Spelunk the pathways of the caves and explore nearby attractions.
Tucked into the western edge of the Siskiyou Mountains, the Illinois Valley tempts travelers with its complex geology. It has plenty of bright sunshine and geologically diverse terrain, but it’s also home to one of Oregon’s darkest and coolest scenic wonders: Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.
Created by acidic rainwater dripping over thousands of years—slowly dissolving into subterranean caverns and passages, with mineral deposits that hang from the ceiling like icicles—the marble caves wind underground for several miles. Guided 90-minute tours go deep into the cave system, requiring visitors to stoop past formations and climb more than 500 stairs along narrow passages.Tours are limited this year and spots must be reserved in person the day of the intended visit at the Illinois Valley Visitor Center in Cave Junction, about a 60-minute drive due east on a winding mountain road, so arrive early.
There’s more to explore than just the caves, though. George Herring, the preserve’s chief of interpretation, recommends hiking its marble and diorite slopes. “My favorite trail is the Cliff Nature Trail,” he says. “You can hike up and over the top of the cave, where you’ll see a gorgeous view of the Illinois Valley.” And since there is no food service at the preserve—the Chateau, the park’s historic lodge, is closed for rehabilitation through 2021—grab a Polish dog at the sausage lovers’ paradise, Taylor’s Sausage Country Store in Cave Junction.
Worth a stop for its unusual botany, the Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Area north of Cave Junction near Selma offers stunning viewpoints along the Illinois River. A wheelchair-accessible interpretive trail through serpentine stone deposits leads to a platform overlooking a fen of rare carnivorous pitcher plants.
A 20-minute drive south along Highway 199, the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum provides free guided tours of the former home base of U.S. Forest Service firefighters who quelled flames from 1943 to 1981 by jumping from planes into remote wilderness areas that would otherwise take a day’s travel to reach.
No trip to the Illinois Valley is complete without a visit to It’s a Burl in Kerby, a family-owned sustainable-wood gallery, complete with treehouses to climb, a working shop, and a newly refurbished showroom for all your live-edge furniture needs.
If you're planning on traveling to Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, talk to AAA Vacation Experts for free.