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The Pacific Northwest offers families wild and rugged landscapes with evergreen mountain vistas and windswept coasts. Yet it’s the landscape under the mountains that sparkles. Just south of Crater Lake National Park, a Mom SUV climbs a winding mountain road through a dense fir forest to the marble halls of Oregon Caves National Monument to take a cave tour with her kids.
My boys, 9 and 13, want to explore another underground landscape so I circled Oregon Caves National Monument on the map laying on my dash. Even though caves aren’t my first love, I’ll never squelch my boys’ desire to explore, so I’ve got all the details on cave tours in Oregon with kids.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Discovered in 1874 by Elijah Davidson, Oregon Caves still beckons cave explorers to the fir-covered Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon. Early explorers used candles and a ball of string to navigate the marble passages until President Taft declared it a national monument in 1909.
Cave Tours in Oregon with Kids
Looking for cave tours in Oregon with kids? For our visit, we took the Discovery Tour, a 1 ½ hour walk through the Marble Halls of Oregon. The .6-mile trail passes by stalagmites, stalactites and drapery formations along with flowstone. This tour includes 500 steps and walks by the cave stream. It’s not accessible and considered moderately strenuous. Adults tickets (16+) are $10 and kids under 15 are $7 with an interagency pass ticket for $5.
Candlelight Tour offers a one-hour candlelit historic tour through part of the cave. With only the flickering light of a lantern to light the way, rangers recall the history of Oregon Caves. Kids must be 10 to participate.
Off-Trail Tour offers adventurous families of teens a challenging experience to explore Oregon Caves. This 3-hour tour steps off the trail with boulder scrambles, belly crawls and squeezes through passages 11”x19” all by the light of a headlight. Participants must be 15-years-old for this very strenuous tour. Tickets include equipment though cavers must wear over-the-ankle hiking boots.
Kids at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve offers a badge for Oregon Caves as well as the Junior Cave Scientist badge for young cave explorers, or speleologists. For students 5 and older, kids explore, learn and protect the fragile underground landscape.
Family Hikes at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
The cave isn’t the only landscape to discover in the Siskiyou Mountains. The wooded forest offers several shaded trails for families to explore together. Hike any of the following to earn a Junior Ranger Trail Button.
Cliff Nature Trail, a .7-mile trail from the cave exit to the visitor center with a 75-foot elevation gain.
Old Growth Trail, a 1.0-mile loop from the main parking lot to the visitor center.
Big Tree Trail, a 3.3-mile loop is an ambitious hike with a 1,125-foot elevation gain.
No Name Trail, a 1.3-mile trail features waterfalls.
Spend the Night at the Chateau
After exploring the cave, we hiked back to the Oregon Caves Chateau, a National Historic Landmark and part of the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks.
Built in 1934 by local contractor, Gust Lium, the cedar bark-covered, six-story building with 10 sides is part of the rustic picturesque architectural style.
With 23 rooms, a dining room and a coffee shop, it’s a must for National Park lodge enthusiasts. The guest rooms feature quilts and antiques along with a vintage bathroom.
For camping, I found the Cave Creek Campground at mile marker 16 on Caves Highway. It offers 17 first-come, first-serve primitive sites from Memorial Day until Labor Day for $10 a night.
Bats and White-Nose Syndrome
If you plan on visiting Oregon Caves National Monument and Lava Cave near Bend, Oregon, you can not wear any clothing – including shoes – that’s been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome. A ranger will stop all cave visitors at both locations to ask you and your family.
White-Nose Syndrome kills hibernating bat colonies across the U.S. and Canada. A fungus that thrives in low temperatures and high humidity, it has killed 6 million bats since its discovery in 2006.
Where’s the Oregon Caves National Monument
Oregon Caves National Monument is located at 19000 Caves Highway, Caves Junction. It’s open year round for surface hiking though Cave Highway might be temporarily closed during snowstorms.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve doesn’t charge a fee, though cave tours require tickets.
Oregon Caves National Monument offers tours from mid-March until the beginning of November. Tours are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer season with a less tours in Spring and Fall.
Tips from a Traveling Mom:
- Bring a sweater, the cave’s temperature is 42F year-round.
- Make cave tour reservations in advance during the busy summer season. Tours fill to capacity early in the day.
- No Kids under 42” on cave tours.
- Kids must walk on cave tours.
- From Cave Junction, along U.S. Route 199, it takes 45 minutes to get to the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.
- Arrive 45 minutes before your scheduled tour departure.
- RV and travel trainers are not recommended beyond mile post 12 on Caves Highway.