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Underground adventure at the Oregon Caves | Grant's Getaways

The half-mile long trail through the Oregon Caves offers shadowy glimpses into a timeless world of mystery and adventure.

CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. — In this week's getaway, we travel to a national park in Southern Oregon that you may have missed! It’s underground adventure at the Oregon Caves where touchable history reaches back 250 million years.

Some of the best travel experiences across Oregon happen at places that offer teachable moments through touchable history. It’s above and below ground adventures at the Oregon Caves National Monument.

When you hike inside Mount Elijah at the Oregon Caves National Monument, you must go through a locked gate where you quickly discover that this is a national park unlike any you’ve visited before.

“Imagine what it may have been like here in the 1870’s,” said Park Ranger Sandy Gladish. “Elijah Davidson went into this cave to rescue his dog named Bruno. He thought the dog was in trouble because it had chased a bear into the darkness. So, Elijah did too and that’s how Oregon Caves was discovered.”

The half-mile long trail through the Oregon Caves offers shadowy glimpses into a timeless world of mystery and adventure.

Park rangers will teach you much about the place that despite its century old national designation, remains surprisingly foreign to many visitors.

“It’s called 'Oregon Caves' because early explorers thought there were a lot of caves inside here,” noted Gladish. “The name just stuck even though there’s but one cave.”

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“Visitors tend to think the cave is all there is but there’s a lot more – in the monument and the area around us,” added George Herring, the NPS Monument’s Chief Interpreter.

He said that the 480-acre national parkland – established in 1909 - offers miles of trails with stunning scenery of mountains, creeks and waterfalls.

“It really is an opportunity for folks to explore their own Oregon backyard and discover geologic complexity that parallels any other place on the planet. You also learn that a little bit of intellectual curiosity can go a long way toward experiencing a very different world.”

The adjacent “Chateau at the Oregon Caves” provides a base camp to launch your adventures. It is a five story wooden lodge built of locally milled lumber, plus massive hand hewn Douglas fir posts and beams.

Credit: Grant McOmie

The Chateau at the Oregon Caves opened to the public in 1934 and the lodge’s rustic simplicity (surprisingly, there are only 23 spacious rooms) provides a warm setting supported by down home family comfort that’s based upon a simple idea.

“It is a cool cave with a warm hearth,” chuckled Menno Kraai, the Chateau’s General Manager. “When you walk in the lobby, see a fire in the fireplace and then gaze up to the large fir beams and posts, it all says Oregon!”

There are few distractions at the Chateau – no phones, radios or TV contribute to a sense of isolation, but that’s a good thing. The lack of distractions offers a wonderful chance to reconnect with your family or friends that makes the time here so fulfilling.

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The Chateau also offers a super cool Oregon Caves Coffee Shop that will also make you feel right at home.

“Our counter is like a huge S-shaped serving tray,” noted Laura Empems, the Chateau’s Hospitality Manager. “Each person can be served from behind the long counter – plus the knotty pine paneling on the walls adds up to an experience that’s like stepping back in time. People love that – and the milkshakes too.”

Important note: The chateau is currently closed for repairs and will reopen in 2023.

Back down in the Oregon Caves, the temperature is a constant 44-degrees, so be sure you are prepared for the 90-minute tour with a jacket, cap and comfortable shoes.

Don’t forget a camera to capture stunning stalactites that drop from above and stalagmites that reach to the roof.

“These form drip by drip by drip, noted Gladish. “They can take anywhere from a hundred to a thousand years to grow just an inch.”

Credit: Grant McOmie

“The true adventure is coming up the highway, letting go of the present and spending time in the past,” added Herring. “You will relax here – nature doesn’t give you any choice!”

Cave tours begin April 23, 2022. Due to COVID-19 tours might be limited. All consideration is being made for the safety of our staff and visitors. Contact Illinois Valley Visitor Center at 541-592-5125 for more information.

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill

"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill

Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November.