Updated: May 21, 2015
Oregon Caves - Maps, Pictures, LodgingOregon Caves National Monument is located in a mountain in Southern Oregon, about 1 hour southwest of Grants Pass (actually just 20 miles or so from the California border as the crow flies). The Oregon Caves were first discovered in 1874 by explorer Elijah Davidson, who was chasing his dog, who was in turn chasing a bear. Established as a National Monument in 1909, the Caves has been welcoming visitors and explorers ever since. In rocks made largely of marble, acidic water over the millennia has carved passageways and channels, and mineralized ground water seeping in from above has filled these passages with formations like stalactites, columns, flowstone, and more. For today's visitors, you can avoid the dirt and belly-crawling by taking a 90 minute guided tour that walks you through the main cave rooms, exposing you to a variety of cave formations. In this guide, we will go through our review of a visit in 2009 -- let you know what to expect, how tours work, tickets prices, what's on the tour, lodging, etc. Enjoy!
What to Expect at Oregon CavesLet's start with the basic facts - Oregon Caves is not really close to anything. The last 15 miles are up a winding 25MPH road, and you end up in an area with no telephones, no cell phone service, and not a lot of amenities. We made an overnight trip from the Portland area, which was a long drive. Our advice -- plan this trip for when you are passing through the area, either along I-5 near Grants Pass or along the Oregon coast. The caves are located more or less inside a single mountain, whose unique geological makeup and location created the caves. The only way to see the caves is by taking a ranger guided tour (tickets are first come, first serve, no reservations available) -- other than that, there are some hiking trails, but not a whole lot else to do or see here. Most visitors are happy with a day trip - get there early, get your tickets, take your tour, and then head on your way. Oregon Caves tour information is below.
Oregon Caves Tours - Oregon Cave TicketsThe Oregon Caves National Monument is open year round, however no cave tours are offered from December through March (snow can block roads in winter). During the Spring and Fall, tours are offered hourly, usually from 9-5 or 10-4, depending on time of year. In the summer, tours run every 30 minutes from 9AM-6PM (visit their website for the latest information - www.nps.gov/orca). The only way to see the caves is on a tour with a ranger (the entrances to the caves have locked gates..). To get tickets, you go to the visitor center and check for the next available time. They'll go over the rules and safety information, then give you a ticket slip with your tour time on the top. Tickets cost $8.50 for adults, $6 for those under 16 (you must be minimum 42 inches tall). If you have an America the Beautiful/Golden Eagle Passport (cost is $80, gets you 12 months free access to all national parks), you get 4 free tickets.
You then show up in front of the visitor center about 10 minutes before your scheduled time and meet with your guide. Keep in mind that the temperature in the caves is 44F (7C) year round -- that's chilly, but we were OK with shorts and a sweatshirt. Wear what you need to keep warm. They recommend decent walking shoes, but we saw kids and adults in sandals. Oregon Caves tours last about 90 minutes. You'll enter the main gate of the cave, walking along a metal path above a small creek. From there, you'll walk along either paved walkways or fiberglass/metal bridges. There are also a number of ladders and stairways you must ascend and descend - almost 500 steps in all. There are strategically placed accent lights all along the way, lighting up interesting formations, illuminating ceilings, etc. So it's kind of dark, but not super dark as you make your way through the caves. You will follow winding paths, walk through larger rooms, duck a little to get past low ceilings. I'm not crazy about confined spaces, but I had no problems. If you are super claustrophobic, you may think twice, but for most people it's not a problem. The actual walking distance is only a little over half a mile, but you do a lot of stopping and listening to the ranger along the way, so the tour does take 75-90 minutes to complete. Be sure to take your time, look around, soak in the interesting sights - most people are awed by the amazing flowstone formations, stalactites, etc. You end up on top of the mountain and then take a 5 minute walking trail back down to the visitor center area.
Oregon Caves Lodging - Oregon Caves Chateau LodgeThere are 2 camping areas within a few miles of the park, but no actual camping inside the park. Caves Creek Campground has basic tent sites and primitive camping, but won't accomodate RVs (first come first serve). Grayback Campground is 8 miles from Oregon Caves and has flush toilets, and room for RVs. The only lodging available in the park is The Chateau, a 6 story hotel built in a sloping ravine, dating to 1930s (you can see a picture of it at the top of this page -- it uses real barks of trees for siding, hence the dark color..). The Chateau is built and decorated in the style of most old national park lodges - pretty bare bones, no frills. Yes, it is a step up from camping, but not a huge step. We've included a few pictures from the room we had. I describe the room as spartan. There are water pipes running along the ceiling, mismatched furniture, water stains, strange leather-colored walls, toilets with a split toilet seat like you find at a truck stop, etc.
If you are looking for luxury, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a basic place to stay the night with no TV, no telephones, no cell phone reception, no air conditioning.... you will be delighted. This gets back to our recommendation that you make a day trip out of your visit and then head off on your journeys. Having stayed here overnight once, we wouldn't do it again. That being said, there are still a lot of nice lodge-like settings in the lobby, with huge exposed beams and columns from old-growth trees you just can't find today. Plus the dining room downstairs features a small creek that flows through the middle of it (same creek that comes out of the caves) -- you don't see that everyday! But not everyone appreciates the old-world charm these old lodges possess. There are only 23 rooms here. We paid $160 for a 2 room suite during July.