If you’re looking for a relaxing weekend getaway, the Oregon Caves offer a scenic, often overlooked oasis for the adventurous-at-heart. The Oregon Caves are solutional caverns made of marble, created by groundwater that seeped into cracks in the rock, widening them until they reached the size of tunnels. Besides the various options for cave exploration, there are a number of hiking and walking trails in the immediate vicinity, one of which offers a fantastic view of the Illinois Valley. My husband and I decided to take a trip down to southern Oregon to see the caves and stay at the Oregon Caves Chateau. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and would definitely recommend it!
Best Time to Go & Notes on Getting There
Cave tours begin in March and run until the beginning of November (closed for Winter), so plan accordingly. Although August is a busy time of year, it’s very pleasant weather-wise, with temperatures in the range of 70–80 degrees Fahrenheit. The Oregon Caves are located about 20 miles east (view map) of Cave Junction. We’d recommend allowing enough drive time to get to the caves before dark. The last few miles of the trip are through windy forest roads that are best traversed during the day. Also, the area is full of wildlife, so drive carefully. We even saw a bobcat cross the road on our way out!
In our experience, it wasn’t necessary to reserve a cave tour ahead of time (for the Discovery Cave Tour or Candlelight Tour). However, you may want to call ahead if you plan to do the Off Trail Adventure Tour, as space and times are limited. To reserve cave tour tickets, visit: www.recreation.gov
Cave Tour Breakdown:
- Discovery Cave Tour: 90-minute ranger-guided cave tour. This is the standard cave tour and is a fairly easy walk through the cave, with steps. If you’re going to do one tour, do this one.
- Candlelight Tour: 60-minute tour in the dark with only candlelight. Each guest gets their own lantern. This one is really neat to do for a different perspective! Not good for those who are claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.
- Off-Trail Adventure Tour: 3-hour tour with trained guides that lead guests off the trail to climb and crawl through the Oregon Caves. This is the most strenuous and intense tour for those who want some adventure. My husband and I would have liked to try this one, but unfortunately ran out of time.
We really enjoyed both the Discovery Cave Tour and Candlelight tour. It was nice to do both (in the order previously mentioned), as we got to see the cave fully lit first, and then try it out without the lights, which is a totally different experience. Walking around with just a candlelit lantern has the power to really take you back in time. We bought tickets less than 24 hours prior to taking the tours, and had no problem with availability (this was in early August).
Staying at the Oregon Caves Chateau
The Oregon Caves Chateau is the best choice if you’re looking for a lodging option close to the caves. Besides the convenience, the Oregon Caves Chateau is really a destination unto itself. The Chateau is a six-story historic hotel and National Historic Landmark built in 1934. It has a rustic, lodge-like feel with an imposing fireplace in the main lobby and beautiful views of the forest. The lobby has free coffee, board games, and plenty of tables and comfy chairs so guests can relax away from their rooms.
The Chateau has no Wi-Fi, so you can really focus on enjoying the serenity of nature and take a break from the hustle and bustle of life. Prices are reasonable, ranging from about $109 to $199. Many of the rooms have views of the forest, and I’d definitely recommend requesting one of these. For more info, check out: www.oregoncaveschateau.com.
Oregon Caves Chateau: Where to Eat
The Coffee Shop (Caves Café) is located downstairs in the Oregon Caves Chateau, and is the place to go for lunch. It’s 1930’s era coffee shop with food options like burgers and shakes. It gets really busy around the lunch hour, so we’d recommend going around 11AM or after 2PM if you want to avoid the mid-Summer crowds. For dinner, we’d recommend eating at the Chateau Dining Room, adjacent to the gift shop. It’s a little more expensive, but in our opinion well worth it. The food was amazing and the restaurant offers a nice ambiance with views of the forest outside, and even a little bubbling creek that runs through the middle of the restaurant.
Besides the caves, there are a handful of hiking and walking trails in the old growth forest that vary in difficulty. We went on the 0.7-mile Cliff Nature Trail (from the exit of the cave) and the 3.3-mile Big Tree Trail (1,125 feet elevation gain). The Cliff Nature Trail offers a beautiful view of the Illinois Valley!
In early August, the Big Tree Trail offers glimpses of striking meadows full of wildflowers. They appear at points during the hike as a reprieve from the dense tree cover. The tree at the trail’s highest point is the widest-girthed Douglas-fir tree known to exist in Oregon. For a full list of hiking trails, visit: www.nps.gov/orca/planyourvisit/trails.htm.
Questions, comments or any of your own Oregon Caves travel tips? Please share in the space below!