: Jak Wonderly / Travel Southern Oregon

10 Top Marvels of Southern Oregon

July 13, 2020

Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Know that most tasting rooms are by appointment only, and face coverings are required for all public indoor spaces in Oregon. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.

If you want to see some of the largest, deepest, tallest, bluest and wildest sights in Oregon, you’re in the right place. Southern Oregon’s marvelous rivers, lakes, mountains and valleys are made for exaggerations — but all live up to the hype.

Here you’ll find everything from waterfalls and wine to incredible geology and a dizzying amount of outdoor recreation. You just have to return again and again to experience it all. Here are 10 special places that will inspire you.

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Two mountain bikers pedal down a dirt trail that overlooks a forested valley.
The Time Warp to Ashland ride offers mountain bikers a fun long descent down Mt. Ashland. (Photo by Justin Olson)

Mt. Ashland

After winter’s snow melts and the ski lifts stop running, the fun doesn’t stop at Mt. Ashland — the tallest peak in the Siskiyou mountain range. There’s no better view than the one from the top, at 7,400 feet, which you can reach via the steep and challenging Summit Trail, with wildflowers and views of Mt. Shasta, Mt. McLoughlin and Pilot Rock along the way. Mountain bikers can also catch a shuttle up to 5,000 feet and bomb down the thrilling Mt. Ashland Super D trail, one of six spectacular trails in the Rogue Valley. If you’d rather take it easy, there’s space for that too. Take a relaxing amble along a nature trail with a pair of binoculars for some bird-watching, set out on a trail run; or check out a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes right by. The city of Ashland (and all its arts, culture and dining) is 8.6 miles north of the mountain, while the Oregon–California border is just 5 miles south.

County: Jackson County

Cities: Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford

Where to stay: Ashland Springs Hotel, Callahan’s Mountain Lodge, Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, Plaza Inn & Suites at Ashland Creek

From a viewpoint in the national monument, wildflowers pop up and a snow-capped peak appears in the distance.
With oak savannas, juniper-dotted slopes, undulating wildflower meadows and stands of old-growth conifers, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is home to incredible biodiversity. (Photo by Bureau of Land Management)

Cascades-Siskiyou National Monument

There are so many special superlatives you can use to describe the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a national treasure in the heart of Southern Oregon. Even while it’s close by to Ashland and I-5, and bisected by 43 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, there’s a vast amount of pristine wilderness to bask in here as you spend your time fishing, boating, hiking or camping far away from the crowds. The 114,000 acres of protected land are home to marmots, mountain lions, river otters, black bear, elk and more than 200 bird species. In one weekend you can splash in a lake, cast a line for smallmouth bass and take a heart-pumping trek to the top of a bluff to take in stunning views of the Soda Mountain Wilderness. The monument celebrates its 20th birthday in 2020. 

County: Jackson County

Cities: Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford

Where to stay: Green Springs Inn & Cabins, Willow-Witt Ranch, Callahan’s Mountain Lodge,  Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites

Grapevines look ready for harvest amid blue skies and summer weather.
Featured on the Bear Creek Wine Trail, Ledger David Cellars has a vineyard in Talent and a tasting room in Central Point. (Photo by Marc Salvatore)

Rogue Valley Wine

Wine connoisseurs know and love Southern Oregon for its world-class wines and exquisite, family-owned and less-crowded tasting rooms. Here in the Rogue Valley AVA, there’s plenty of room inside and out to spread out and admire views of rolling hills and vineyard sunsets. Spend a few days exploring the Bear Creek Wine Trail — Oregon’s warmest and driest wine-growing region, as well as the southernmost. Thirteen tasting rooms span a route of 21 miles, from Central Point at the north to Ashland at the south throughout the fertile Bear Creek Valley. The Applegate Valley Wine Trail includes another 19 tasting rooms stretching from Jacksonville northwest to Grants Pass, following the Applegate River with farms, lavender fields and country roads ideal for a scenic bike ride.

Counties: Jackson County, Josephine County

Cities: Ashland, Medford, Jacksonville, Grants Pass

Where to stay: Magnolia Inn, The Lodge at Riverside, Lithia Springs Resort, Best Western Horizon Inn

A volcanic plateau stands tall above green trees and a blue river.
Formed by a lava flow 7 million years ago, Upper and Lower Table Rock stand 800 feet above the Rogue Valley. (Photo by Southern Oregon Drone)

Table Rocks

Seven million years ago, a volcano erupted and filled the Rogue River Valley with lava. As the landscape eroded, two plateaus stood behind, rising from Southern Oregon’s high desert like two “islands in the sky,” as the Table Rocks are often called. The Upper and Lower Table Rocks rise more than 800 feet from the valley floor and are magnificent places to visit, as long as you follow best practices to leave the space cleaner than you found it. Home to fragile ecosystems of plants and animals, they are official Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. For instance, Lower Table Rock is home to more than 200 wildflower species, including the extremely rare dwarf woolly meadowfoam, which grows nowhere else in the world. Consult the Bureau of Land Management’s guide on how to hike and camp at these geologic wonders, and see this guide to more treks in the area to pair with a tasty post-hike reward.

County: Jackson County

Cities: Central Point, Eagle Point, Medford, Gold Hill

Where to stay: Inn at the Commons, Resort at Eagle Point, Valley of the Rogue State Park

Rafters paddle down the river, three in individual water crafts while two large groups paddle behind them.
The Rogue River was one of the first designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, recognized for its outstanding natural, cultural and recreational assets. (Photo by Justin Bailie)

Wild and Scenic Rogue River

Known for its emerald waters and lush forest canyon, the Rogue River is the lifeblood of Southern Oregon. It flows 215 miles from Crater Lake to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach, and 84 miles of it is designated as Wild and Scenic — meaning permits are needed for adventuring so it can remain pristine for generations to come. One of the best ways to experience the Rogue is on a guided rafting trip, catching thrills on Class 3 and 4 rapids with a knowledgeable guide at the helm. You can also hike the Rogue River Trail or book a one-of-a-kind wilderness retreat that includes riverfront lodging in addition to curated fishing, hiking, rafting and dining experiences. If you’re in Grants Pass, a scenic jet-boat ride is a fabulous way to cool off on the Rogue while hearing about its history and culture on the narrated tour. 

County: Josephine County

Cities: Grants Pass, Merlin, Galice,  Gold Hill

Where to stay: Weasku Inn, Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Lodge, Paradise Lodge, Galice Resort

A bartender pours from a tap in front of a "Drink Local" sign.
The Great Umpqua Food Trail offers three itineraries — filled with stops at the area's top tastemakers — to inspire your exploration. (Photo by Joni Kabana)

Great Umpqua Food Trail

Southern Oregon’s bountiful landscapes host some of the best farm-fresh food and drink the state has to offer, whether it’s cherries and blueberries or yummy pizzas with handcrafted cheese and organic produce from a few miles away. Find more than 45 businesses — including wineries, breweries, restaurants, farmers markets, farm stands and U-pick farms — along the self-guided Great Umpqua Food Trail. Most are a short detour off Interstate 5 in many small, friendly towns worth exploring. Satisfy your taste buds as you get to know the “Great Umpqua” region — named for the watershed and the lush valleys through which the river and its tributaries flow. The food trail offers three itineraries to inspire exploration: Rambling Rivers, Old Wagon Roads and Sips to the Sea — all within a stone’s throw from historic sites and idyllic countryside. Make sure to say hello to the magnificent Monarchs and Painted Ladies at the Butterfly Pavilion in Elkton along the way. 

County: Douglas County

Cities: Oakland, Roseburg, Winston, Canyonville

Where to stay: The Big K Guest Ranch, Steamboat Inn, The Painted Lady Bed & Breakfast, Seven Feathers Casino Resort

From the observation deck, one can witness the majesty of the two-tiered Tokette Falls.
Observe the mighty Toketee Falls from the wooden viewing platform on the canyon wall.

Highway of Waterfalls

In terms of bang for your buck, there’s no better spot to see waterfalls in Oregon than along the 172-mile Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway (OR-138), aptly nicknamed the Highway of Waterfalls. Stretching from Roseburg south to Gold Hill, just north of Medford, the byway follows parts of the North Umpqua and Upper Rogue rivers and more than 15 eye-popping cascades. Among them are the double-tiered Toketee Falls, one of the most photographed in the region, and 272-foot Watson Falls, among the tallest in Southern Oregon. Some of the waterfalls attract crowds on the weekends, but many are more remote with very little foot traffic. Bring your camera for the necessary photo op and then put it away, because there’s so much more to do when you get here. Take a hike, enjoy the rush of the wonder of the cascades and breathe in the fresh pine-scented air. 

Counties: Douglas County, Jackson County

Cities: Roseburg, Glide, Prospect, Gold Hill

Where to stay: Hampton Inn & Suites Roseburg, Steamboat Inn, Union Creek Resort, North Umpqua River campgrounds

A car drives down Rim Drive where the road curves to an overlook above Wizard Island and Crater Lake.
Crater Lake National Park's famed 33-mile Rim Drive features access to forests, meadows and 30 scenic overlooks. (Photo by Dylan VanWeelden)

Crater Lake National Park

If you’ve ever peered down from the rim at Crater Lake — the deepest, bluest lake in the U.S. — you’ve gotten a taste of its majesty. To really know this Oregon wonder is to hike some the national park’s 90 miles of trails, ride your bike along Rim Drive on a car-free day and stargaze at an elevation of 6,178 feet. The lake is the result of Mt. Mazama’s eruption 8,000 years ago; take time to learn its creation story, part of the rich Native history of the Klamath region. It’s all part of the endlessly gorgeous Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, a 140-mile stretch of highway from Diamond Lake south to Klamath Falls and Oregon’s southern border. The scenic byway takes road-trippers through the best of the best: where eons of eruptions and lava flows left a fiery heritage of cinder cones, pumice plains and unforgettable landmarks like Crater Lake.

County: Klamath County

Cities: Chiloquin, Klamath Falls, Jackson County’s Medford

Where to stay: Crater Lake Lodge, The Aspen Inn, Rocky Point Resort, Wild Goose Lodge Motel

An angler sits on a deck at Upper Klamath Lake waiting for the fish to bite at dusk.
Upper Klamath Lake is approximately 25 miles long and 8 miles wide, making it the largest body of freshwater in Oregon. (Photo by Robbie McClaran)

Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Many lakes in Oregon are small and crowded, making it hard for kayakers and anglers to avoid wakes from nearby boats. Upper Klamath Lake, on the other hand, is quite large — the largest lake in Oregon and west of the Rocky Mountains. This uncrowded, off-the-radar destination, part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway and 30 miles south of Crater Lake National Park, is a premier spot for nature lovers looking to get away from it all. The Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge at the north end is full of rich marsh and wetlands, some of the richest freshwater ecosystems in the western United States, which draw more than 1 million migrating birds. The lake and its many tributaries and creeks make for excellent paddling, like at the crystal-clear Spring Creek, just north. Bring your favorite watercraft or book a guided tour and make sure to pack a picnic — with 98 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty of room to spread out.  

County: Klamath County

Cities: Klamath Falls, Rocky Point, Lake of the Woods, Bonanza

Where to stay: Lake of the Woods Mountain Lodge & Resort, Rocky Point Resort, Running Y Ranch Resort

Fort Rock looms 325 feet above ground, resembling a powerful stone fortress.
Fort Rock, a National Natural Landmark, is the tuff ring of an ancient volcanic crater that sat in a shallow sea many millennia ago. (Photo by Central Oregon Film Office)

Fort Rock

Any photo of this 325-foot stone fortress rising out of the high-desert landscape doesn’t do it justice. Fort Rock — actually a tuff ring of an ancient volcanic crater that sat in a shallow sea many millennia ago — is a geologic wonder worth the detour. You can spend a few days exploring Fort Rock State Natural Area via a short hike along the inner outcropping and a guided cave tour (book now for September and October 2020). Since the cave is a Natural Heritage Site, taking the guided tour is the only way to explore the cave, which is the site of an archeological discovery of 10,000-year-old sagebrush-bark sandals that are believed to be the oldest in the world. Continue the journey through Oregon’s Outback to the ancient volcanic fissure of Crack in the Ground, featuring a cool 2-mile trail that is at times more than 30 feet below ground. Along the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway, soak in the warm waters of  Summer Lake Hot Springs and explore the massive wall of Abert Rim, the largest exposed fault scarp in North America. Just outside Oregon’s tallest town, Lakeview, is the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, which played a vital role in reviving populations of pronghorn, the fastest land mammal in North America.

County: Lake County

Cities: Christmas Valley, Silver Lake, Summer Lake, Lakeview

Where to stay: The Lodge at Summer Lake, Best Western Newberry Station, Green Mountain Camp Site

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters, annual Visitor Guide and other editorial content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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