Exploring Oregon Caves, Redwoods, Lava Beds, and Tule Lake National Parks

July 01, 2023  •  1 Comment

Been a while since I've written one of these. Thanks for stopping by!

My wife and I recently visited Oregon Caves, Redwoods, Lava Beds, and Tule Lake. It was our first visit to all the parks. 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.

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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.

Lava Beds National Monument

We arrived just in time to grab one of the last remaining campsites. We shared it with a nesting Bullock's oriole pair and a few other new birds for us. After dinner we went out for sunset. We had beautiful views of Mount Shasta and learned about the Modoc Indians of the area.

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The next morning, I woke up early with the sunrise and went for a little walk from the campground. We made coffee and we set out early to hike to the off-trail caves. We explored the lava tubes and pictographs, found new birds, and explored our favorite cave of the park, Golden Dome. It has a bacteria that shines gold with a headlamp. We spent the heat of the day underground until our tent received shade from the nearby tree in our camp spot.

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Back at camp we took naps, made dinner, and set out again for sunset. This time we planned to hit nearby wildlife refuges for birding and also catch the sunset at Petroglyph Point. The Tule Lake area used to be completely underwater and was drained for farming. This rock was once surrounded by water and Modoc Indians would float out to it and leave their mark. It's one of the highest concentration of petroglyphs in the US. The refuges are now in place to make up for the lost aquatic habitat lost when the lake was drained. On the way out we came across a rattlesnake in the road, saw tons of nighthawks, and had it essentially all to ourselves. We were able to stop in the road for photos whenever we saw a bird or other wildlife.

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Tule Lake National Monument

Before heading back to the airport, we took a tour at the new Tule Lake National Monument. They have a brand new visitor center that gives tours of the only building left of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, the prison. We were both fairly unfamiliar with the story of the relocation centers, and the tour did a great job of exposing us to another harrowing story of the history of America.

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I enjoyed visiting all the parks, but I have to say that Lava Beds and Tule Lake were the standouts for their natural and cultural resources, respectively. Carlsbad Caverns really got me interested in cave parks, especially those with off-trail caves, and Tule Lake has such a powerful story.

If you made it this far, thanks for taking the time and I'll be sure to share more blogs this summer as we have some cool upcoming trips planned!


Jenn Capito(non-registered)
Nat geo quality pics! Felt like I got to experience part of this trip from the description and the photos. Thank you for posting!!
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