After leaving the developed campground and commercial development of Crater Lake National Park, we headed south on our Oregon Road Trip to Oregon Caves National Monument. Deep in the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon Caves National Monument marks our 66th unit on our #parkchasing quest.
With stops already at Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota, Oregon Caves was the third major cave in the National Park Service. Like those two caves, we learned that Oregon Caves is also a solutional cave. It’s formed when surface water seeps through the rock layers. It combines with the soil’s carbon to form carbonic acid which corrodes the landscape into the beautiful rock formations.
In our first few Google Searches of Oregon Caves National Monument, we also discovered it is home to one of the historic lodges of the National Park System, The Chateau at Oregon Caves. We’ll share more in an upcoming post about our stay in the 1930’s hotel.
Finding Oregon Caves National Monument
Oregon Caves is one of the most remote of all the national park units in the state. Located just north of the California-Oregon border, the site protects more than 4,500 acres of old growth forest in the Siskiyou Mountains. The nearest town, Cave Junction is over 20 miles away.
The easiest way to reach Oregon Caves National Monument is by car, although ‘easy’ might be a mis-statement. The road to park is narrow and winding. After reading several reviews of the park, we followed the advice of other visitors and arrived well before dark. It required slow and careful driving on a sunny Oregon afternoon; hard to say what you’d encounter at night.
Touring the Caves
Oregon Caves National Monument offers cave tours from mid-March to mid-November. The trails are open year-round, but it’s our understanding that the road conditions make it challenging to visit during the winter.
Cave tours can be reserved ahead on Recreation.gov. We booked our tour well in advance online but we were able to adjust the time by checking in with the ranger on the morning of the tour. Don’t worry about having to wait an hour or so before the tour. The visitor’s center has about 30 minutes of exhibits to view and there are two short (but gorgeous!) hikes that leave right from parking area.
As we always recommend, it’s best to book ahead. We could imagine the frustration of making the drive up to the caves only to be turned away.
Types of Tours
We booked the Discovery Cave tour for our trip. The cave offers 3 other options depending on your interest in getting up close in the cave. The Discovery Cave tour was about 90 minutes and took us through the main areas of the cave. It required walking on steep narrow stairs and on uneven surfaces. It’s not for anyone who is uncomfortable in tight spaces or anyone that has difficulty seeing in low light.
The park also offers a candlelight tour (shorter but allows visitors to travel through the cave in the same way as visitors would have in the early 1900’s) and an off-trail tour for anyone interested in getting to experience spelunking the way scientists do it. There are age limits and restrictions on these tours; just make sure it’s the best fit for your group before you go.
What to Bring On The Tour
At 220 feet below ground where the tour begins, the cave is a constant 44°F. We both wore long pants and a warm jacket even though the weather outside was above 70°F. We also recommend bringing a light pair of gloves along as many of the railings are metal. Wet and cold hands are never fun.
Guests are not allowed to bring bags or backpacks along. Leave those in the car as there’s no where to store them in the visitor’s center. We did bring our DSLR camera along, although the lighting in caves makes for difficult photography. Don’t bother with a flash either. It will only frustrate the other people on the tour that you will blind in the low light.
Other Things to Know
- As of 2018, the Chateau at Oregon Caves is closed for a multi-year renovation project. That means there is no lodging or food available at the site. The Forest Service does maintain a few nearby campgrounds, but these may not have full amenities year-round.
- Oregon Caves National Monument is working hard to protect the bats in the cave from white-nose syndrome. We were screened for exposure before entering the cave. If you’ve been in another cave in the United States or around the world, you may be asked to change or clean clothing. The rangers are serious about making sure the bats in the cave stay as healthy as possible for as long as they can.
- The trails around Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve are top-notch. Plan some extra time to hike through the old-growth forests, including one of the largest Douglas fir trees in the world.