A Trip to the Heart of the Rogue Valley: Medford, Oregon
A perfect warm-weather getaway to Medford, Oregon, where water-based adventures and fine wine experiences flow all season long.
Come spring and summer, Oregon becomes a warm-weather wonderland that beckons travelers with promises of cooling evergreen forests, high deserts, rushing rivers, and rugged coastline blanketed in greens and bursts of flora. It is also home to one of the most diverse and rewarding destinations in the West: Medford, the accessible beating heart of southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, where traffic is a memory in the rearview mirror and an international airport makes navigation a breeze. This is where I spent a week immersed in undulating foothills, horseshoe-shaped Table Rock islands in the sky, and bustling waterways. With the sparkling new Compass Hotel by Margaritaville serving as my base of operations, I embarked on a taste test of Medford’s adventures spanning water, earth, and sky.
Life on the Water
The Medford region is a Mecca for outdoor recreation, much of it centering on the water. Fly fishing is a staple of the Rogue River, but for adrenaline-seekers, white-water rafting and high-speed options, such as tours led by Rogue Jet Boat Adventures, hurl and spin passengers through stretches of river flanked by overhanging trees, historic homes, and a smorgasbord of wildlife. “Theodore Roosevelt once stayed in that home there,” my boat’s guide said, motioning toward a charming cottage that now sits backdropped by a colossal home boasting designs worthy of a rustic resort. “And over there is Jim Belushi’s house,” he continued, slowing his speed to prompt a 360-degree spin that sent each guest row into a chorus of excited screams. A midpoint pit stop landed our boat at Discovery Park, owned and operated by the tour company. Here, a lake, outdoor bar, game areas, and a floating music stage marked the beginning stages of what Jet Boat Adventures will soon turn into a completed glamping site and recreation area.
If remaining firmly planted on solid ground is preferable, the Rogue Valley offers hiking suitable for all levels of outdoors enthusiast. My first on-foot trek plunged me into a dome of Douglas fir on my way to Mill Creek and Barr Creek Falls, the 173-foot and 242-foot showers, respectively, that cascade from a sea of forest.
Next was a short climb of a Medford staple, the Table Rock Plateaus. Over millennia, erosion of volcanic rock from the rush of the Rogue River has created islands in the sky that contain their own ecosystems on largely undisturbed surfaces, including a protected species of fairy shrimp that only exists in its springtime mud puddles and millions of wildflowers, one of which only grows here. The dwarf woolly meadowfoam occurs only on the tops of the two Table Rocks and nowhere else in the world! I concluded my outdoor portion with a nighttime drive to Crater Lake National Park, where I sat, as one of only a handful of late-night visitors, and gazed in awe at a dark sky, shooting stars, and a rising Milky Way that, thanks to dark sky preservation, could be easily spotted with the naked eye. Crater Lake National park is not just the only National Park in Oregon, but it also contains the deepest lake in the nation.
For the vinous explorer, Medford is a wine wonderland too, a claim it holds thanks to geological features that encourage remarkable diversity from one vineyard to the next despite geographical proximity. Kriselle Cellars, for example, the pride and joy of owner and engineer Scott Steingraber, benefits from sun-drenched, breeze-smothered plots that brim with round river rock and silts. The complex land makes the property’s 25 acres of vines produce grapes rich in depth, character, and terroir.
Minutes south of Medford, 2Hawk Vineyard and Winery, operated by owners Ross and Jen Allen alongside Winemaker Kiley Evans, benefits from 30 vined acres of the oldest, predominantly volcanic soils that distinguish the Rogue Valley, some of which can be found in only one other location in the world—along the Rhône River in southern France. And just nine miles west of 2Hawk, Dan and Cindy Marca’s ethereal winery Dancin is a breathtaking plot enveloped by cedar, oak, and pine. It thrives on the region’s topographical diversity and cooler climates and yields Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the latter of which is harvested at more than a 3-to-1 ratio in the Rogue Valley due to the region’s conducive climate.
Whatever the activity, whatever the season, there is a welcoming aura among Medford’s residents that permeates, silently enhancing each experience with a hospitality that encourages personal reflection weeks after being its subject. By the end of my trip I came to understand that it is the region’s sense of community that comprises the heart of its identity. And as they did with me, its locals are eager to share it with you.