Oregon Caves and Redwoods National Parks

June 29, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

My wife and I recently visited Oregon Caves and Redwoods national parks for the first time. We flew into Medford, excited to leave the airport, shop, and immediately head to Oregon Caves to camp in their campground. When our bags didn't arrive, we called an audible and rented a hotel in town while we waited for our camping gear and clothes to arrive. Not gonna lie, showering and sleeping in a bed after a day of stressful traveling was welcome.

Oregon Caves National Monument

20230613-jwf-443620230613-jwf-4436NPS / Jacob W. Frank

We hit the road the following morning and stopped at the visitor center in Cave Junction so I could pick up a junior ranger booklet and map of the park. We tried to do some reading as we drove up to the park, but the road is scenic and winding. We arrived early for our cave tour, so we walked around and checkout out the exterior of their historic lodge, which was unfortunately closed for renovations.

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We made our way through the cave in about 90 minutes on a guided ranger tour. The cave is made of marble, apparently only one of three in the US. The other two caves are in Sequoia and Great Basin national parks. There are a few grand rooms, but a majority of the cave is tight quarters, and the secondary formations are not as intricate as other limestone caves like Carlsbad Caverns. We hiked a short trail to warm up after the cave tour and headed on to Redwoods. We would have stayed longer, but the off-trail cave tours had yet to start for the season. A reason to return!

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Once we got out of the cave we hike up to check out the view from the Cliff Trail.

20230613-jwf-475020230613-jwf-4750NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Redwoods National and State Parks

We camped in Jed Smith Campground for three nights. The first day we kayaked the Smith River where we saw a family of river otters eating a lamprey, plus lots of new birds for us, including a black-crowned night heron eating a salamander. Our goal was to kayak the river to the ocean, but as we neared the estuary, the tide started coming in and the wind started howling. If we stopped paddling full speed, we started moving upriver. We tried to get out of the wind on the other side of the river, but the waves were cresting over our bows, so we bailed back to the other side of the river and let the wind blow us on shore. We used our map to find an alternate take out and had the shuttle meet us there. Once we were out of the water, I was able to confirm that there was a hole in my boat, which was causing me to drag. Needless to say, we were excited to be out of the water after that adventure.

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Back on dry land we headed to the campground where the park was hosting a Tribal (Tolowa) event on the shore of the Smith River. They roasted salmon by fire on redwood spears and made sand bread in the pebbles heated from a fire. The Tribe was also shaping a kayak from a redwood log and teaching the public about the cultural significance. After a short speech and prayer from a Tribal leader, we all ate together on the shore of the Smith River. It was a pretty spectacular event.

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After the event we explored the groves, Stout and Titan. The Stout Grove is one of the most iconic groves, where Star Wars was filmed.

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The Titan Grove is accessed by a brand-new trail and boardwalk system.

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The Following day we headed south to hike the James Irvine / Fern Canyon / Gold Bluffs loop. The hike is about 12 miles and leads you through multiple ecosystems as you make your way through the forest to the coast and back. Near the coast is the popular Fern Canyon, which is basically the only place we encountered any people, other than a few groups hiking the whole trail with us.

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Our final morning, we got up early for sunrise because it was our only opportunity for tide pooling. We drove out and hiked down to Endert's Beach where we explored sea arches, sea stars, anemone, birds, and a dead seal being scavenged by a turkey vulture. This was my first time exploring tide pools, it was a lot of fun to try and find interesting shots while dodging the incoming tide.

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After the tide pools we headed back to camp to pack up and head to Lava Beds National Monument.


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