Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve: A World of Exploration and Beauty

There are many areas of the world where normal people like you and I just don’t go very often, if at all. Whether it’s climbing through a dense rainforest or exploring the depths of the ocean, there are many places in this world that have been untouched by humanity. To see these amazing ecosystems is a wondrous experience for those of us who can’t dedicate our lives to exploring and protecting these snapshots of a beautiful world we can only dream of experiencing for ourselves.

One of these areas are our cave systems. There are thousands of caves scattered across our world, many still undiscovered, and these caverns give us a peek into a world barely seen. So beautiful and rare are these pockets in the Earth that when something as massive as a cave system, which provides miles of unexplored land, are finally found, they’re protected as the sacred lands they truly are. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit and take a look at these rare lands for yourself.

Enter the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, a wonder of the world that should be seen at least once by all Oregonians looking for a sense of adventure and exploration.

 

 

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Paradise Lost room in Oregon Caves National Monument

Located at an elevation of 4,000 feet, surrounded by forestry on the slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains, this cave system sits as part of the coastal mountain range of both Oregon and California. It was formed by dripping rainwater over the years, but wasn’t discovered until 1874. Now, centuries later and millennia after its formation, anyone can tour among the 15,000 feet of passages available to the public.

Due to its unique location, the geography surrounding the cave system offers many things to see in terms of both the geology and biodiversity. The wilderness is truly something to behold, from the flowing rivers to the calming experience of just being among the trees with the sounds of nature to serenade you. Inside the marble caves is the only subterranean Wild and Scenic River within the United States, aptly named The River Styx.

The weather up in the mountains is like that of any mountain range. The summers are warm and the winters are cold. Spring and Fall are a rainy time of year, but no matter the season, a coat is always recommended. The caves are a constant 41 degrees F, but in any temperature, the sites are absolutely worth it. The world within the Oregon caves are unlike anything you’ve seen in a long while.

During guided caving tours, you’ll be treated to discussions of wildlife, fossils, the forests and watersheds around, the many bats that reside within, and, of course, the geology of the caves itself.

Cave tours are only performed from March to the end of November, but it’s not something you can’t just stroll into on a whim. It requires a little bit of preparation. We’ll inform you of everything you need to know about how to prepare, before we go onto the majesty of the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.

 

Preparing for the Oregon Caves

Illinois Valley Visitor Center,

As mentioned prior, warm clothing is strongly recommended. Get on some good walking shoes, and if you can, hiking shoes. The trail surface is uneven and slippery.

Because of this, any children that come into the park need to be at least 42 inches in height and able to climb a set of test stairs unassisted. This is for just a basic tour. If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, or are thinking about going off-trail, children may not be allowed to go.

Flashlights are not allowed on the trip. You can bring a camera (no one can blame you for taking photos), but no tripods can be brought along.

Tours are only offered between March and November and from Thursday through Monday. They will not be offered on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

You can’t buy tickets in the park. They must be purchased at the Illinois Valley Visitor Center, which opens at 8:30 a.m. You should get there early, because tickets are known to sell out fast. Some even line up as early as 6 a.m.

 

Things to Do At The Oregon Caves

The Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve has much more than just exploring the caves. Here are some things you can do at the preserve!

 

View the Wildlife

View the Wildlife at Siskiyou Mountains near The Oregon Caves

The Siskiyou Mountains are teeming with wildlife. Given that the preserve is federally protected, the wildlife around the Oregon caves have remained relatively untouched. This allows for people to see the immense biodiversity the mountains have to offer. You’ll find deer, mountain beavers, spotted owls, giant salamanders, and much more.

As beautiful as these creatures may be, however, you have to be careful when trying to observe them in their natural habitat. Just as you would find a number of seemingly harmless animals, you’ll also find a number of predators, such as black bears, bobcats, and cougars.

Because of this, there are some strict safety guidelines that we ask that you abide by. Here are some things you need to know in order to keep you and yourself safe.

  • Observe from a distance. If an animal reacts to your presence, you’re too close. Use binoculars or some sort of zoom camera. If an animal approaches, get back, and whatever you do, do not touch any wild animal you see. Do not feed them, either.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive periods. If an animal is mating, nesting, raising their young, or it’s winter, you need to keep your distance.
  • Keep your kids close. Do not let your children wander off. Keep them by your side the entire tour.

 

Step Inside the Chateau

Oregon Caves Chateau
The historic Oregon Caves Chateau at Oregon Caves National Monument

The Chateau at Oregon Caves is a National Historic Landmark, known as one of the National Park “Great Lodges”. It’s a six-story hotel located on the monument and is quite the beautiful sight among the trees where it currently sits. It holds a fine dining room, a 1930’s era coffee shop, and 23 overnight rooms for anyone who needs a stay. Each room is said to have its own unique charm to it, making each stay a new experience.

Despite being a hotel, it’s completely open to the public. Feel free to step inside and take in the atmosphere around you. The staff are friendly and the service is great, as people online will gladly tell you. Even though the caves and the wildlife around it are the stars of the show on each cave tour, the chateau is a beauty in its own right.

However, it’s important that you’re informed about the state of the chateau itself, as it is not yet ready for occupation.

The Oregon Chateau, despite its prominence as lodging within the preserve, has been closed recently due to a need for repair and rehabilitation construction. According to the Oregon Caves’ National Park Service website, it’s under repair due to structural issues that need to be addressed and stabilized before it’s ready to be presented to the public.

If you find yourself interested in the chateau, I highly suggest you call the park for yourself and see if the chateau is still under construction, or check back into the park service website to see if perhaps things have finally settled.

 

Follow the Hiking Trails

Hiking Trails at Oregon Caves

Hiking is a wonderful experience to have for the average outdoors enthusiast. The Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve has quite a few, actually. However, not all are made equally. It’s important to stay informed about the challenges ahead of you in order to stay well prepared. So, allow me to inform you of the six hiking trails that often send travelers on beautiful journeys through the Oregon wilderness.

 

Cliff Nature Trail

If you want to walk through the shaded forest and over the marble outcrop in Illinois Valley, this is the trail for you.

The trek is approximately 1 mile and takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour. You’ll also be gaining an elevation of 371 feet, or 113 meters, so bring your hiking boots. You can find the trailhead at the Visitor Center.

 

Big Tree Trail

Looking for a tougher climb to spend the afternoon? You’ll be traveling through an old growth forest and over marbled outcrops to get some good views and loop around. You’ll know you’re reached your goal when you see the widest Douglas-fir tree in Oregon. It takes 2.5 to 3 hours, with the loop itself being 3.3 miles. You can find the start at the Visitor Center

 

Old Growth Trail

This historic trail connects the Visitor Center to the parking lot. It’s a good 1 mile long and takes around 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

 

No Name Trail

Short, but steep, this trail starts at the Chateau parking lot, winds around dense forests and cliffs for a good 1.3 miles, taking roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour. Keep an eye out for No Name Creek!

 

Cave Creek Trail

This 3.6 mile round trip comes from the Chateau parking lot, delves into dense forests and streams, and lasts a good 2 to 4 hours depending on if you have a ride to pick you up.

 

Bigelow Lakes/Mt. Elijah Loop Trail

This full day hike (5-7 hours) of Mt. Elijah will bring you past some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ve ever seen, offering clear views of meadows and lakes. Just head to the Visitor Center and follow Big Tree Trail.

 

Camping in the Oregon Caves Preserve

Camping in the Oregon Caves Preserve
The entrance to Cave Creek Campground

One of the best things about camping is that feeling of getting close to nature. With the Oregon Caves monument being such a diverse and unique place, naturally one would find it ripe for camping. Luckily for you, it’s fit for all of that.

Here are some things you need to know before going camping in the Oregon Caves Preserve.

 

Before You Camp

  • Camping fees cost $10 per night. If you happen to have an Access Pass or a Senior Pass, it’s only $5 per night
  • Camping is only allowed for 14 days maximum for one trip and 30 days maximum for the entire year (combined).
  • Capacity of each campsite is limited to two vehicles and eight people.
  • Only two tents are permitted per site.
  • Sites cannot be left unattended for more than 24 hours.
  • Compostable toilets can be found in 3 different areas around the campground.
  • Checkout time is 12 p.m.
  • If you decide you want to stay another night, please re-register before 11:30 a.m.

 

Water Usage

You will be able to find faucets around the campgrounds. These are for sanitation only, but it’s asked that all water usage be kept to a minimum. Using spigot for certain needs is prohibited. This includes using campground faucets to cook, wash dishes, wash clothes, clean fish, and bathe.

 

Fires

Fire grates are available at every campsite. They need to be used if someone wants to build a fire, and building a fire anywhere else is strictly prohibited. The fire also needs to be attended at all times by at least one person. When you put your fire out, make sure it’s completely dead.

Firewood can only be collected from dead wood found on the ground; don’t try to collect your own from living plants.

Remember that the forests are particularly sensitive during the summer. While the mountains may have ever-shifting weather, the summer is where things get particularly dry, and so following these guidelines are extremely important in preventing forest fires.

Fireworks are not allowed in any shape or form.

 

Pets

Pets are required to be on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet. They are not allowed to be left tied to an object unattended, nor are they allowed to be on hiking trails where other hikers may be walking. If a pet drops waste, it needs to be disposed of in a trash receptacle.

While pets are bound to make noise, owners cannot allow their pets to constantly make noise to an unreasonable extent. For example: barking all throughout the night.

 

Quiet Hours

While campers are not given a curfew of any sort, quiet hours are put into place from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Campers must not make any noise that would disturb the other campers trying to spend their time connecting with nature or simply having fun with friends.

During quiet hours, generator usage is not permitted.

 

Food

All food and objects with remnants of food must be sealed away to keep animals from prying. This means no trash and cooking equipment, either. Garbage needs to be disposed off properly, no exceptions, and food scraps cannot be used to feed any of the local wildlife.

 

Campground and Hotel Locations

If camping sounds like something you’d certainly be into, then the monument and preserve is the perfect place for you.

Don’t worry about trying too hard to find a place. We’ve rounded up all the public and private RV parks and public campgrounds for you to check out. You can no doubt contact them ahead of time; in fact, it’s highly suggested that you call ahead with the public campgrounds just to see what the conditions are like for camping. No one wants to go camping during a thunderstorm, after all.

There’s also a list of hotels/motels to stay in if you so need it.

 

Public Campgrounds/RV Parks

  • Grayback Campground, located on Highway 46 and between mile markers 11 and 12.
  • Chinquapin Group Campground, located near Grayback Campground.
  • Lake Selmac Park (Josephine County Parks), Selma. 500 Reeves Creek. Rd.

 

Private Campgrounds/RV Parks

  • Country Hills Resort/Campground, 7901 Caves Hwy, Cave Junction
  • Lake Selmac Resort & Smoke on the Water Campground, 2700 Lake Shore Drive, Selma
  • Lone Mountain RV Resort & Campground, 169 Lone Mountain Rd. O’Brien
  • Out “N” About Treehouse Treesort, 300 Page Creek Rd, Cave Junction
  • Ol’ Jo RV Park, 156 Ollis Road, Cave Junction
  • Shady Acres Trailer & RV Park, 27550 Redwood Highway, Cave Junction.
  • Laughing Alpaca Camping & RV Park, 28288 Redwood Highway, Cave Junction

 

Hotels and Motels Nearby

  • Kerbyville Inn, 24304 Redwood Highway, Kerby
  • Holiday Motel, 24810 Redwood Hwy, Kerby
  • Maple Ranch, Foris Vineyard, 654 Kendall Rd, Cave Junction

 

Hunting

Hunting - Oregon caves

The preserve among the mountains seems as though it would be perfect for hunting, and many would agree, but there are some rules and regulations that need to be followed.

For one, hunting in or around the actual cave monument is strictly prohibited. You may hunt around the preserve, but not on the monument itself.

Here are some other rules and regulations you should know if you’re going to go hunting for some game in the preserve.

  • Possession of a firearm within the boundaries of the monument is allowed, but must be in accordance with Oregon State Law
  • Using artificial light to hunt animals is prohibited.
  • Permanent/screw-in tree stands and other similar items that can damage the plant life are prohibited.
  • Vehicles must remain on the roadways
  • Trapping of animals is prohibited within the boundaries of Oregon Caves National Preserve
  • Pick up any brass or shotgun shell casings that may have been dropped.
  • Off-road vehicles are not allowed.
  • All trash or human-made materials must be either taken out of the preserve or disposed of within a trash receptacle.
  • Certain hunting areas may be temporarily closed or restricted due to the fire season. Check in with the Oregon Department of Forestry for news and updates on that matter.

 

Guided Cave Tours

Guided Oregon Cave Tours

Here are the tours available to the public. Remember that not all tours are available during certain seasons.

 

Discovery Cave Tour

If you’re the type of person who is fairly unfamiliar with caves and would like to get a good rundown on what the experience is truly like, I point you to the discovery cave tour.

This tour is a 90-minute adventure where you travel through twists and stoop within the marbled passageways of the Oregon Caves. A ranger will be there with you to guide you and others through every step of the way.

You’ll explore a labyrinth of a cave, step into a huge natural room 220 feet beneath the surface of the Earth.

The ranger guide with you will be there to not only ensure that everyone is safe, but also that everyone is staying informed. As they lead you through the beautiful cave exploration, they’ll be there to go over the details of the cave itself and the interesting geology found within it.

Though this guided discovery tour is a fun trip for someone just starting out with cave explorations, it’s still a physically demanding task.

The passages of the cave are twisting and narrow, sometimes forcing people to crouch as low as 45 inches in order to even take a few steps. You’re going to find yourself taking a lot of steps, too.

All visitors will be asked to demonstrate their physical ability to navigate the route, such as being able to crouch under 45 inches. If a visitor cannot do that, then all is not lost. They will be invited to come into Watson’s Grotto, the first room in the cave. However, from there, they may have to exit the cave entirely, moving forward requires stooping as low as 51 inches.

It’s not recommended if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble walking
  • Issues with climbing stairs
  • Poor balance
  • A heart condition
  • Trouble breathing
  • A fear of tight spaces
  • Any issues with your back, hip, knees, ankle, or feet.

 

Groups of up to 12 are allowed. In order to buy tickets at the Illinois Valley Visitor Center in Cave Junction, every member of your party must be there, and every member must present their own ticket when they arrive for the tour.

We strongly advise you to get to the Visitor Center early to get your tickets, because they’re known to cause long lines or sell out fast. We also recommend you make reservations.

 

Kids and Family Cave Tour

Looking for something a little safer and more child-friendly, but still fun for the whole family? You’re going to want to check out the Kids and Family Cave Tour where youngsters can experience the wonders of the Oregon Caves. It’s a 90 minute tour where they can be educated on the caves and even get to see the River Styx along the way. It’s family-friendly, ranger-led, and completely kid-centered, so you can expect your energetic little ones to have quite the time while inside.

This tour is intended for children who are 13 or younger who meet the 42 inch height requirement. All children must be accompanied by someone who is 16 years old or older.

The cave is not safe for very small children, and children are not allowed to be carried while inside the cave.

Visitors, including children, may be asked to demonstrate their physical ability to navigate the route, such as being able to crouch under 45 inches. If a visitor cannot do that, then all is not lost. They will be invited to come into Watson’s Grotto, the first room in the cave. However, from there, they may have to exit the cave entirely, moving forward requires stooping as low as 51 inches.

It’s not recommended if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble walking
  • Issues with climbing stairs
  • Poor balance
  • A heart condition
  • Trouble breathing
  • A fear of tight spaces
  • Any issues with your back, hip, knees, ankle, or feet.

 

Remember that the cave temperature has an average temperature of 44 degrees F. Because of this, warm clothes are strongly recommended, especially for children. You also need good closed-toed shoes. They should be good for walking, and open-toed shoes such as flip flops or sandals should not be worn.

Flashlights, backpacks, walking sticks, large purses, and tripods are not allowed to be brought on the hike or within the caves, so it’s recommended that you store them in your car.

Groups of up to 12 are allowed, and this includes children. In order to buy tickets at the Illinois Valley Visitor Center in Cave Junction, every member of your party must be there, and every member must present their own ticket when they arrive for the tour.

We strongly advise you to get to the Visitor Center early to get your tickets, because they’re known to cause long lines or sell out fast. We also recommend you make reservations, as tickets in the Visitor Center are all first come first serve.

 

Candlelight Cave Tours

Want to see the radiant light of a lantern dance across the marble cave walls while you traverse its dark passages? There’s a world to explore within the caves for night owls as well! Experience the caves as an early explorer by following your guide through this 60 minute candle lit cave tour. These tours are offered during the summer and are the last tours of the day. It’s a particularly special way to view the wonders of the Oregon Caves.

For safety reasons, any children need to be at least 10 years old to enter.

Visitors will be asked to demonstrate their physical ability to navigate the route, such as being able to crouch under 45 inches. If a visitor cannot do that, then all is not lost. They will be invited to come into Watson’s Grotto, the first room in the cave. However, from there, they may have to exit the cave entirely, moving forward requires stooping as low as 51 inches.

It’s not recommended if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble walking
  • Issues with climbing stairs
  • Poor balance
  • A heart condition
  • Trouble breathing
  • A fear of tight spaces
  • Any issues with your back, hip, knees, ankle, or feet.

Remember that the cave temperature has an average temperature of 44 degrees F, and is even colder at night. Because of this, warm clothes are strongly recommended. You also need good closed-toed shoes. They should be good for walking, and open-toed shoes such as flip flops or sandals should not be worn.

Flashlights, backpacks, walking sticks, large purses, and tripods are not allowed to be brought on the hike or within the caves, so it’s recommended that you store them in your car.

Groups of up to 10 are allowed. In order to buy tickets at the Illinois Valley Visitor Center in Cave Junction, every member of your party must be there, and every member must present their own ticket when they arrive for the tour.

We strongly advise you to get to the Visitor Center early to get your tickets, because they’re known to cause long lines or sell out fast. This is especially true for the candlelight tours, since they’re not as common as the regular daytime tours. We also recommend you make reservations, as tickets in the Visitor Center are all first come first serve.

 

Going off Trail

This is no normal tour. This is the real deal. We’re sure you’ve seen images of spelunkers crawling through some of the tightest squeezes imaginable; this is how it’s done by trained professionals, and it’s not for the claustrophobic.

Trained off-trail cavers will teach you the proper techniques and etiquette that are essential for a safe time in the caverns.

During these dives, you and up to 7 others will have to crawl over boulders and squeeze through spaces that are as high as 11 inches and as wide as 19 inches. It will be a three hour experience, so you will need to be sure you can hold up for that long.

If you have health conditions that reduce your mobility, cause pains in maneuvering certain body parts, any breathing or heart issues, or have poor balance, this experience is not recommended. This is also true for anyone with claustrophobia or are prone to panic attacks.

For safety reasons, prospective cavers must be at least 15 years old to join in.

You MUST bring sturdy boots with lug soles that support your ankles. If your shoes cannot support your ankles, you will not be permitted to join. The professional cavers will provide the rest, including gloves, headlamps, helmets, elbow pads, and even a souvenir bandana for you to take home afterwards.

Please do not bring any of your own caving gear, especially gear or clothes that have been in other caves, mines, or bat habitats. They could be carrying white-nose syndrome, a disease that is deadly to bats and can be easily spread.

 

Oregon Caves: Current Weather

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Oregon Caves, OR
10:04 pm, Mar 2, 2024
light snow 22°F
Low: 21° High: 27°
light snow
Winter Weather Advisory
×
NWS Medford OR
Mar-02 8:30 - Mar-03 6:30
* WHAT...For the Winter Weather Advisory, snow expected with additional snow accumulations of 6 to 12 inches. For the Winter Storm Watch above 4500 feet, heavy snow possible. Total snow accumulations of 1 to 2 feet possible. Winds could gust as high as 40 mph. * WHERE...South Central Oregon Cascades and Siskiyou Mountains and Southern Oregon Cascades. This includes highways 66, 140, 62, 230, 138, and 58, Willamette Pass, Diamond Lake, Crater Lake, Lake of the Woods, Mt Ashland Ski Road and Union Creek. * WHEN...For the Winter Weather Advisory, until 10 PM PST Sunday. For the Winter Storm Watch, from Monday morning through Tuesday afternoon. * IMPACTS...Travel could be very difficult to impossible. * ADDITIONAL DETAILS...The highest amounts are expected north of Highway 66 from Howard Prairie northward through Sunday evening. * View the hazard area in detail at https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/map/?wfo=mfr
Humidity Humidity 99 %
Pressure Pressure 1006 hPa
Wind 4 mph SSW
Wind Gust Wind Gust 12 mph
UV Index UV Index 0
Precipitation Precipitation 0.04 inch
Dew Point Dew Point 21°
Clouds Clouds 100%
Rain Chance Rain Chance 100%
Snow Snow 25.05 mm/h
Visibility Visibility 1 mi
Air Quality Air Quality Good
Sunrise Sunrise 6:46 am
Sunset Sunset 6:05 pm
Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 12:00 pm
snow snow
21° | 27°°F 0.04 inch 100% 8 mph 91 % 1005 hPa
Tomorrow 12:00 pm
snow snow
15° | 28°°F 0.04 inch 100% 6 mph 98 % 1011 hPa
Monday 12:00 pm
snow snow
14° | 29°°F 0.04 inch 100% 5 mph 100 % 1017 hPa
Tuesday 12:00 pm
snow snow
28° | 30°°F 0.04 inch 100% 5 mph 100 % 1015 hPa
Wednesday 12:00 pm
snow snow
18° | 30°°F 0.03 inch 71% 3 mph 100 % 1018 hPa
Thursday 12:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
14° | 31°°F 0 inch 0% 4 mph 100 % 1024 hPa
Friday 12:00 pm
overcast clouds overcast clouds
20° | 32°°F 0 inch 2% 5 mph 100 % 1022 hPa
Saturday 12:00 pm
snow snow
28° | 32°°F 0.04 inch 100% 6 mph 98 % 1020 hPa
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Weather Condition Comport Precipitation
Day Condition TemperatureTemperature PrecipitationAmount Rain ChanceRain Chance Wind HumidityHumidity PressurePressure
Today 10:00 pm
light snow light snow
22° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 98% 3 mph 98 % 1006 hPa
Today 11:00 pm
snow snow
22° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 93% 4 mph 98 % 1006 hPa
Tomorrow 12:00 am
snow snow
22° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 93% 4 mph 98 % 1007 hPa
Tomorrow 1:00 am
light snow light snow
21° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 92% 4 mph 97 % 1008 hPa
Tomorrow 2:00 am
light snow light snow
20° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 92% 4 mph 98 % 1009 hPa
Tomorrow 3:00 am
light snow light snow
20° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 92% 4 mph 98 % 1010 hPa
Tomorrow 4:00 am
snow snow
22° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 92% 3 mph 98 % 1010 hPa
Tomorrow 5:00 am
snow snow
22° | 0°°F 0.03 inch 85% 4 mph 97 % 1010 hPa
Tomorrow 6:00 am
snow snow
22° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 95% 4 mph 98 % 1011 hPa
Tomorrow 7:00 am
light snow light snow
21° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 100% 4 mph 97 % 1011 hPa
Tomorrow 8:00 am
light snow light snow
24° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 100% 4 mph 96 % 1011 hPa
Tomorrow 9:00 am
snow snow
25° | 0°°F 0.04 inch 100% 4 mph 96 % 1011 hPa
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