With Oregon Caves National Monument circled on my map my SUV climbs a winding mountain road through a dense fir forest to a clearing. Just south of Oregon’s Grants Pass in the Rouge River Siskiyou National Forest, we find a gateway to explore an underground landscape of marble halls and an underground stream. Read on for what to do at Oregon Caves with kids and to plan your Oregon road trip.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Discovered in 1874 by Elijah Davidson, Oregon Caves still beckons cave explorers to the fir-covered Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon. Early explorers used candles and a ball of string to navigate the marble passages.
President Taft declared it a national monument in 1909. It took another 10 years before the road was completed to drive to Oregon Caves National Monument. Then the Chateau was built in 1934 for guests to spend the night.
Cave Tours Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Find several different tours to explore Oregon Caves NationalMonument. Though all kids will have to be 42″ to take a tour.
Discovery Tour, a 1 ½ hour walk through the Marble Halls of Oregon. The .6-mile trail passes by stalagmites, stalactites and drapery formations along with flowstone. This tour includes 500 steps and walks by the cave stream. It’s not accessible and considered moderately strenuous. Adults (16+) tickets are $10 and kids under 15 are $7 with an interagency pass ticket for $5.
Kids and Family Cave Tour is all about the kids. A 1 ½ hour walk that peeks the interest of kids. Intended for visitors 13 years and younger though must meet the 42” height requirement. Adults (16+) tickets are $10 and kids under 15 are $7 with an interagency pass ticket for $5.
Candlelight Tour offers a one-hour candlelit historic tour through part of the cave. With only the flickering light of a lantern to light the way, rangers recall the history of Oregon Caves. Kids must be 10 to participate. Adult tickets are $10 and youth tickets (10 to 15) are $7.
Off-Trail Tour offers adventurous families of teens a challenging experience to learn to explore caves. This 3-hour tour steps off the trail with boulder scrambles, belly crawls and squeezes through passages 11”x19” all by the light of a headlight. Participants must be 15-years-old for this very strenuous tour. Tickets are $45 and include equipment though cavers must wear over-the-ankle hiking boots.
Hiking at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
The cave isn’t the only landscape to discover in the Siskiyou Mountains. The wooded forest offers several shaded trails for families to explore together. Hike any of the following to earn a Junior Ranger Trail Button.
Cliff Nature Trail–a .7-mile trail from the cave exit to the visitor center with a 75-foot elevation gain.
Old Growth Trail–a 1.0-mile loop from the main parking lot to the visitor center.
No Name Trail–a 1.3-mile trail features waterfalls.
Big Tree Trail–a 3.3-mile loop is an ambitious hike with a 1,125-foot elevation gain.
What to do at Oregon Caves with Kids
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve offers a badge for Oregon Caves as well as the Junior Cave Scientist badge for young cave explorers, or speleologists. Kids explore, learn and protect the fragile underground landscape.
Spend the Night at the Chateau
NOTE: The Chateau is closed during 2020-21 for renovations.
After exploring the cave, we hiked back to the Oregon Caves Chateau, a National Historic Landmark and part of the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks.
Built in 1934 by local contractor, Gust Lium, for $50,000, the cedar bark-covered, six-story building with 10 sides is part of the rustic picturesque architectural style.
With 23 rooms, a dining room and coffee shop, it’s a must for National Park Lodge enthusiasts.
For camping, I found the Cave Creek Campground at mile marker 16 on Caves Highway. It offers 17 first-come, first-serve primitive sites from Memorial Day until Labor Day for $10 a night.
How to Get to Oregon Caves National Monument
Oregon Caves National Monument is located at 19000 Caves Highway, Caves Junction. It’s open year round for surface hiking though Cave Highway might be temporarily closed during snowstorms. It’s about 60 miles from the Redwood State and National Parks.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve doesn’t charge a fee though cave tours require tickets.
Oregon Caves National Monument offers tours from mid-March until the beginning of November. Tours are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer season with fewer tours in Spring and Fall.
Bats and White-Nose Syndrome
If you plan on visiting Oregon Caves National Monument and Bend, Oregon’s Lava Cave, you can not wear any clothing, this includes shoes, that have been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome. A ranger will stop all cave visitors at both locations and ask.
White-Nose Syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. A fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity that’s killed 6 million bats since it’s discovery in 2006.
Know Before You Go
- Kids under 42” are not permitted on any cave tours.
- Make cave tour reservations in advance during the busy summer season. Tours fill to capacity early in the day.
- From Cave Junction, along U.S. Route 199, it takes 45 minutes to get to the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.
- Arrive 45 minutes before your scheduled tour departure.
- RV and travel trainers are not recommended beyond mile post 12.