Near Oregon’s southern border, the rushing Applegate River has carved a wild, rural stretch of land into a fertile haven for farmers, artists, winemakers and anyone inspired by natural beauty. It’s also the kind of destination that encourages a quiet, leisurely pace, especially since cell service may not be available everywhere. So load up the car with a cooler, grab a paper map and hit the road to visit some one-of-a-kind growers, artisans and winemakers. Here’s how to take a 3-day road trip full of tasting adventures and outdoor fun.
Day 1: See Metal Art and Sip Wild Wine
Start the day at Cantrall Buckley County Park near the small town of Ruch, about 25 miles west of Ashland. This 88-acre forested oasis on the shores of the Applegate River offers nearly 2 miles of river access, shady picnic areas, a boat launch and 30 campsites. It’s also home to the Cheryl D. Garcia sculpture park, which showcases Garcia’s larger-than-life playful metal sculptures of flora and fauna native to the valley.
If you’re there on a weekend afternoon, continue down the road to Wild Wines Winery and Tasting Room, which is on a mission to expand your palate with wines made from hand-harvested flowers and fruits. Winemaker Carla David’s deep connection to the land has led her to craft nontraditional dry wines made from plum, dandelion, elderberry and more. Pair a glass of aronia or rosehip wine with a local charcuterie plate while you kick back next to the woodstove in the tasting room constructed with insulating straw bales. Another great winery stop just past the town of Ruch is Red Lily Vineyards in Jacksonville — try a flight of vibrant reds paired with Rogue Creamery cheeses and views of the bubbling Applegate River. Ask the tasting room staff about dipping your toes into the stream.
Day 2: Hike an Enchanted Forest and Taste the Valley
Start the day with a latte and a raspberry Danish at Pennington Farms just outside Williams on Highway 238. The farm specializes in berry-packed baked goods, jams and butters. Then drive east about 20 minutes to the Enchanted Forest (not the historic amusement park in Salem), where you have your pick of two moderate hikes: the 4.4-mile, 1,100-foot elevation gain, out-and-back Enchanted Forest trail, which great views of the valley; or the gentler 4.6-mile, 750-foot elevation gain, out-and-back Felton Memorial trail, which offers valley views from a lower perspective. Both start on the same trail, which passes through oak savanna and madrone forests spangled with wildflowers in spring. Look for a famous old Chevy truck along the way.
Next refuel at nearby Schmidt Family Vineyards, which delights visitors with landscaped grounds, wines made from an immense array of grape varieties and wood-fired pizza. Afterward, cruise down the road past many excellent wineries, including Schultz Glory Oaks and Troon Vineyard, to Goodwin Creek Gardens, a collector’s plant nursery specializing in lavender, tea plants and culinary and medicinal herbs. Browse among 120 different varieties of lavender and Oregon native plants like milkweed, the only food source for Monarch caterpillars.
Finish the afternoon with another wine tasting at one of many nearby producers, like Plaisance Ranch, which makes a range of bright whites and full-bodied red wines on a working organic cattle farm. If you’re staying at a cabin or a campsite, plan to grill up a Plaisance Ranch grass-fed rib eye and pair it with a bottle of tempranillo, with both delicacies raised on the same piece of land. Or check the event calendar at Augustino Estate’s Big Red Barn tasting room nearby, which offers occasional dinners in an old gold-mining shaft they call the Wine Mine.
Day 3: Casual Coffee and Local Produce
For breakfast swing by the Provolt Country Store & Deli in Provolt to take a trip back in time. Built almost 150 years ago, this old-fashioned market once served as the local post office. It’s still a community gathering place for everyone from off-grid farmers to high-end winemakers. Order a vegetarian breakfast sandwich with your coffee and snag a table on the porch to start the day.
Before you head home, stop at the 22-acre Whistling Duck Farm about a mile and a half northeast of the deli. Founded in 1991, Whistling Duck’s sustainable approach includes straw-bale construction using easily renewable straw rather than lumber, which takes decades to grow; and a grid-tied solar system that reduces the farm’s energy carbon footprint. The on-farm store brims with fresh organic local produce and prepared foods made from farm-grown crops. Try one of their sauces or veggie ferments or take home local meats, seafood, honey and goat cheese. Or visit Oshala Farm for a tour or to shop for herbs, teas, and tinctures made from botanicals grown organically right onsite (check their calendar for workshops and other programs).
Where to Stay
The Lindsay Lodge in the town of Applegate, a custom-built redwood lodge with an on-site bar and restaurant, offers seven rooms overlooking the Applegate River. Stroll the grounds to appreciate the grand log-cabin-style architecture and expansive, park-like setting. The Applegate Valley is also home to several U.S. Forest Service campgrounds near or along the Applegate River and Applegate Lake. Jackson Campground is open year-round, as is Acorn Woman Lakes, although it only accepts reservations from May to mid-September. If you’re in the area from early May to mid-September, reserve a spot at Hart-Tish Park, which has a handful of tent and RV sites right on the shores of Applegate Lake.
For more: Visit the Rogue Valley Food Trail for more inspiration.