As a native Oregonian (born and raised in the Coast Range and then Eugene), I grew up with my parents taking my sisters and I camping every summer for “vacation.” We’d always go to the same couple spots we loved, but since moving to Portland in 2006, I’ve done a lot of exploring elsewhere – from the North Coast to Steens Mountain, the Alvord Desert to the Wallowas, and the high desert of Central Oregon. But Southern Oregon has always been an area that I’ve wanted to explore more. I was so excited to discover the beauty of a new region of Oregon.
Jake and I started our trek on one of the most beautiful days of the year. The weather was crisp and sunny, with the leaves beginning to change to bright golden and red hues. We stopped in Eugene to grab lunch at one of my favorite natural food stores, Sundance Natural Foods. From there we made our way down to Roseburg and then east on the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. Once the highway narrowed and began to run along the river, we couldn’t resist stopping to take a look. That look led to an impromptu jump into the crystal blue waters of the Little River, where it meets the (much colder) North Umpqua at Colliding Rivers Park. In all my years living here, I can’t remember ever jumping into a body of water in Oregon in October – but Southern Oregon’s warmer weather and waters did not disappoint. We knew that this would be our last river swim of the year. (Note: folks should use caution swimming in this location due to rapid and changing currents from both rivers.)
From there we continued along to the Steamboat Inn, nestled in the trees along the North Umpqua River. We settled into our cabin overlooking the river, and eventually worked up an appetite for the famous dinner served at the Inn’s restaurant. Each night there is one dinner service, which begins with wine and appetizers in the library. Sharon Van Loan introduced herself and told us that she and her husband Jim have owned the Steamboat since 1975, and she invited us to have dinner with them and some of their good friends. We moved into the dining room and began our incredible homemade meal of lamb shanks, sautéed green beans, salad, freshly baked bread and various delicious deserts. After a long drive, lively conversation, and an excess of tasty food, we slept well with the sounds of the rushing river just outside our door.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the inn, we made our way up the highway (past the picturesque Toketee Lake) to Umpqua Hot Springs for a short hike and dip into the warm hillside pools.
From there we continued along the changing scenery of the highway, through the Umpqua National Forest to high desert, and eventually to Crater Lake. The deep blue waters of the lake below met with brilliant blue sky above created an exceptionally beautiful scene on that early October day. I had only been to Crater Lake once, when I was probably 10 years old, and was completely blown away with the beautiful scene. It was more incredible than I could have imagined!
It was a long day driving, but after winding through back highways and roads, we made our way southwest to Willow-Witt Ranch outside of Ashland. We couldn’t have been happier to pull up to the picturesque property and step into our cozy little Farmhouse Studio. We met with Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt, the owners/founders of the ranch and our hosts for the night, who showed us where to pick vegetables and purchase their farm-raised meats for dinner that night. After harvesting lots of greens, tomatoes, green beans, onions, and shallots, we decided on some luscious pork chops for dinner that night. Back in our studio, I prepared the vegetable dishes as Jake cooked up the pork. We sat down to a late meal, complete with local pinot noir and a fire burning in the wood stove, and both agreed that it might have been our favorite meal of the year.
The next morning Suzanne and Lanita showed us around the ranch, while very modestly and confidently demonstrating their vast knowledge of animal husbandry, the local ecosystem and organic gardening. To say they were inspiring would be an understatement, as we reluctantly made our way from the ranch with a renewed desire to move to the country and start a small farm of our own.
We stopped in Ashland for a good cup of coffee at Mix Bakeshop, then continued through Jacksonville, popping into a few little shops downtown to pick up snacks to eat as we continued on through the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. We stopped at Pennington Farms Market and a couple wineries along the way, where we ate our picnic lunch.
Eventually we made our way down through the redwoods, dipping down into Northern California, before driving back up the Southern Oregon Coast to Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge, our destination for the night, just outside of Gold Beach. We didn’t make it there in time to enjoy the one seating of the chef’s thoughtfully-prepared multi-course dinner, however, the chef did bring out a delicious soup for us that just hit the spot, along with salad and sandwiches and a bottle of Oregon wine.
On our last morning of the trip, we woke up early to meet Dave at South Coast Tours for a sea kayak trip. I was a little skeptical; unsure if I would enjoy it, and a little worried that I might tip over in my boat. However, after finding my stride and making our way along the rocky shoreline, I couldn’t have been more excited to see the ocean from a totally different perspective than ever before. Dave was a great guide – the perfect mix of being cautious and responsible, but also fun and adventurous.
We worked up an appetite after paddling in the ocean for a few hours, and made our way up to Tony’s Crab Shack in Bandon for lunch. No trip to the coast would ever be complete without some seafood, and this was just the spot to spoil us before a long trek home. A dozen fresh oysters, bay shrimp cocktail, and clam chowder was the recipe for serious satisfaction.
Driving up the coast, we stopped just south of Florence at the Oregon Dunes. When I was young, every time my family would drive to the coast, we would have a competition to see who would see the first sand dune. To me, the coast and big dunes are synonymous in my mind, but Jake hadn’t ever been here. We ran up and down the hills, getting out a little energy before the few hour drive home.
In four days and about 900 miles, we saw parts of Oregon neither of us had before, experienced adventure, good food, cozy nights of sleep, and made many wonderful memories.