What makes Southern Oregon so special?
Is it the wine country or the ethereal landscapes? Perhaps it’s the sense that something can take you by surprise at any turn. Traveling the Circle of Discovery scenic loop will send you on an adventure-filled journey through seven national parks and monuments that are a geological and cultural tour de force of Southern Oregon. Get ready to stand amidst towering forests, visit North America’s deepest lake, feel the cool mist of waterfalls and explore Oregon’s hottest wine country.
Illinois Valley: Cave Marvels and River Towns
Start your quest for adventure underground. Become a full-fledged spelunker at Oregon Caves National Monument. You can opt for the standard fare cave tour, which includes the must-see Marble Halls of Oregon, but why not go to the next level with an off-trail outing requiring hard hats, lamps and kneepads provided for you? Venturing deep into the mountain, the marble rock formations in unique patterns and forms are something to behold. If exploring is in your nature, don’t leave without inspecting the six-story Oregon Caves Chateau built upon a small gorge. Grants Pass, a charming river town with the famous Rogue River running right through it, is nearby. Treat yourself to a winery tour on the outskirts of town or visit downtown for a fun night out.
Tour of caverns at Oregon Caves National Monument
Rogue Valley: Ski Country and Culinary Culture
After exploring down below, you’ll be ready for the mountains in Rogue Valley. With over 20 ski runs, Mount Ashland offers a snow-skiing bonanza. About 30 minutes from Ashland in the Siskiyou Mountain range, there are snowboarding options at the world’s first sustainable ski area with STOKE certification. Away from the slopes, downtown Ashland is a welcome sight for both dining and culture, including the Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The Oregon Iron Chef winner set up shop at Smithfields, a restaurant focused on meat dishes but with plentiful selections for vegetable fans. Next, go to Standing Stone Brewing Company and tip back a craft beer. Finally, get lost in a couple of top-notch wine trails. The Applegate Valley Wine Trail, comprised of 17 unique wineries, offers everything from Spanish-inspired Tempranillo at Red Lily Vineyards to sparkling wine and sustainable varietals at Wooldridge Creek. The Upper Rogue Wine Trail showcases six wineries, including the award-winning Kriselle Cellars, not to be missed on your way to Crater Lake National Park.
The popular Oregon Shakespeare Festival in downtown Ashland
Umpqua Valley: Vineyards and Volcanoes
Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley, is home to memorable wineries perched on a picturesque hillside and producing pinot noir and chardonnay. The list is solid in this valley with Paul O’Brien Winery, the valley’s first urban winery, and Abacela, which produces small lots of quality wine with a definitive Spanish influence. What’s even better is the lack of crowds; it’s still undiscovered. After an amazing day outdoors, unwind in Roseburg, a cute mountain-area town. To reach Crater Lake from Roseburg, follow the Highway of Waterfalls along the North Umpqua River to reach the Volcanic Scenic Byway.
Grapes growing in a Southern Oregon valley
Klamath Basin: Crater Lake and Other Wonders
Claims that Crater Lake is sapphire blue aren’t exaggerated. You be the judge as you admire this lake formed over 7,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption. Crater Lake National Park features stunning volcanic formations and a multitude of scenic trails to hike. Spot Phantom Ship, a rocky island that looks like a ship from afar. If you plan to camp at the park or stay at Crater Lake Lodge, you’ll find stargazing is a one-of-a-kind experience. Of course, you shouldn’t miss Upper Klamath Lake, known as “Crater Lake’s backyard” for boating, canoeing and biking. Bring hiking boots; gorgeous trails are plentiful and vary in difficulty. While exploring the area, find comfortable accommodations in Klamath Falls, often used as a base to visit the historically and geologically fascinating Lava Beds National Monument, just over the border in California.
Hiking forest trails to see the power and beauty of a waterfall
Fly in to Rogue Valley International-Medford (MFR) for easy access to Southern Oregon sites. Alternatively, arrive at the larger Portland International Airport (PDX) and rent a car to drive about 395 kilometers south to Grants Pass.
Can’t say goodbye? If you need more time to explore the Circle of Discovery, go for it. It’s an endless loop filled with wonder.