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Shakespeare to the Rogue

From Elizabethan plays to mind-boggling natural beauty, it’s hard not to fall in love with Southern Oregon

Bordering California and stretching from the rugged coast of Brookings clear across to the stark desert on the Idaho border, Southern Oregon is home to some of the state’s most beautiful natural attractions, not to mention plenty of charming little towns. From the compelling plays of William Shakespeare to the equally scintillating waters of the Rogue River—which could have been named after one of the Bard’s characters—this region of the Beaver State never fails to dazzle

Ashland

One of Southern Oregon’s prettiest little towns, Ashland is best known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which showcases the plays of the Bard (as well as other productions) performed by some of the country’s top actors. The festival name is a bit misleading, as organizers stage plays from February to November across three theaters.

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T. Charles Erickson

The festival unfolds in three venues: two indoor stages, the Angus Bowmer Theatre and the Thomas Theatre, and the flagship outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, which opens in early June and stages plays through mid-October. On offer are 11 different plays that include three or four by Shakespeare. Producers don’t shy away from varied interpretations of Shakespeare plays, with casts that reflect a commitment to diversity.

Other attractions include the Ashland Independent Film Festival, held over five days every April, and the Ashland New Plays Festival, an annual international playwright competition.

After a day of enjoying the arts, visitors can stretch their legs in Lithia Park, a sprawling public green space full of hiking trails and ponds on 93 acres of forested canyon land around Ashland Creek. It’s also home to some friendly deer who are so used to humans that they likely won’t run away if you approach.

The park gets its name from the high concentration of lithium in the area’s waters, and hot springs lovers are just a short jaunt from the upscale Lithia Springs Resort or the more bohemian Jackson Well Springs. Both entice visitors with mineral-rich waters.

Klamath Falls

A popular spot among Southern Oregon visitors who want to take advantage of the area’s abundance of outdoor activities, Klamath Falls merits a visit in its own right. Travelers interested in local history will find plenty to learn about in the Klamath County Museum, which has exhibits on everything from local Native American life to natural history.

There are also plenty of trails and green spaces, and the 105-mile-long OC and E Woods Line State Trail, popular with cyclists and runners, passes right through town. Many travelers also use Klamath Falls as a center from which to explore the subterranean lava tubes of Lava Beds National Monument just south of town in Tulelake, California. To the northwest, beautiful Fourmile Lake beckons seekers of solitude.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park is home to the deepest lake in the United States. Believed to have formed 8,000 years ago as a result of a caldera—a volcanic depression due to an eruption—Crater Lake plunges an astonishing 1,946 feet at its deepest point. The lake’s remote location, coupled with its lack of tributaries, means that it has some of the purest water in the world.

One of the strangest sites here is the Old Man of the Lake, a tree stump that has been floating vertically in the lake for over 120 years. The lake also is home to two small islands: Wizard Island, the remnants of a cinder cone that erupted after the lake began to fill with water, and Phantom Ship, a thin, sparsely wooded isle that eerily resembles a sailing vessel.

It’s a beautiful place to visit year round, but its subalpine climate means that it’s snowy throughout most of the year, so hiking is limited to a couple of months in late summer. However, snowshoeing is a popular activity here throughout much of the year, with ranger-led snowshoe tours in colder months. During the short summer period (essentially mid-July through September), the park offers ranger-led trolley tours, guided talks and boat tours. No less beautiful is the stunning Diamond Lake, a short drive to the north.

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Hamad Darwish

To the west of the park, great hiking on the Upper Rogue River Trail. Here, the waterway has carved sheer cliffs on each bank.

Medford

The biggest city in Southern Oregon, Medford gets a good chunk of visitors who’ve come to the region to explore Crater Lake, but the city has plenty of its own attractions. Visitors will discover lots of parks, including Bear Creek Park, a hit with families thanks to its skate park, BMX track, playground, barbecue areas, tennis courts and dog park.

Kids and adults alike appreciate the Medford Railroad Park, which features old train cars and locomotives, including a caboose and a hopper car. The city’s largest park, Don Jones Memorial Park, is best in the summer, when the water spray section opens up for kids to play in. There’s also a memorial here to Fallen War Heroes from the Civil, Spanish-American, and Korean wars as well as World Wars I and II.

Grants Pass

One of the larger cities in Southern Oregon, Grants Pass sits at the convergence of the I-5, which leads straight down to California, and Highway 199, which connects the city to Cave Junction (home of the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve) and down to the Redwood Coast.

Grants Pass sits on the Rogue River, a waterway best known for its excellent rafting opportunities. The city itself offers a number of cultural events, including street festivals and summer concert series. Grants Pass is also a good base from which to explore Southern Oregon’s wine country, which grows a wide array of varietals across its multiple microclimates.

A great place to start is Grants Pass’s revitalized downtown area. Check out the state’s longest-running outdoor growers and crafters markets to make a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Cross the award-winning pedestrian bridge over the Rogue River and explore the bustling Josephine County Fairgrounds.

Make room in your schedule for adventure. Popular jet boat rides give passengers a thrill as the vessels speed across the river surface. Follow one of the many hiking or cycling trails that wind through beautiful landscapes.

After a busy day walking the streets or trekking the trails, grab a tall glass in one of the town’s many local breweries. Fine wine and hot coffee are also on the menu, and make sure you dine at one of the charming restaurants in town.

Myrtle Creek

Myrtle Creek, known as the “Gateway to the 100 Valleys of the Umpqua River,” promises adventure in the dozens of streams that flow through the undulating landscape. The town comes by its name honestly, with Oregon Myrtle trees lining the banks of the creeks. Local artists turn this wood into souvenirs.

The town traces its past to the Applegate Trail, which dates back to 1846. Pioneer Jesse Applegate traversed the area to blaze the first route south from the Willamette Valley to California.

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