Southern Oregon covers a large geographic area, basically south of Eugene to the Oregon-California border. This article covers four major regions: the Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, Klamath Basin, and Oregon Outback.
To enjoy these areas, you can fly into the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR) or, as we did, drive down from Portland, Oregon.
Whether you are into scenic beauty, history, wine-tasting, sipping craft beer, rafting, hiking, biking, birding, wildlife viewing, or nationally recognized theatre, there are activities to interest all.
I was able to experience many of these activities through a press trip sponsored by Travel Southern Oregon, Travel Medford, Travel Ashland, and Discover Klamath. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Here are my 14 choices for the best experiences in Southern Oregon.
1. Marvel At The Beauty Of Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is the number-one must-see landmark in Oregon. Crater Lake was formed when Mt. Mazama erupted and collapsed about 7,700 years ago. The resulting 2,000-foot crater soon filled with water from the surrounding snow-capped mountains. The lake is known as the deepest lake in the United States with beautiful blue colors that will mesmerize you.
I suggest that the best time to visit is mid-July through mid-October when the 33-mile Rim Road is open. The drive has many pull-offs for photos and picnics. My favorites are Hillman Peak and Wizard Island. There are also four popular hiking trails for you to enjoy. Each September, hikers and bikers can enjoy the Ride The Rim Event when roads are free of vehicles. Check the webcam for current weather information.
2. Enjoy A Performance At Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the oldest and largest repertory theaters in the United States. The season runs from late February through October with performances in three theatres: Angus Bowmer Theatre, Thomas Theatre, and the third, the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre.
During summer evening performances, enjoy the Green Show, a half-hour courtyard production featuring various guest performers. Also visit the Tudor Gift Shop for unique gifts.
3. Sip Southern Oregon Award-Winning Wines
The Rogue Valley Wine Country is organized into four wine trails. Follow the link for a downloadable map and details.
Two of my favorite Southern Oregon vineyards are Dancin, located just outside Medford, and Irvine & Roberts, located just outside Ashland. Both offer award-winning wines, tasty bites, and incredible views of vineyards and mountains.
Look for annual events such as the August Oregon Wine Experience, the self-guided Applegate Valley Uncorked Self-guided Barrell Tour, and in October, Roam The Rogue, Upper Rogue Valley Wineries.
Pro Tips: A case of Oregon wine travels free on Alaska Airlines on any domestic flight from Medford! Also, check out the Wine Shop at the historic Jacksonville Inn, Jacksonville, Oregon. Awarded Wine Spectator’s “Best of Award of Excellence for four consecutive years, the shop features more than 2,100 wines from around the world.
Editor’s Note: Check out these seven Oregon wineries (all in Southern Oregon) to try outside of the Willamette Valley, too.
4. Raft Or Jetboat The Rogue River
A favorite activity in Southern Oregon is to raft or jetboat the Rogue River. My friends’ favorite spot is Galice Resort, located about 20 minutes west of Grants Pass, for lazy rafting. This is my kind of river rafting — slow and gentle! Other parts of the river offer much more challenging rafting experiences.
Jetboating is another way to enjoy the Rogue. One popular company, Hellgate Jetboat Excursions, offers thrilling rides through Hellgate Canyon. They claim to be “the Pacific Northwest’s #1 River Trip”. The company operates out of Grants Pass and even builds its own jetboats.
5. Enjoy Performances At The Britt Music Festival
The annual Britt Music Festival is held in Jacksonville, Oregon. The Britt Festival is considered the Pacific Northwest’s premier outdoor festival. Dozens of concerts feature national and international performers of classic, blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass, pop, and country music. The event is hosted in the naturally formed amphitheater on the hillside estate of the 19th-century photographer Peter Britt. Thousands of music lovers attend from all around the globe. Check this link for a helpful newcomers’ guide.
6. Look For Birds And Wildlife At Klamath Basin’s National Wildlife Refuges
With six national wildlife refuges along the Pacific flyway, the Klamath Basin is the destination for birders and wildlife watching. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and learn that annually the area is visited by over two million birds. Learn also about the importance of wetlands to the natural environment. Look for the massive nests of bald eagles high in the trees along the canals.
7. Sip A Pint At Southern Oregon’s Craft Breweries
Southern Oregon has an active craft brewery scene with handcrafted microbrews and nanobrews. Click on the link for Ale Trails in Medford, Grants Pass, and Ashland.
Look for annual events such as Medford Beer Week, held in June, and the Southern Oregon Brew Fest held each September. Or, plan your own ale trail any time of the year!
8. Explore The Underground At Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
Located just east of Cave Junction, the Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve is known as the Marble Halls of Oregon. Deep in the Siskiyou Mountains, you can explore the underground world of stalactites and stalagmites. Entrance is only through a ranger-led tour. Four types of tours are available: the Discovery Cave Tour, the Candlelight Tour, the Kids & Family Tour, and the Off-Trail Caving Tour.
Pro Tips: This experience is not for everyone. Watch this short video to determine whether this is your cup of tea, and learn more from our guide on everything you need to know about wild caving in North America.
9. Visit One Of The Top 10 Western Museums In The Nation
Located in downtown Klamath Falls, the Favell Museum is a must-stop for history and art lovers.
The museum houses more than 100,000 native artifacts including arrowheads, hunting kits, basketry, clothing, and early Western art. Plan to spend a full morning or afternoon here. You will be glad you did!
10. Meet The Animals At The Wildlife Safari In Winston
Animal lovers will enjoy a visit to Wildlife Safari, 600 acres of open space where animals roam free while you are “caged” in your own vehicle. The safari is the only drive-through animal park in Oregon. The park is home to approximately 600 animals from 100 species. You can observe giraffes, lions, elephants, zebras, hippos, rhinos, wildebeest, and cheetahs, to name just a few. This link describes all the animals at the safari park. Our enthusiastic volunteer tour guide told us that the elephants are rescues from the entertainment industry!
Not only is Wildlife Safari accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but it is also one of the top cheetah breeding research centers in the world!
You can support the mission of conservation and education by “adopting” an animal during your visit. Those who do will receive an adoption certificate, information, photo, and updates. This is a unique gift for animal lovers.
11. Embark On A Culinary Journey
Southern Oregon is a great destination for food lovers! From award-winning cheese at Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop to one of the nation’s top 10 chocolatiers at Lillie Belle Farms to Harry & David’s Country Store, you are guaranteed to delight in this culinary journey. For delicious homemade berry pies, also stop at Pennington Berry Farm and Beckie’s Cafe.
12. Ski Mt. Ashland
Located high in the Siskiyou Mountains, Mt. Ashland has five lifts, 44 trails, and an average snowfall of 265 inches a year. The summit elevation is over 7,500 feet. Trails are available for all levels, beginner to expert. Ski season generally runs mid-December through mid-April.
13. Explore A Historic Mining Town
Jacksonville, Oregon, was established with the discovery of gold in 1851 and ’52. Immigrants fled to Jacksonville from San Francisco and settled in an area the became the first Chinatown in Oregon. Frommers named Jacksonville one of America’s top 10 coolest small towns. Over 100 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town is recognized as an “example of a late 1800’s Western Gold Boom Town”. There are trolley tours, segway tours, and a self-guided walking tour. Click this link for more details.
14. Sleep In Historic Hotels
History buffs and other explorers will enjoy reliving history through Southern Oregon’s Historic Hotels. Here are my three recommendations.
Jacksonville Inn is located in the historic mining town of Jacksonville. The award-winning bed and breakfast dates back to 1861 with eight historic rooms featuring authentic Western antiques. There are also four luxurious cottages a mere two blocks away from the inn. The most luxurious is the Presidential Cottage with its incredible back garden, waterfall, pond, patio, and lots of privacy. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, stayed here.
The Prospect Historic Hotel Bed & Breakfast Inn is located in the small town of Prospect, midway between Medford and Crater Lake. It is a Nationally Registered Historic Stage Coach Inn dating back to 1888. The wrap-around veranda invites you to sit and ponder. Within walking distance are three waterfalls and the Rogue River. The nine rooms in the historic inn are named after national authors, many of whom came to the area for solitude during their writing. Zane Grey was one such author, and the room named after him contains some of his books.
The third historic inn is The Ashland Springs Hotel, located in Ashland Oregon. Opened in 1925, the hotel has been fully restored and featured in Architectural Digest and The International Magazine of Interior Design.
With so many activities to choose from, I predict that Southern Oregon will become one of your favorite destinations. For further information, consider my advice on how to spend a perfect weekend in picturesque Medford, Oregon, and how to spend a perfect weekend in beautiful Klamath Falls, Oregon.