It is really important to me that I show my son all of Oregon. There are a few places that I have wanted to visit, and one of my main goals this summer was to get to the Oregon Caves.
During one of our camping trips this summer, as we toured the Southwestern part of our state, we hopped in the car, passed through Grants Pass and headed down the highway towards Cave Junction, cutting over from there to the Oregon Caves National Monument. If you are hauling a trailer or traveling in an RV, make sure you check the vehicle length allowed on the road up. We were under the limit, but the road is very narrow with very tight curves and there is nowhere for you to turn around if you can’t make it up. The parking spots at the Caves are not ideal for long vehicles or trailers either. My truck and trailer only just fit in the spot and you have to parallel park.
The Oregon Caves are amazing and did not disappoint in the slightest. When you first get there you will want to check in at the Ranger Office to get your tour time reserved and pay your fee. We got there around 8:00a, and had just missed the first tour, but got in on the 8:30 tour. They run them frequently but during the busy season (summer) the wait for a tour can be up to 2 hours. Kids have to be at least 42″ tall to go on the tour, and they are strict about this for safety reasons. There are lots of steps that will need to be climbed and the National Parks calls this a “moderately strenuous” walk due to that and the occasional “hunch walk” you have to do. My 8-year old had no trouble at all, and neither did I. Regardless of height, there are lots of things for kids of all ages to do in the area!
Legend has it that pioneer, Elijah Davidson, was out hunting in 1874 when his favorite dog Bruno ran off and into the the cave entrance (pictured right) in pursuit of a bear. Elijah followed his dog into the cave in an attempt to bring him home and save him from the bear they were chasing. Elijah had very few supplies with him and was not prepared to go into the cave for an extended period of time. He became lost and used all of the matches he had with him. He kept his wits about him and listened for the stream that flows through the cave, figuring out which way it was heading and thinking that would lead to the way out. Historians figure he was in there for 6-8 hours working his way back to the outside world and his dog was rescued too. The stream still flows through the cave and helps to create the environment you will pass through. After that several people visited the caves, and then tours went into operation. The Oregon Caves was deemed a National Monument by President Taft on 21 July 1909.
When you head into the cave make sure you have good shoes that will provide proper traction and bring a jacket. It is chilly in there, even in the summer time. Bags are not allowed, and they do their very best to protect the cave as much as possible. Most people don’t think of a cave as a living thing, but it really is. Humidity, moisture, and oils from our hair and skin along with the fibers from our clothes can completely change the environment of the cave. This is one of the most spectacular caves I have been in and I would hate to see it change due to human interaction, so please be respectful of the rules. We want to keep it wonderful for future generations to see! Also, please help us protect our bat population and be honest about whether you have been in caves in the Eastern part of the US. White-nose syndrome has not made it to Oregon yet, and we are trying to delay it’s arrival.
The tour is lead by a ranger and will cost $10 per person. The tour will take you on an 90-minute adventure through the caves and the various “rooms” where your Ranger Guide will explain the history and different formations you will see. The caves are made up of marble, which is very unique. You will also get to see fossils, learn that different animals in history used the cave (not just the bear from Elijah’s story, but they have also found jaguars), and you will learn how all of the stalactites and stalagmites form and how quickly (or slowly as the case may be!). It is a really awesome tour and Laddy wasn’t bored once! If kids are scared, there is a turn-back point 45-minutes into the tour and the Ranger will point that out.
Once the tour was done, we worked on the Junior Ranger booklet so the Lad could become a Junior Ranger at the Oregon Caves and then headed to the Chateau for a bite of lunch. The Chateau is an amazing and beautiful building, crafted with such care that when a land slide pushed it off it’s foundation in the 1960s, it was so structurally sound they were able to pick it up and put it back onto the same foundation with very few repairs. One thing I loved was being downstairs in the cafe and having lunch. It is like stepping back in time to an old soda fountain. The napkin holders are straight out of the 50s and they serve a really delicious milkshake and big burgers! There is another restaurant down there as well and a gift shop. It is one of Oregon’s historic landmarks and the employees are very friendly!
If you would like to stay at the Oregon Caves, reservations at the Chateau are available. As for camping, there are campgrounds at the start of the road up to the caves, but from what we saw, they get pretty packed and are on a first come/first serve basis. We decided to head over to the coast to get some fresh air (away from the fires) and cooler temperatures. We loaded up and drove to the coast for a night at Harris Beach State Park.