn about their green technology and high-tech robotic milking machine. They offer free guided tours of the farm on Fridays at noon. In Central Point, you can also visit the main Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop and stop into Lillie Belle Farms for award-winning artisan chocolates and "bean-to-bar" creations.
Heading east, the Klamath Falls region is one of the top birding destinations in the United States. The basin's diverse habitats make it a good place for a wide range of local and migratory birds. More than 350 species of birds call the Klamath Basin home and more than one in three birds that travel the Pacific Flyway each year stops in the area. The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, the first federally-protected wildfowl refuge in the US.
From December to March, the area has the largest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Get up before dawn to watch more than a hundred bald eagles fly out from their roost near Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge, heading out into the valley to hunt and feed. Beyond the eagles, you can see Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes, egrets, herons, hawks, owls, and more. The annual Winter Wings Festival draws birders and wildlife photography enthusiasts from around the country.
Pick up a copy of the Klamath Basin Birders Trail guide for maps, photos, and descriptions of the best birding spots in the Klamath region.
Where to Stay in Southern Oregon
The historic Gold Rush-era town of Jacksonville has a charming and walkable downtown and it's a great place to stay if you want to be surrounded by local history. On my recent trip, I stayed at the Wine Country Inn, a 27-room inn, just outside of the downtown. The motel-style lodging offered large rooms that were comfortably furnished with solid wood furnishings and quality bedding.
If you are heading to Klamath Falls, the Running Y Ranch Resort is a hotel and conference center on 3,600 acres of forest bordering Klamath Lake. The property includes 12 miles of hiking and biking trails and Oregon’s only Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. The cozy lodge features fireplaces and warm wood throughout as well and a separate sports complex on-site with full-service day spa, indoor pool, and jacuzzi.