Written by Marie Uhtoff
Ashland has many great activities to do beyond the world-renown Shakespeare festival. Of course I highly recommend taking in a play or two when you are in town (my kids are 5, 8 and 10 and I can always find at least 1 play we all enjoy and a few plays only the older kids attend) but a visit to Ashland wouldn’t be complete without exploring the beautiful natural setting unique to Southern Oregon. I grew up in Ashland. My parents were enthusiastic nature explorers and I laugh at myself now because as a kid I often gave my parents the very same apathetic, displeased look my own 3 children now give me. What I recommend to you is to look beyond those arms crossed defiantly across your kid’s body and that begrudging look on their face. Pack the backpack with gummies, ice water, deck of cards and maybe a mad libs book and hit the trail. Yeah, they’ll complain but they’ll also squeal with delight, race ahead to be the first to see the lake, look overhead and see an osprey nest, eat huckleberries from the side of the trail and sleep well that night.
Whether you live in Southern Oregon or have come for a quick visit, I hope you can enjoy these excursions and please leave comments telling me about fun places I haven’t mentioned.
Camp on Mount Ashland: In the summer or winter, Mt. Ashland is a beautiful sub alpine escape from the Rogue Valley. In the winter months, you can downhill, snowboard or cross country ski on Mt. Ashland. The views are gorgeous of Mt. Shasta to the south and the Rogue Valley to the north. In the summer, when the snow has melted, hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. During the August meteor showers we like to camp near Grouse Gap and watch the meteor light show (the elevation is approx. 7000 ft. and it gets cold at night no matter what month it is – bring your warm jacket even if you are roasting down in town!) Stop by the Northwest Nature Shop to get a map of the trails and roads of Mt. Ashland before heading up.
Mountain bike on the forest service roads on Mount Ashland: When we camp up on Mt. Ashland, we bring our mountain bikes. The Forest Service roads make for great riding for kids.
Take a swim in Crater Lake: 2½ hours from Ashland, Crater Lake is where we visit when we have visitors from out of the country. For some reason that is the only time we go but every time we go, we say, “We should come here more often!” The hike down to the lake is steep but worth it just to say you SWAM in Crater Lake. I believe I carried a kid or 2 back up the trail the first couple times we did that hike but like many fun adventures, I’ve blocked out the most difficult details. This lake is beautiful. Don’t miss it, even if you do have to cart a kid or 2 back up to the car.
Canoe at Rocky Point on Upper Klamath Lake: We go here a lot. We have a cabin nearby so it is our happy place. It is beautiful and incredibly peaceful. Waterfowl galore. Big open clear sky. Lay in the canoe, float around and soak up the peace. Rent a cabin at Rocky Point or camp right along the shores of Upper Klamath Lake.
Spelunk at Modoc Lava Beds National Monument: First of all, wear helmets. At least have your kids wear helmets. We learned the hard way. Our youngest took a huge, cringing bonk to the head. Some caves are lit, some paved with well maintained stairs and railings, and many have just a simple path through the cave. It’s a long drive from Ashland so I’d recommend camping there so you can fit in a full day of spelunking. The caves alone can take a day and I highly recommend visiting Petroglyph Point as well as Captain Jack’s Stronghold, where 52 Modoc men held off thousands of US Army troops in 1872-1873. My kids have been begging to go back to explore the caves ever since we left. Bring a headlamp…for everyone!
Paddleboard at Hyatt Lake: We rent inflatable paddleboards from Indigo Creek Outfitters in Ashland and love going to Hyatt Lake or Squaw Lake. The meandering Wood River between Rocky Point and Crater Lake is on the top of our list for this summer.
Bike ride from Lake of the Woods to Fish Lake: A wide bicycle-friendly trail takes you through lava fields linking 2 of the most popular lakes in the Southern Cascades. At approximately 9 1/2 miles each way, you’ll want to shuttle cars if you have young kids with you.
Umpqua Hotsprings: An incredibly fun (and long) day trip from Ashland is to visit a couple of the beautiful waterfalls (Toketee and Watson Falls) on the Umpqua River AND take a soak in the Umpqua Hotsprings. Just a ½ mile from the trail head you’ll find a series of soaking pools which hold 4-5 people. For us it was an introduction into the Oregon hotsprings culture and the kids were a bit shocked with the nude bathing aspect of it but if they’re going to grow up in Oregon, they have to get used to that, right?
Mill Creek Falls and Barr Creek Falls: A fun, short hike to 2 impressive waterfalls. We like to stop here to break up the long drive between Ashland and Bend. If you have time and it’s a hot day, take your swim suit, hike down to the big boulders and dip in the cool Rogue River waters.
Sled Table Mountain Winter Play area: Sledding is pure fun. I love it. I even love hiking back up the hill. This hill is perfect. It has a warming hut stocked with a cozy wood stove and fire wood to spare. The hill is a J shape with an upward hill at the end to slow you down so you don’t crash into a tree. It has several lanes so you can race your kids down. Call BLM to double check that the road is plowed before you go. It’s a half mile from the highway and if it isn’t plowed, you’ll have a hard/impossible time getting in. Last time we went, it wasn’t plowed and as I was pondering forlornly with SIX kids outside of our minivan who had their heart set on sledding, a few kind snow mobilers passed by and gave us a lift 2 by 2 to the hill and came back for us a few hours later. Ok, I am NOT advocating for snowmobiles (here that my telemarking brothers?) but they did save some kids from being really disappointed that day.