Located in the southwest corner of the state, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve sits nestled in the side of a mountain east of Cave Junction surrounded by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
For more than 100 years, people have been touring Oregon Caves. It was discovered in 1874 and, for years, folks tried to capitalize on the desire to explore this wonderland until President Taft declared it a national monument in 1909.
Since then, between the National Park Service, the National Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps, this area was turned from difficult to find to a perfect stop on the way from Redwood National Park to Crater Lake National Park.
There is a wonderful old chateau at the site, which houses the dining room. Unfortunately, it is presently closed due to repairs and renovations. We certainly would have loved to have visited this historic inn.
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Visiting Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
The first thing to know about visiting Oregon Caves NM is you need a ticket to go on the cave tour. Most of the time, you can get tickets through Recreation.gov but for 2021, the park is only doing one of the tours and tickets are available at the visitor center in Cave Junction.
Some of the tours are seasonal, so be sure to check in advance.
Next, you need to make sure you have the proper gear for visiting the cave. You need good, closed-toe shoes and a sweater. The cave is a constant 44 degrees so it will be cool, even in the summer.
Make sure none of your clothes or shoes have been in any other caves before. White-nose syndrome can be spread by spores you have picked up in other caves. This disease is considered one of the worst wildlife diseases in modern times and has killed millions of bats, which generally live in caves.
Pro Tip: Head to your local Walmart or thrift store to pick up clothes for caving and then donate them afterward. That way, you preserve the cave without too much expense.
The cave is located a pretty good distance from Cave Junction, along a very winding road. Allot about 45 minutes to drive to the monument from Cave Junction. Until the chateau is renovated, there is no food available in the park, so bring a picnic or at least some snacks with you.
Lastly, bring some hiking shoes and clothes as well. The monument has several hiking trails to explore while you wait for your tour.
Touring the Cave
We did the Discovery Tour, which is the park’s basic 90-minute tour. While we love getting into caves, you aren’t going to find us doing the Off-Trail Caving Tour, which requires quite a bit of actual caving.
Yeah, we just aren’t into crawling on our bellies.
The park also offers a Candlelight Tour. If you have never done a candlelight tour of a cave, we highly recommend it at some point. It really is a neat experience, regardless of which cave you’re visiting.
Still, the Discovery Tour was great and we really enjoyed it. While it has some moments where I was hunched over trying to avoid hitting my head, it was a really well done and easy-to-follow tour of some magnificent formations.
This is the first time I have ever been inside a marble cave and it really did look different, compared to other caves we’ve visited. I was particularly impressed with the variety of the formations… truly gorgeous!
The ranger did a great job explaining the cave’s geology and history, both human and natural. This tour is really worth your time.
Hiking at Oregon Caves
Oregon Caves NM offers several hiking trails, varying in length from less than a mile to a challenging 9.2 miles with 2,390 feet in elevation change.
We opted to hike two trails: the No Name Trail and the Old Growth Trail as one big loop.
You will find the trailhead for the No Name Trail right at the big parking area just before you arrive at the visitor center. The trail leads down to Cave Creek, where you will find several small cascades before winding your way up to the visitor center.
To turn your hike into a loop, continue through the breezeway at the visitor center and turn left onto the Old Growth Trail. This trail leads up through an oak forest with occasional views of the mountains beyond. The trail ends on an unpaved road, which winds back to the main parking lot.
All told, the two trails form a 2.4-mile loop and we spent about an hour hiking it.
Where to Stay and What to Eat
You can do this visit as a day trip from Redwood National Park if you are staying in Crescent City, though it would make for a long day. Another option would be to stop at Oregon Caves on the way between Crescent City, CA and Grants Pass, OR. That said, with the current COVID restrictions requiring ticket sales be done in person, first come, first serve, we recommend staying in Cave Junction for a night or two.
Indeed, when we visited, tickets sold out almost immediately, so we had to arrive very early to make sure we could get tickets. Please remember, this was during COVID, so things were a bit different than “normal.” Be sure to check the park’s official website for the most current information on cave tickets and park conditions.
If you are staying in Cave Junction, there are only a few RV parks in the area. We stayed at The Laughing Alpaca Campground and RV Park. The campground was pretty good but it is located right off the main highway. That said, there didn’t seem to be many better options in the area.
The campsite was fine and the owner was quite involved in making sure everything went well. He was in the process of upgrading the electrical system, which is good. When we stayed, the main breaker box overheated pretty much every day at 4 p.m. due to a serious heatwave. Basically, the electrical system could not handle everyone running their ACs trying to keep cool in 100+ temperatures.
In terms of food, we have to recommend Wild River Brewing and Pizza Company in town. The pizza there was quite good and the beer was tasty as well. We ordered their version of a supreme and we were impressed. In fact, it was one of the best pizzas we’ve had in quite a while.
Final Thoughts on Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
The “Marble Halls of Oregon” is more than worth your time. The tour we did was excellent and we highly recommend it.
This site is definitely worth the stop on the way from Redwood NP to Crater Lake NP, especially if you can make reservations for the cave tour. That said, don’t take your camper up to the cave. The road is quite windy and there is little parking up there.
In general, we recommend doing this stop as a side trip from Crescent City but you can stay in Cave Junction. If you are doing more than a quick stop, bring your hiking shoes for a hike. That said, don’t feel bad if you only have time for the cave tour.
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