A breath of fresh air on the West Coast, Southern Oregon is naturally created for outdoor living. Whether it’s fly fishing, hiking, river rafting, mountain biking or simply strolling small towns on a brisk day and dining al fresco, SoOR is a Texan’s outside playground.
Getting There in the Air
Fly into the tiny airport of Medford and get a rental car because you will need it to get around. Head over to Common Block Brewing. Southern Oregon is full of craft breweries and this one has great outdoor seating. Order some delicious fried cheese curds with a local pilsner. The Ranch Wrap rounds out this perfect afternoon.
Head to Ashland, a little less than a half hour away, an adorable walkable town, known for its Shakespeare Festival. There are multiple professional theaters in town that run 11 different performances throughout the year, drawing crowds from all over the world. Monday is what they call “dark night of the theater” where none of the performances are happening so most of the restaurants are also closed.
Check in at the Peerless Hotel. Built in the early 1900s with its brick facade, it looks like an old bank building. With only a few rooms, this inn is a lot like a B&B without the breakfast (there’s a community parlor with non-alcoholic drinks throughout the day). Suite 1 downstairs is spacious with an exposed brick wall donning a beautiful fresco painting, a comfortable double bed and dimmed lighting. The bathroom has a big shower with strong hot water which hits the spot after a full day of outdoor living.
Head over to Case Coffee to grab a latte and an old-fashioned chocolate covered donut baked daily. Ashland’s streets are dotted with small independent shops, from bookstores to a yarn store, a brick oven pizza parlor and an olive oil shop. Ashland Creek runs through town and has a beautiful path that ambles alongside the river.
Lithia Park is a local treasure in the middle of town where you’ll find miles of trails, a duck pond, Japanese garden, rose gardens and lots of green space, in addition to a playground.
Greenleaf for brunch is the move; ask to sit in the back along Ashland Creek where you can listen to the bubbling stream. Order a hearty breakfast like a benedict, omelet or stuffed croissant with a hot cup of coffee. They are big fans of their grilled polenta that’s offered with several dishes.
Also along that same strip are a wine bar and Oberon‘s Tavern that lead out to the trail along the creek.
A River Runs Through It
As an alternative to river rafting, enjoy a Rogue Jet Adventures boat tour. This 2.5-hour guided boat tour will take you up the Rogue River where you can see some beautiful homes, including Jim Belushi‘s which sits right on the river, while you do some spins and accelerate down to Discovery Park where you can grab some refreshments like a local craft beer and chill near the water.
Southern Oregon is historically known for its summer and winter steelhead runs. In recent years, the steelhead numbers have been declining on the Northern Umpqua River. However, there is still legendary fishing on the Rogue River that runs through the entire region. Check with a local fly shop before traveling to the area to find the best methods and rivers to fish.
Living Between the Vines
Take a half hour drive (from Ashland) to Kriselle Cellars (close to Rogue Jet Adventures) where you can sit on the tasting room patio and enjoy a beautiful vista of their ranch while enjoying some of the tastiest wines Oregon has to offer. Owners Scott, the winemaker, and Kriselle, the vineyard manager, can be seen working the estate to create these award-winning vintages.
Part of the Upper Rogue Wine Trail, here you can sip on wines “from Albarino to Zinfandel” as they say. Enjoy an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc (a smooth blend from three different vineyards, aged partly in barrel and partly in tank, giving it a creamy finish), Cabernet Sauvignon ($39), Malbec (wild berry, pepper spice, $32) or Tempranillo (little early one in Spanish). Because you can only get these delectable wines at the winery or through their wine club, you will surely find yourself shipping home a case of your favorites.
Between Rocks and a Beautiful Place
From Ashland, head north towards Crater Lake National Park, which is about a 1.5-hour drive. On the way, stop off in Shady Cove at The Fishin’ Hole fly shop where you can get last minute accessories like sunscreen, hats, and some local fishing knowledge. Next door is The Picnic Basket where you can grab a picnic lunch to take with you, and even a cooler with ice if needed. They have several types of hot or cold sandwiches and try the pickle pasta salad.
There’s lots to know before you go to Crater Lake National Park. Because of the heavy snowfall, nearly 50 feet at the headquarters per year, you’ll need to figure out what is open when you are going. Even in early June, all of the hiking trails were under snow so you needed skis or snowshoes. There’s a $30 entrance fee and you can drive up to the Rim Village, park and walk up to breathtaking views of the deep blue lake. It’s hard to predict the best time to visit; most of the park is open in July and August but that’s also the busiest time and by the end of the summer, visitors are dealing with smoke from forest fires. Check the website before you go.
Some interesting Crater Lake National Park facts:
- Over 6 miles across
- Nearly 2,000 feet deep at its deepest point, making it the deepest lake in the U.S.
- Holds nearly 5 trillion gallons of water
- The lake was created as a result of an erupted volcano 7,700 years ago creating the deep basin.
- Find the “Old Man,” an ancient hemlock tree that has been floating upright in the lake for more than 100 years.
The Ultimate All-Encompassing Spot
We’ve saved the best for last… Steamboat Inn is the quintessential SoOR location to lodge, encompassing everything precious from the area: waterfalls, the robust North Umpqua River flowing just behind the historic property, beautiful landscaping and an A++ culinary program; not to mention, some of the nicest folks serving your meals. A bit off the grid (you can only get cell service at the lodge/restaurant), with no phones or TVs to distract, fishermen and others looking to soak up the south Oregonian vibe settle in to this magical retreat.
With a history (established in 1957) of being situated in prime fishing territory, the current owners took over the property in 2017 and made impressive updates (such as the cozy library), just in time for the fires of 2020 (which scarily surrounded the inn) and Covid. Now the 18 units, which can sleep up to 58 guests, are packed to the gills in the summer months and a great catch at other times of year.
The aesthetic of the inn is reflected in their saying, “Gather in the peace that is this place for you may take it with you as you travel on.” The front porch of The Falls Cabin looks out over the rushing waterfalls of the river, a truly serene scene. The property pops with purple, pink and green, their beautiful landscaping a welcome eye candy. There’s also fishing tunes streaming out of the lodge speakers at all hours.
Wine With Everything
It’s rare to find a restaurant at a quiet inn in the middle of nowhere that features such an outstanding culinary program. From a hearty breakfast of homemade biscuits and gravy to a light lunch of tasty hummus with naan bread and veggies, to a small but mighty dinner menu, the F&B offering is superb. Treat yourself to their housemade black truffle ravioli (the only dish that’s been featured on the menu for the past four years because guests complain when they’ve tried to remove it), paired with a Silvan Ridge cabernet sauvignon or a Rex Hill chardonnay.
And, if that’s not all magical enough, Steamboat Inn is located on what’s known as the famous “Highway of Waterfalls.” Just down the road, you can hike to some of the country’s most impressive falls, such as Toketee Falls, Watson Falls (the highest in southern Oregon plunging 293 feet), and Susan Creek Falls.
Check out our interactive itinerary!
Cover from Travel Southern Oregon.
Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She began her travel writing career in 2002 with Austin Woman Magazine and now writes their “The Texas Traveler” section. She can be seen as a contributor on TV shows across Texas, offering travel tips.