Every time I return to the Rogue Valley, either by plane or by Interstate 5, the rising tip of volcanic Mt. McLoughlin grounds me. Planted in the heart of the valley, my hometown of Medford serves as a geographical hub of Southern Oregon — with views not only of McLoughlin but Mt. Ashland to the south, Table Rocks to the north and Roxy Ann Peak to the east. This makes Medford an ideal place for visitors to access the bounty of cultural and recreational experiences throughout the region. As a resident of almost 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this small city grow into its potential. Here’s how to experience Medford and the Rogue Valley all year-round like a local.
Old and New Favorites Downtown
For me, the heart of downtown Medford’s cultural scene is defined by two landmarks: the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts and Common Block Brewing. Within this compact area are several notable eateries and shopping options on West Main Street, including the eccentric, on-trend home and gift shop Thirrteen Mercantile & Design, as well as Downtown Market, which is enjoying a new, larger location after earning instant popularity for its homemade and often locally sourced breakfast-lunch-pastry menu. The Caprese sandwich is an elevated grilled cheese to die for. Recently reimagined Hawthorne Park, now home to the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market (Thursdays, March through November) is also worth noting, with newcomer — and oh, so hip — Forage Coffee adjacent. One of my favorite breakfasts is the Rogue scramble at Buttercloud Cafe, which uses internationally prized Rogue Creamery cheese.
Sprinkled throughout the downtown area are established favorite eateries and watering holes, including Jefferson Spirits, known for their craft cocktails in and in-house culinary creations; Porters (in a historic train depot); and Elements tapas bar. Enhancing the scene are Bricktowne Brewing, The Urban Cork wine bar — featuring wines made next door at Pallet Wine Company — and Immortal Spirits, which distills its own gin, vodka and whiskey. The Rogue Grape wine bar showcases the diversity of Southern Oregon wines through daily varietal features paired with tasty charcuterie. It’s a great place to sample all of the region’s wines under one roof before a show across the street at the Craterian Theater. For a wine tasting on the vineyard experience, enjoy the farmhouse chic of Roxy Ann Winery‘s barn (try their famous pear wine, a nod to Medford’s agricultural roots) or 2Hawk Vineyard and Winery‘s upscale rustic decor and backyard.
Hiking the Rogue Valley
When I’m not eating and drinking my way through Medford, I’m hitting the trails in and around the city. It’s easy to be out in nature within minutes. I can go west from downtown toward the historic mining town of Jacksonville, where I can be on the scenic Britt Trails (7 miles from downtown) or Jacksonville Forest Park, both of which offer entire networks of hiking and mountain biking trails. In the other direction, 10 miles north of Medford, the Table Rocks await, offering the choice of Upper Table Rock hike — adjacent to Kriselle Cellars for an aprés-hike nosh — or Lower Table Rock hike — longer but less steep. The views of the Valley from the tops of these plateaus are definitely Instagram-worthy.
When I have time to go further afield, sections of the Pacific Crest Trail are easily accessible from both Mt. Ashland to the south (hike to the Grouse Gap Trailhead) and off Highway 140 to the east, near Mt. McLoughlin and Lake of the Woods (approximately 40 miles). Either option affords hikers wide-open vistas of Southern Oregon peaks and occasional glimpses of Mt. Shasta. In early to mid-summer, the wildflowers are in bloom on Mt. Ashland. Alternatively, if you are heading north to visit the iconic Crater Lake National Park, follow Highway 62 along the world-renowned Rogue River, framed by lush forest. Halfway to Crater Lake, you’ll see signs for Mill Creek Falls, Barr Creek Falls and Pearsony Falls — all easy add-ons to a trip to Crater Lake. Wherever you hike, ensure you follow Leave No Trace practices, leaving the trails better than you found them.
Southern Oregonians love sharing our abundance of outdoor recreation with visitors, some of which is best enjoyed with a guided experience. To see the best of the Rogue River in a matter of hours, Rogue Jet Boat Adventures operates out of Central Point, minutes from downtown Medford. These unique jet boats offer adrenaline-inducing rides packed with surprising historical anecdotes from your guide, and one-of-kind views of the Table Rocks.
If you are still craving excitement, head to Rogue Valley Zip Line Adventure, also located in Central Point. Their five-line course zips you over canopies of trees in Southern Oregon’s gold-mining foothills, and is a perfect family activity for anyone age 8 and up.
Prefer to stay on land? Southern Oregon Express offers wine tours and other experiences, including visits to ghost towns and historic bridges, as well as a tour of the region’s many scenic waterfalls. I am a fan of their wine-tasting tour, which includes transportation for up to 11 people, which allows me to focus on wine and friends, not driving. For visitors, a wine tour is a great way to introduce yourself to the breadth and depth of the region’s 70-plus varietals produced at more than 80 wineries throughout the Rogue Valley AVA.