Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
As the fourth largest county in the state, with plenty of room to spread out, Southern Oregon’s Klamath County brims with open vistas and pristine forests, rivers and lakes, including Crater Lake — Oregon’s only national park.
The region is also home to some of the state’s best golfing, birding, biking and fishing for families. Road trips are having a moment in 2021, and families ready to expand their horizons and explore parts unknown won’t want to miss it. Plan to spend several days exploring — and even then, you’ll only scratch the surface. Whether you make your home base in town or in the mountains nearby, here’s what should be on your family travel itinerary.
Families will find a lot to do on two wheels. The epic OC&E Woods Line State Trail is one of Klamath County’s quiet, back-road gravel grinders: miles of gravel roads abandoned by the timber industry and put to excellent use as bike paths. Tackle a small section of this 100-mile trail via access points. There are also a number of road routes with low vehicle traffic, such as the 9-mile Lake of the Woods route around the lake and through old-growth forest, with more descent than climb.
If you’re up for more rugged terrain, Klamath’s single-track mountain bike trails beckon with routes hugging the county’s waterways right near Klamath Falls. Families with older kids or more experience will be challenged by the Rye Spur Trail through the conifer forest near Lake of the Woods, or the 14-mile Brown Mountain Loop. Beginners may want to stick with the OC&E with its flat grade.
Didn’t bring your bikes? Rent one at Zach’s Bikes in Klamath Falls. They have options for the whole family, including kids’ sizes and entry-level mountain bikes.
Kayaking and canoeing abounds on the Upper Klamath Canoe Trail, a 9-mile journey through calm, freshwater marsh in the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. A great spot to put in is at Rocky Point Resort, just 35 miles northwest of Klamath Falls. Due to the lack of current, the refuge is a great location for a stand-up paddleboarding adventure, too. Don’t forget to bring binoculars, life jackets and a required Oregon Waterway Access Permit, available online.
Older kids and teens will love the guided canoe experiences offered by Real Oregon Experience (ROE), which offers engaging tours of the region’s robust bird population as well as marine wildlife. Their minimum recommended age is 5 for most trips, but give them a call if you have specific questions. Like other guided tours in Oregon, ROE requires face coverings, has enhanced their hygiene measures, leads smaller-group tours and requires booking in advance.
Klamath County’s waterways are home to some of the best lake trout fishing in the Lower 48, drawing anglers from all over the world. Families can try their hand at reeling in a big one or a small one and making treasured memories.
Located at the base of snowcapped Mt. McLoughlin, Lake of the Woods Resort is the perfect midway point between the Rogue Valley and Klamath Falls. In addition to fishing boats, ski boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboard rentals at the marina, the resort offers cabin lodging, camping, and miles of hiking and biking trails right from the lake shore to cap a day on the water. Their lakefront dining on the deck keeps families fueled up for adventure.
Over at Odell Lake Lodge & Resort, located on Oregon Route 58, families can rent a canoe or fishing boat for the day. The sunsets are legendary, and you’ll often have the chance to chat with Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers stopping in for a milkshake. For an even more remote experience and more room to play, head to Crescent Lake Resort and rent a Sea-Doo or Aqua Cycle, then stay the night in a cozy cabin with a waterfront view. If you’d like the expertise of a friendly local guide, ROE is a great choice. Check out the many other expert guides for fishing trips in the area.
Young kids and toddlers love the free, miniature-train rides offered by the Klamath and Western Railroad at Train Mountain Railroad every weekend from late May through early September near the town of Chiloquin, 30 miles north of Klamath Falls. Train Mountain is the world’s largest model railroad, with more than 36 miles of 7.5-gauge track in the midst of an enormous pine forest. Be sure to check their social media pages for any unexpected closures, and remember that face coverings are required.
For some outdoor activity close to Klamath Falls, head to the nature trail loop at Moore Park, where you can stroll with less than 150 feet of elevation gain on wide paths, where it’s easy to keep 6 feet of physical distance.
For families looking for longer hikes and possibly backpacking routes, the Sky Lakes Wilderness is easily accessed from either Highway 140 or Fort Klamath Road, with multiple subalpine lakes with spacious, remote campsites within 2 to 5 miles of moderate hiking. The Pacific Crest Trail passes the entire length of the area north to south for about 35 miles, but families can access lakes for day swimming and fishing via Cold Springs Trailhead with relative ease. Remember to always pack out what you pack in, carry your Ten Essentials and follow other ways to Take Care Out There when visiting this pristine wilderness.
If You Go:
Klamath County offers a wide variety of lodging options, from camping to comfy hotels and cabins to luxury golf stays. If you plan to spend most of your time in town, stay at the new Fairfield Inn in downtown Klamath Falls, with kitchenettes and an indoor swimming pool. If anyone in the family golfs, look to stay at The Running Y Ranch Resort in either their lodge-room accommodations or one of their vacation homes. Other excellent options are Lake of the Woods Resort and Rocky Point Resort, both tailor-made for adventure.