Southern Oregon is a land meant for hikers. It’s home to some of the most varied terrain in the West, from old-growth conifer forests to ancient volcanic formations to vast high-desert plains. That gives you dozens of opportunities for both quick-and-easy nature walks and rigorous wilderness treks.
Of course, every season here is a good season for exploring the outdoors, but fall and winter present even more fun in the elements. Fans of alpine hikes revel in the cool, rainy mist. When snow covers trails, you can slip on snowshoes. And if you stick to the lower-elevation valleys, you may even find yourself in short sleeves in the middle of February.
Wherever you end up hiking, warm up afterward with a hearty feast at one of the region’s eclectic restaurants, featuring everything from wood-fired pizza to juicy steaks. And go ahead and splurge on dessert or an extra pint of stout — you’ve earned it.
Know before you go: Southern Oregon is vast and topographically diverse, meaning you can experience multiple climates and varying weather in a single trip, especially in the cooler months of the year. Before setting out, review your route on TripCheck.com, which will alert you of current conditions and potential closures. Be prepared by packing layers, carrying an emergency roadside kit and bringing a paper road map. When hitting the trails, tread lightly and aim to leave no trace.
Climb atop Rogue Valley’s Table Rocks
Hike: A pair of 800-foot-tall mesas formed about 7 million years ago by lava flow from a massive volcanic explosion, Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock lie within a 10-minute drive of each other. Easy to moderate treks up both mesas lead through breezy wildflower meadows and oak- and pine-forested slopes to U-shape clifftops with panoramic views across the Rogue River, toward the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains. At 3.5 miles round-trip and with a steeper ascent, Lower Table Rock Trail is a bit more strenuous than the 2.5-mile round-trip Upper Table Rock Trail, but you can complete both treks in less than four hours. Highly active riparian habitats, the Tables are popular for bird-watching. The Nature Conservancy, which manages the Table Rocks area in partnership with the BLM, offers occasional guided hikes.
Eat: It’s a 20-minute drive to Elements Tapas in downtown Medford, which is as highly regarded for its well-poured craft cocktails — try the refreshing cucumber-basil gimlet — as it is for sophisticated small plates of yellowtail ceviche, bacon-wrapped dates, and flatbread topped with lamb sausage and local Rogue Creamery Smoky blue cheese. It might seem a bit chic for a post-hike nosh, but this warmly lighted, brick-walled space always feels perfectly welcoming, even if you’re clad in KEEN boots and polar fleece.
Take in the Klamath Basin views on the Spence Mountain Loop
Hike: Part of a 7,400-acre parcel of beautiful evergreen forest owned by the JWTR timber company, Spence Mountain is a new multiuse trail system that’s being developed in phases, with 28 miles (out of an eventual 50) open to the public as of 2018. A highlight is the rigorous and highly popular 9.7-mile Spence Mountain Loop, which climbs more than 1,500 feet to a dramatic 5,800-foot peak with 360-degree views of Upper Klamath Lake and the surrounding mountains. On clear days, you can see the snowy summit of California’s Mt. Shasta 65 miles away. Although trails in the system are accessible year-round, they can get muddy in the spring with rain and snowmelt. Throughout the fall, however, they’re terrific for rugged hiking and trail running, and in winter both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are fun options. Keep an eye out for mountain bikers, who also use these trails.
Eat: Celebrate having conquered this arduous trek with a pint of Backroad Vanilla Porter or Storm Warning Winter Ale at Klamath Basin Brewing. Set in the handsome 1930s Crater Lake Creamery building in downtown Klamath Falls, a 20-minute drive southeast of the trailhead, this convivial brewpub serves up such hearty grub as beer-battered fish and chips and jalapeno-bacon burgers. On warm days, aim for a seat on the patio.
Explore the inside of an ancient volcano at Fort Rock
Hike: Explorers of all skill and energy levels, and even their four-legged friends, appreciate this easy and enormously rewarding 1.7-mile loop trek in Fort Rock State Natural Area, in the remote and visually arresting Southern Oregon outback. This nearly fortresslike 325-foot-tall remnant of a massive volcanic eruption stands sentry over sweeping sagebrush plains. You can wander through the formation’s interior or scramble up to the rim for a sweeping panorama of the surrounding high desert. Fun anthropological detail: The oldest sandals ever found, dating back some 10,000 years or more, were discovered in a nearby cave.
Eat: Prodigious 26- to 30-ounce steaks and whole roasted chicken are your only entree options at Cowboy Dinner Tree, a rollicking Wild West tavern in Silver Lake, about 30 minutes’ drive south of Fort Rock. At this rustic cash-only joint decked with cowboy boots and horse tack, the fixed-price dinners are by reservation only and include — in addition to the meaty main course — salad, soup, dinner rolls, a baked potato and dessert. It’s nothing fancy and there’s no booze, but a meal here is great fun, whether you’re with old friends or making new ones. Depending on the time of the year, Cowboy Dinner Tree is open from one to four nights a week, but it’s always a sure bet on Saturdays.
Stroll around Crater Lake on the Discovery Point Trail
Hike: Gaze into the clear, azure heart of America’s deepest body of water on this stunning 1.3-mile ramble along the 7,050-foot southwestern rim of Crater Lake, the centerpiece of Oregon’s iconic national park. On this wide and level trail to the point at which prospectors first spied the lake in the 1850s, you’re treated to clear views of conical Wizard Island and the many peaks on the distant horizon. And although Crater Lake receives more than 40 feet of snow each winter, with storms beginning as early as October and as late as June, the park road to the trailhead in Rim Village is plowed year-round. During these cooler months, the trail will likely be covered in snow, but it’s still spectacular — just be sure to wear sturdy, high boots or snowshoes.
Eat: For plenty of Crater Lake visitors, a side trip to Beckie’s Cafe at Union Creek Resort — a 30-minute drive west of the park — is de rigueur. Specifically, fans come to this rambling 1920s roadhouse for the heavenly pies filled with boysenberry, cherry, apple, pecan, peanut butter or any number of other seasonal ingredients. On the savory side of the menu, French-dip sandwiches, mushroom ravioli and chili burgers provide sustenance to hungry hikers. Pro tip: On your way out, pick up a jar of house-made blackberry or huckleberry jam.
Hike the Big Tree Loop around Oregon Caves
Hike: Although most visitors to Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve come to explore the dark and mysterious marble caverns for which it’s named, this 4,554-acre park offers some of the most alluring above-ground hiking in Southwestern Oregon. Home to the state’s widest-girth (13 feet in diameter) Douglas fir tree, the 3.3-mile Big Tree Loop has plenty of notable features: a challenging 1,100-foot elevation gain that’ll get your heart pumping, a dramatic canopy of old-growth conifers and a lofty observation point with grand views of the secluded Illinois Valley. Keep in mind, though, that the caves and park facilities are closed from early November through late March, and snow is common during these periods. If you are planning a visit in winter, the paved road to Oregon Caves is maintained and plowed, and the park’s trails are popular for snowshoeing, but it’s a good idea to check TripCheck.com for the latest on closings and advisories.
Eat: It’s all about heat at Rosie’s Inferno Wood Fired Pizza, a food truck parked beside the Chevron Station at the junction of U.S. 199 and Highway 46 in Cave Junction, a half-hour drive from the park. Temperatures in Rosie’s mobile brick oven approach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which ensures perfectly crisp-crust pies and calzones baked in less than two minutes. Favorites include the Thai Guy (with peanut sauce, fire-roasted chicken and fresh basil) and the Red Light Special (prosciutto, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and smoked mozzarella on a garlic-and-olive-oil base). Save room for the Nutella calzone for dessert.
Meander through mossy ferns on the North Umpqua Trail
Hike: Tackle a portion of the 15.7-mile Tiogasegment of the verdant North Umpqua Trail, which stretches a total of 79 miles along the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River as it climbs deep into the Umpqua National Forest. Marked by dense stands of old-growth hemlock and Douglas fir, fragrant ferns and rushing waterfalls, the entire trail system is a feast for your senses. The Tioga segment begins at the Swiftwater Trailhead and is the westernmost (and lowest-elevation) entry point on the trail,making it a good choice in winter, when sections farther east can be covered in snow and ice. Just a quarter-mile in, you’ll encounter thundering Deadline Falls, and 1.5 miles later, Fern Creek Fallsis a great photo op and picnic stop. More ambitious trekkers can continue all the way to 2,300-foot Bob Butte, which offers expansive views of the countryside.
Eat: Downtown Roseburg — a half-mile west of the Swiftwater Trailhead — abounds with inviting cafes and restaurants, including casually urbane Brix Grill, a chatter-filled neighborhood bistro that serves globally influenced breakfast, lunch and dinner (it’s a terrific option for breakfast before a hike, too). In the evening, tuck into a bowl of grilled prawns with pasta and lemony olive oil, mahi-mahi tacos with mango salsa, or char-grilled teriyaki chicken with black-sesame wild rice. The wine, beer and cocktail list is extensive, too.