The first person known to have entered the cave was Elijah Davidson, who followed his dog Bruno into the cave while pursuing a bear in late November 1874. After venturing into the cave and exhausting his supply of matches the hunter was forced to crawl in darkness out of the cave, following the underground river for guidance. At the urging of his brother, Davidson returned to the cave in 1877, this time with more light, to further explore the cave.
While few people visited the cave in the ten years after its discovery, the following two decades saw several private investors try (and fail) to turn the cave into a tourist attraction. President Taft declared the area a national monument in 1909, and the construction of the Caves Highway in 1922 resulted in a huge increase in visitors to the caves.
Oregon Caves are unusual due to the fact that the rock is marble, although the caves were formed from the common process of slightly acidic water seeping through cracks. It is believed that the cave is at least one million years old, and possibly several million years in age.
Flora and fauna
Trees in the monument include Douglas fir, oak, white fir, and alder, including "Big Tree", which at 42 feet (12 m) in diameter is the largest Douglas fir in Oregon.
The park is home to approximately 50 species of mammals, 86 species of birds, and 11 species of reptiles and amphibians. Nearly 160 species are found inside the cave, including 8 species of bats. The most commonly seen animals include black-tailed deer and Townsend's chipmunk, but lucky visitors may see black bear, cougar, northern flying squirrel, and Pacific giant salamander.
The monument is located at 4,000 feet (1,220 m) elevation and experiences summer temperatures between 65-85°F (18-29°C). The area gets over 50 inches (127 cm) of rain per year, much of it in the fall. Winters are snowy and chains may be required on the park highway, and the road may be temporarily closed during winter storms.
The only road to the park is Oregon Route 46, a winding mountain road that travels 20 miles (32 km) east from the town of Cave Junction. The road is not recommended for trailers and RVs beyond milepost 12.
Fees and permits
There is no park entry fee, but fees are charged for cave tours.
The park is compact, so visitors park at the lower parking lot and then walk. The Chateau and Visitors Center are about one-quarter mile up a paved roadway from the main parking lot, and trails are well-maintained.
- 1 Chalet Visitor Center, 19000 Caves Highway, ☏ . Built in 1924, this visitor center is adjacent to the Chateau and offers exhibits about the cave and items for sale. Cave tour reservations must be made at the desk, and cave tours start from the visitor center.
Reservations for cave tours are on a first come, first served basis and are available from the visitor center. The busiest times are between 11AM and 3PM, when waits can be up to two hours; early arrival is recommended. Children shorter than 42 in (107 cm) in height are not allowed on cave tours. Due to technical difficulties credit cards may not always be accepted, so ensure you can pay in cash if necessary. Tours are not available from November through mid-March in order to protect hibernating bats. Backpacks, food, drinks, gum, tobacco, canes, flashlights and tripods are not allowed in the cave. Temperatures in the cave average 44°F (7°C) year-round, so a jacket is recommended.
- General Cave Tour. This 90-minute tour traverses a half mile (1 km) of the cave and is moderately strenuous. The cave is well-developed, but visitors will need to climb 500 stairs and stoop in some areas. Sights on the tour include numerous decorated caverns, an underground river, and items of historical interest. $10 for adults, $7 for children 15 and under, Golden Age and Golden Access pass holders receive a 50% discount.
- Candlelight Cave Tour. Offered on Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30PM from Memorial Day through Labor Day, this tour covers the same route as the general cave tour but the cave lights are turned off and each visitor carries a lantern in order to experience the cave in the same way as early visitors saw it. In addition to the 42 in (1,100 mm) height restriction, participants must be age 12 or over. $10 for adults, $7 for children 15 and under.
- Off-trail Cave Tour. Off-trail tours are only offered between June and September and must be reserved in advance, with space limited to 8 per tour. See the Oregon Caves information page to make a reservation. The three-hour off-trail tour provides an introduction to caving and visits areas not seen on the general cave tour. Visitors will have to scramble over boulders, squeeze through tight spaces, and will have only a headlamp for illumination. All equipment is provided by the park service. $45 per person, age 15 and over only.
- Haunted Candlelight Tour. Only offered around Halloween, these special candlelight tours focus on some of the creepier local history of the caves. Cameras are not allowed, but costumes may be worn as long as there is no danger of fabric or other materials being left behind in the cave.
- Cliff Nature Trail. (1 mile, 1.6 km loop) This trail starts at the visitor center and leads up to a view of the Illinois Valley, gaining 371 feet (113 m) of elevation in the process. For those who take the cave tour, the exit trail from the cave provides the opportunity to hike a portion of this trail that includes the best views.
- No Name Trail. (1.3 mile, 2.1 km loop) This trail leads from the lower parking lot along No Name Creek and Cave Creek, through the forest and up to the visitor center - consider asking a ranger for directions to the nearest trail access point as there are several ways to get to this trail. The "dead end" paths along the trail lead to small waterfalls. The total elevation change during the trail is 268 feet (82 m).
- Big Tree Trail. (3.3 mile, 5.3 km loop) This trail climbs through forest and meadows to the largest diameter Douglas Fir Tree in Oregon. The trail starts behind the visitor center. Total elevation gain is 1125 feet (343 m).
- Bigelow Lakes - Mount Elijah Loop. (9.2 miles, 14.8 km loop) This trail leads through meadows and to the top of Mount Elijah, where on a clear day it is possible to see all the way to Mount Shasta. The trail is strenuous and gains 2390 feet (728 m).
- Cave Creek Trail. (1.5 miles, 2.4 km one-way) This steep trail follows Cave Creek from the lower parking lot to the Cave Creek campground. The trail descends 1000 feet (305 m).
- 1 Chateau Dining Room (on the third floor of the Chateau). Upscale dining featuring locally-grown produce.
- 2 Caves Cafe, ☏ . 7AM-5PM. A snack bar built in the 1930s featuring burgers, shakes, and similar fare.
- 1 The Chateau at the Oregon Caves, ☏ . The Chateau is closed for renovations, and is expected to reopen in 2020. Located next to the visitor center, this historic lodge was built in 1934 and is a six-story building that spans a small gorge. The exterior is sided in cedar bark, giving the building a distinctive look. The lodge operates only from May through September and the 23 rooms fill quickly, so advance bookings are a necessity.
There are no campgrounds within the park, but there are two forest service campgrounds on the park road just outside of the park borders.
- 2 Cave Creek Campground (mile marker 16), ☏ . This 18-site primitive forest service campground is suitable for tents and trailers, with a maximum vehicle length limited to 16 feet. Amenities include drinking water, vault toilets, picnic tables and fire pits. Sites are available first-come, first-served. Open only from late-May to end of September. $10 per site.
- 3 Grayback Campground (8 miles from the caves), ☏ . This forest service campground has running water, vault toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length. The 39 sites are offered first-come, first-served. Open only from late-May through mid-September. $10 per site.
There is no camping allowed within the monument, but backcountry camping is allowed outside of the park borders in designated areas within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
- Cave Junction - The only town accessible from the park is 20 miles (32 km) west of the park on Oregon Route 46.
|Routes through Oregon Caves National Monument|
|Ends at ← Cave Junction ←||W E||→ END|