Oregon Caves Road GuideADVICE: Oregon Caves Highway begins climbing for the next eight miles to Oregon Caves National Monument. This road is steeper than it may appear to drivers and passengers. If you are going to run your air conditioner, watch your temperature gauge as you climb. Many cars overheat during the summer. Please use turnouts to let faster traffic pass.
ZERO YOUR ODOMETER at Grayback Creek Bridge.
0.0 Grayback Creek Bridge
Oregon Caves Game Refuge
From 1926 to 1948 the eight mile segment of highway you are about to drive to Oregon Caves used to be part of the Oregon Caves Game Refuge. This covered about 30,000 acres, with the monument situated in the approximate center. The refuge was established by the state of Oregon who, like most states, retained management authority over wildlife within its state (6, 8).
0.7 Gold Mine
You might be able to catch a glimpse of a large pond in the bottom of the canyon about a fourth of a mile away to the right. In 1981, this mining operation was considered to be the largest in southern Oregon (4). The entire operation was located in the river bed where gravel was processed to find gold. Sucker Creek was one of the major gold producing districts during the 1851 Oregon gold rush. There was no information on how much gold has been recovered from this mine or if it is still operating. There is no good place to stop and look at the mine from the Oregon Caves Highway but you might be able to get a glimpse from one of the turnouts about a half a mile from Grayback Creek Bridge.
1.5 USFS Road 4612:
This road goes into the Sucker Creek drainage and ends near the boundary of the Red Buttes Wilderness. A Forest Service map is recommended if you want to go on any back country drives.
2.0 USFS Road 4613.
This road climbs up toward Buck Peak and Bigelow Lakes. A Forest Service map is recommended if you want to go on any back country drives.
2.6 Turnouts on the right – If you plan to hike to Cave Creek Falls, make a mental note of these turnouts because this is where you will need to return to turn around.
3.2 Mile marker 15
3.3 Cave Creek Waterfall
The turnoff for the trailhead to Cave Creek Falls is not marked and the best way to find it is to look for mile marker 15. A few yards past this, a narrow road can be found going down to the right. There is a flat area with adequate room to turn around but when you leave you cannot make a right turn because of high ground. The route you follow to the the falls is an old mining road. When you depart and drive to the main road, you will need to go down the Caves Highway for about a half mile to where you can safely turn around to continue to Oregon Caves. Another option is to continue past the trailhead road, park in one of the two turnouts about 300 feet past the road and walk back to the trailhead.
3.5 Turnout – Mining ditch
Water ditches were used by miners to carry water to a high point above a mine where it was diverted into a pipe down to the mine. The height created water pressure that could be run through a nozzle and used to wash dirt and gravel into sluice boxes to separate gold. There is a mine ditch about 60 feet above the road to the left but no trail to get up to it.
3.9 Caves Creek Campground
The paved road on the right takes you about half a mile down to the Caves Creek Campground, a beautiful but undiscovered camp facility. Go down this road about 300 feet and look over the downhill side for a small water ditch this is the same as mentioned at mile 3.5 and was constructed prior to the construction of the Caves Highway.
5.2 Mile marker 17
5.4 Turnout – let faster moving traffic pass
6.0 Old road right
A small turnout marks the location of an old logging road that goes down and crosses Lake Creek. It is a convenient route to follow if you want to get down to the creek.
6.2 The Oregon Caves National Monument’s headquarters and residence area are located a few yards up the paved road to the left next to the Highway 46 mile 18 marker. This is an administrative and maintenance facility. Continue up the Oregon Caves Highway to the visitor center, historic chateau, and cave tours.
6.3 Lake Creek Bridge:
Panther Creek forms a small water fall, which is partially hidden by fallen trees on the hill above the bridge. Panther Creek originates near the Big Tree, a popular hiking trail at Oregon Caves National Monument. Lake Creek originates out of the Bigelow Lakes, a popular loop trail hiking destination.
A mining operation was set up at an outcrop of marble about a quarter of a mile above the bridge. It operated for a short time but was heavily damaged by the 1964 flood.
7.5 Oregon Caves entrance sign
The entrance sign to Oregon Caves National Monument was designed and installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps crews at Camp Oregon Caves. The design of this sign is unique to the Oregon and Washington state region.
USFS 960: The road seen on the left as you enter the Oregon Caves parking lot is the route to take if you want to hike the Bigelow Lakes Loop Trail. It is also the route used for those who are interested in driving the Oregon Caves to Williams Backcountry Drive from the Oregon Caves National Monument to the community of Williams in Applegate Valley.
7.7 Comfort Station – restrooms
Park your car in the parking lot and follow the one lane, paved road past the comfort station into the historic district. The Oregon Caves Chateau is the first building you will see and is one of the great lodges of the west. There is a gift shop, dining room, and is open for visitors to enjoy the historic features of this structure built in 1934. Ticket sales for cave tours and the monument’s visitor center are in the building above the road to the left.
WORD OF CAUTIONBe cautious on the return drive as you go down the hill from Oregon Caves. If you have a car loaded with passengers and suitcases, it is a good idea to use a low gear. Some sections of the road can be up to six percent grade and brakes can heat up to a point where they stop working. Also be on the lookout for drivers coming up the road who may be nervous about the narrow shoulders and drop-offs along some sections of the road. These people often ride on the center line of the road even as they go around blind corners. The best remedy for this is to drive slowly and take your time going down the eight miles of mountain road from Oregon Caves National Monument.
Return to Holland Loop to continue tour
From Oregon Caves, drive 13.7 miles back to Holland Loop on the left and continue the history tour.
BEGIN HOLLAND LOOP TOUR (Section 4 – 6)
1) Courier, February 9, 1971. Calcite Plant Will Locate in Area
2) Courier, February 10, 1971. Calcite Mine Reaction Mixed. By Ruth Rausch.
3) Courier, September 3, 1971. Calcite Mining Claim Is Null, Void
4) Illinois Valley News, July 9, 1981. Gallagher mine largest in Southern Oregon
5) Illinois Valley News ______. New Agricultural Limestone Plant Now Operating in Illinois Valley, By Mrs. Fritz Krauss. http://www.oregongeology.org/sub/milo/archive/Commodities/Limestone/Limestone.pdf
6) Mark, Steve, 2006. Domain of the Cavemen. National Park Service, second edition 2011.
7) Sell, Mary Ann, Wolfgang Sell, and Charley Van Pelt, 2007. View-Master Memories, self published January 1, 2007
8) Southwest Oregon District Map, 1948. State of Oregon Board of Forestry, Salem, Oregon. Greg Walters collection, Jefferson State Financial, Cave Junction, Oregon.
Oregon Caves Highway Contacts
EMERGENCIES: Dial 911
Visitor Center..............541 592-4076
Cave Tours..................541 592-2100 x2262
Oregon Caves Lodge..877 245-9022
Forest Service............ 541 592-4000