Southern Oregon is home to a tremendous cache of natural treasures: the nation’s deepest lake, in the caldera of an ancient volcano; fertile valleys for world-class winemaking; and wildlife refuges on the Pacific Flyway that are home to thousands of pelicans, herons, bald eagles, osprey and other fowl as they nest or fish in the wetlands during their winter migration. Here’s how to take a road trip and soak it all up this winter.
See Wildlife in Oregon’s Outback
There’s “off the beaten path” and then there’s the true outback. The geology of Southern Oregon makes for a dramatic road trip into wild country. The Klamath Basin is ground zero for bird nerds who come from far and wide for the winter and spring migration, toting their binoculars, bird-spotting checklists and a sense of adventure. February is the big event, the 41st annual Winter Wings Festival, an all-volunteer-run effort celebrating the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states, as well as the numerous bird species (114 at last count) that call the Klamath Basin home. But wait, there are more wild things. Tucked into the ridgeline above the Warner Valley, the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge provides a haven for the region’s pronghorn population and more than 300 other wild species, including bighorn sheep and sage grouse. Visit the expansive refuge for bird-watching and wildlife spotting in rugged canyons and wetlands. Nearby Lakeview is the gateway to high-desert mountain biking, hiking and fishing in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and birding in Goose Lake State Recreation Area. Summer Lake Wildlife Area is also a great place to spot birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway, and Summer Lake Hot Springs offers a wonderful outdoor soak to warm the bones in the cooler temps.
Snowy Bliss at Crater Lake and Beyond
Just standing on the rim of this 7,700-year-old caldera and looking down into the lapis lazuli waters of Crater Lake is the experience of a lifetime. But this 183,000-acre/74,057-hectare national park offers prime winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — for newbies, photo buffs and anyone looking to fill their winter bucket list. Luckily, the park offers a free ranger-led snowshoe tour through the magical landscape, so you can head out without worry while you look for the footprints of fleet-footed wild creatures. Trade picture-perfect lake views (which may be obscured by the weather) for picture-perfect snow views of the glistening-white landscape. You can also bring your own sled or tube and play on a gentle slope, followed by a hot chocolate at the cafe. If you do drive to Crater Lake, know that the north entrance and Rim Drive are closed to vehicles in the winter, so use the entrances at the west and south, which are plowed (there is a winter entrance fee of $15 for the park). Check weather and road conditions, and have snow tires or chains and know how to use them. Crater Lake also has a video with tips on winter safety at the park. Just 10 miles north of Crater Lake, the seven lanes of snow tubing at Diamond Lake Resort is another fun excursion, December through March. For more of a workout, you can also explore the more than 40 miles of crosscountry skiing and snowshoe trails at the resort, with on-site rentals. Small towns are especially beautiful in the winter, with parades and other celebrations: check out the nearby communities of Chiloquin and Eagle Point. Find plenty of lodging, dining, family fun and a vibrant cultural scene in the larger cities of Klamath Falls and Medford.
Winter Ales and Wines in the Rogue Valley
Maybe it’s the proximity of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River or the nearness of the deep woods of nearby national forests. Something has inspired an untamed tradition of winemaking and brewing in and around the Rogue Valley, and winter — known as Oregon’s cellar season — is a divine time to explore it all. Ashland is home to national and international award-winning Caldera Brewing Company, and Medford alone offers six stops along the Southern Oregon Ale Trail. The Southern Oregon AVA includes five distinct sub-AVAs — Elkton, Red Hill/Douglas County, Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley — for a diverse range of delicious wines. Wine-tasting rooms near Medford feature the bold reds and crisp whites of the Rogue Valley wine region. The Bear Creek Wine Trail leads visitors to 13 distinct tasting rooms in Ashland, Talent and Medford. Winding its way out of Grants Pass toward historic Jacksonville, the Applegate Wine Trail leads visitors to delightful tastes at 17 award-winning wineries, including producers of big-flavored syrah, grenache and tempranillo. Download the map and call ahead to make sure businesses are open in the winter months. Don’t miss the Rogue Winterfest and the Grants Pass Christmas Parade in early December. As you head north toward Roseburg or northwest to the Coast, let the Great Umpqua Food Trail in the Umpqua Valley be your guide to finding tasty eats at more than 65 delightful stops (call ahead to check if they are open in the winter months).
If You Go:
Winter in Oregon can be unpredictable, so come stocked with fuel, food, water, paper maps, waterproof clothing layers and emergency supplies when venturing out to more remote areas. Always check weather and road conditions before you go, and have snow tires and know how to use them. Brush up on How to Winter Like an Oregonian for more tips.
Oregon’s Outback Itinerary
Klamath Falls, Plush, Lakeview, Summer Lake, Paisley
Crater Lake Itinerary
Crater Lake National Park
Rogue Valley Itinerary
Ashland, Medford, Jacksonville, Grants Pass