Spring offers a vibrant payoff for hikers in Southern Oregon. Lowland fields and forests erupt with color in March, and the riot of blossoms continues deep into summer at higher elevations. Southern Oregon delivers extra wildflower wonder because the area’s microclimates and unusual soils sustain such a wide variety of species, including some that grow nowhere else on earth.
For prime flower viewing, epic hiking and the creature comforts you might expect in a world-class wine region, here’s how to enjoy a spring visit to Grants Pass and the two verdant nearby valleys carved by the Illinois and Applegate rivers in Southern Oregon.
See Wildflowers on a Hike
When it comes to plant diversity, Southern Oregon punches well above its weight.
Habitats range from subalpine meadows to temperate rainforests to oak savannas. Over 3,500 plant species thrive here, 281 of which are unique to the region. The landscape’s rich diversity is partly due to the convergence of three mountain ranges: the Siskiyou, the Klamath and the Cascades. Explore this botanical wonderland on the wealth of trails that network throughout the area.
One marquee plant to seek out is Darlingtonia californica, a carnivorous pitcher plant found in the Illinois Valley at the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside, about six miles north of Cave Junction. These bulbous and speckled specimens populate wetlands, easily viewed from the wheelchair-accessible interpretive boardwalk. Another rarity here is Kalmiopsis leachiana, a small shrub that resembles a miniature pink-purple rhododendron and grows nowhere else.
The Table Rocks also harbor a biological oddity. During the wet season, look for small seasonal pools created by rainwater in volcanic rock. In these pools swim the endangered vernal pool fairy shrimp, about the size of a paper clip. With over 200 species of wildflowers, the Table Rocks host a few found nowhere else, including dwarf meadowfoam, a dime-size white flower found on wet volcanic soil that flowers in March or early April. Look up from flower gazing — you don’t want to miss the spectacular views of the Rogue River, Mt. McLoughlin and the rim of Crater Lake. Trails are closed to pets and horses, with peak wildflower viewing from late March to mid-May.
Access unusual terrain at the Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside, home to the highest concentration of rare plants in the state. Take the accessible trail for a short walk to a picnic table overlooking Rough and Ready Creek, from which the trail extends for another mile or so. April, May, and June are best for viewing wildflowers like violets, Tolmie’s mariposa lily, and California poppies.
The 400-acre Cathedral Hills trail system is a few minutes south of downtown Grants Pass, where 10 miles of trails offer hikers, bikers and equestrians a rainbow of wildflowers along with old-growth forests and dazzling views of the surrounding mountains.
To stretch your legs before wine tasting, try the Enchanted Forest Trail, about 16 miles southeast of Grants Pass near Provolt. The dense madrone forest opens up to wildflower meadows and views of the Applegate Valley. Then recover from your athletic endeavors at nearby wineries including Troon Vineyard, Wooldridge Creek Winery, Schultz Wines and Walport Family Cellars.
Taste Wine, Shop for Plants and Savor Local Cuisine
Wildflowers coincide with budbreak (when grapes start to grow new shoots and leaves), always a celebratory time at vineyards. See both at Troon Vineyard, where regenerative agricultural practices allow native flowers to bloom between the vines. Nearby Wooldridge Creek Winery has incredible mountain views to enjoy along with your chardonnay or tempranillo. It’s also Oregon’s only combined vineyard, winery, dairy, creamery and charcuterie maker. Covered outdoor seating and fire pits make it a year-round destination for enjoying wine and cheese.
Most cheese lovers know about Rogue Creamery, launched in 1933 and famous for its prize-winning, organic, cave-aged blue cheeses. Visit the Rogue Creamery Dairy to tour the farm, taste cheese and grab some tasty blue or cheddar to take home.
Plaisance Ranch has even deeper roots in the area, going back to 1858. Taste wines and shop for grass-fed organic beef raised on-site, then stroll through heirloom vegetable gardens and orchards. Plant nerds will enjoy a visit to nearby Pacifica: A Garden in the Siskiyous, a 420-acre nonprofit nature center, botanic garden and nursery established in 1999.
Continue sampling local culinary culture with a visit to the Grants Pass Growers’ Market, a year-round farmers market with artisan crafts, ready-to-eat foods, prepared foods, produce and more. It’s indoors at the fairgrounds during winter and downtown during the summer months. Or get snacks for the road in Cave Junction, where Taylor’s Sausage makes meaty snack sticks and Trillium Bakery specializes in doughnuts and sandwiches.
In the mood for something more substantial? Sit down for upscale fare in Grants Pass. Try the seared truffle scallops at The Twisted Cork, or brunch on chilaquiles with mimosas at The Bohemian bar and bistro.