Most people don’t have the time to jump on an airplane and head off to foreign lands whenever they get the travel bug. Luckily for Oregonians, there is no need to leave our mountain laden, river crossed, tree haven of a home to find unique outdoor activities. When you do get the itch to get out on the road, consider these five fresh-air-flavored destinations worthy of weekend trips.
On the eastern edge of Oregon, you will find the 2.5 million acre Owyhee Canyonlands. This spectacular stretch of volcanically created land features deep canyons carved by winding rivers, rolling hills, and all the wildlife and cultural heritage you could possibly want.
These expansive wilds offer numerous hiking, fishing, hunting, and rafting opportunities. While on the trail, keep your eyes out for over 200 different species of wildlife including Greater sage-grouse, pronghorn antelope, and members of one of the largest herds of California Bighorn Sheep in the nation.
Beyond wildlife is a plethora of cultural, historical, and archaeological sites. Ancestors of the Northern Paiute, Bannock and Shoshone tribes lived for over 13,000 years, leaving more than 500 known archaeological sites and countless undiscovered clues to their past.
Once you’ve seen it, consider signing a petition or chucking in a few donation bucks to help preserve the canyon lands. Turns out the Owyhee Canyonlands is the largest conservation opportunity left in the lower 48 states.
Find out more here: wildowyhee.org/
Cave Junction Treehouses
For most of us, treehouses are a thing of the past – the stuff of fleeting childhood memories. However, some people take treehouse building very seriously, and because they do, the rest of us can rent them for a weekend in the forest.
The Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Resort and Vertical Horizons Treehouse Paradise are both located in Cave Junction and offer top of the line treehouse experiences. Unlike the Little Rascal styled treehouses from back in the day, these exclusive resorts have all the modern amenities one would expect in a private cottage… only they’re at the top of a tree. Your own private tree.
Like any good weekend trip destination, there is plenty to do other than sleep in the trees. Opportunities to zip line, climb, and enjoy the surrounding hiking and caving attractions make these unique establishments worthy of visit any time of the year.
The Hellgate Canyon encompasses the Rouge River through the rocky and dramatic crags of the Cascades as it heads out to sea. Located in Grants Pass, the Hellgate Canyon recreation area includes 27 miles of river and surrounding wildlands purely for enjoyment of the outdoors. With over ten boat launches, one can find the perfect entry point to tackle the class 1 and 2 rapids that await with the stone walls of Hellgate.
Nearby campgrounds and Indian Mary Park make exploring the more wild and undeveloped areas possible and fishing trips even more enjoyable. However, if wild, undeveloped, and solitude don’t ring your bell, just go by Rogue River Hellgate Jetboat Excursions for something more exciting. The captains will have you shrieking uncontrollably with their speedy steering tricks, such as the “slingshot” and “shake and bake,” then school you in the area’s history and wildlife.
Accessible by Sandlake Road, ten miles off Highway 101, the Clay Myers Natural Area at Whalen Island is a sanctuary for a plethora of wildlife. In addition to being a critical location for salmon, the island is home to a wide array of birds, otter, deer, and very friendly rabbits. As part of the Sand Lake Estuary, Whalen Island, at 179.5 acres, boasts an uncrowded 1.4-mile family friendly loop trail with opportunities to play and picnic on sandy beaches.
With 33 inexpensive RV/tent sites, a $5.55 per day pet fee, and a $4-day-use fee, Whalen Island is an ideal off-the-beaten-path location to go fishing, crabbing, bird watching, or kayaking. Organized events at the island include upcoming four-hour kayak tours through the estuary, Aug. 25 and 26.
Though most sites are by reservation, on site park hosts note there are usually first-come-first-serve sites available on weekdays. With three other state parks nearby, you won’t run out of scenic views, fresh air, or peace and quiet.
Learn more here: oregonhikers.org/field_guide/
Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge
If Crater Lake wasn’t cool enough, wait ‘til you hear about this little treasure just 15 minutes down the road. The Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge is a volcanic feature not quite as breath-taking as Crater Lake itself, but is certainly worth checking out.
As the name suggests, you can walk over the river along a natural bridge. Not just any natural bridge, but a 250-foot lava tube. The Rogue River is swallowed into a nightmarish labyrinth of tubes formed millennia ago, returning to the surface farther downriver. Nearby the Rogue Gorge offers more impressive views of the river and the region’s beautiful geology.
Short and easy hiking trails allow family access and viewing while longer trails continue into the forested hills. Camping is an option, allowing close distance to Crater Lake without the prices and commotion of Crater Lake.
By Anthony Vitale