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Road Trippin' : Exploring the Caves

National Park Service

MEDFORD, Ore. -- They are rich with history, beauty, and attract thousands to Josephine County each year. The Oregon Caves open up in late March, but there's plenty to do until then.

"We've got miles of trails just within the national monument and preserve. There's over 9 miles of trails, they range from 4,000 feet to over 6,000 feet. There is no snow at the higher elevations, but right now there's no snow at 4,000 feet so there's great hiking," George Herring with the National Park Service said, "Probably the favorite hike people take is about three miles. You go out to the place called the Big Tree. it's the largest Douglas Fir tree in Oregon and it's a pretty walk through there."

The history of the caves goes back to 1909 when the area was established by a Presidential Proclamation, although Herring says the real beginning was in 1874.

"Elijah Davidson founded it in 1874. Actually, you could technically say his dog Bruno discovered them because Bruno was apparently following a bear and the bear went into the cave. Bruno followed the bear and Elijah followed Bruno," Herring said.

From 1874 to 1921, visitation to the area was minimal. Getting to the cave was challenging. People had to travel up a horse track from Williams to get here.

"In 1921, the highway opened up and visitation went from 1,000 to a little under 10,000 in one year," Herring said.

You can plan your visit to the Oregon Caves here. Herring suggests making a reservation when the tours start up. Make sure to wear warm clothing and good shoes; the temperature inside the cave averages about 44 degrees. At times inside, you'll have to bend down as much as 45 inches to get through the cave, so if you're wary of tight spaces, you may want to pass on the tour.

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