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The photo above is the main entrance to the cave.
The Oregon Caves were discovered in November, 1874 by 24-year-old Elijah Davidson, who was deer hunting. More correctly, the cave was discovered by "my famous bear dog, Bruno", in the words of Elijah. The story is Elijah was hunting down a large buck. He took a shot at it, but it wasn't a clean shot, so the buck didn't go down immediately. With Bruno leading, Elijah followed the mortally wounded buck's trail. When he reached the now dead buck, the dog immediately sensed a bear nearby and, being a "famous bear dog", he of course got very excited. So Elijah released the dog to give chase. After all, a bear was a much better prize than a buck! The dog followed the bear into a thicket, where the bear escaped into a cave hidden by the brush. The dog dove into the cave after the bear and Davidson followed. It was too dark to see, however a yelp and squeal indicated that Bruno had found the bear. Elijah stumbled around a little in the dark but without a light he couldn't see far enough into the cave to shoot the bear or rescue his dog from the bear. So he reluctantly left the cave and a very lucky Bruno soon limped out behind him. Elijah then came up with the idea of luring the bear out using the dead buck as bait. He dragged the buck's body to the cave entrance and left it there overnight. Sure enough the bear came out that night and, after feasting on the dead buck, layed down and went to sleep. That poor old bear ate so much he was stuffed! The next day Elijah returned to find the bear soundly sleeping near the buck carcass, just as he had expected. Not good for the bear, as he would soon be permanently stuffed! Interesting, while at the time he was excited about killing this huge bear, the lasting legacy for Elijah Davidson turned out to be his discovery of the Oregon Caves!
Almost from the day of it's discovery the cave became a tourist attraction. In 1909 President Taft officially made it a national monument. The cave then fell under the management of the Forest Service. In 1934 the responsibility for the cave management was transferred to the National Park Service. That same year the Oregon Caves Chateau (hotel) opened, providing overnight lodging and meals for guests. The Oregon Caves Chateau is considered one of Oregon's greatest lodges for it's architecture. Today it still remains in original condition, including the original furniture.
During the 1930's the inside of the caves were blasted in places to allow the installation of pathways for tourists. New tunnels between sections of the cave were also constructed to allow easier access. Unfortunately this construction and the subsequent visitors caused much damage to the caves. The new tunnels changed the airflow in the cave and parts of the cave began to deteriorate as the air caused changes in the cave's climate. Starting in the 1980's the park service began expending much money and energy in an effort to reverse damage caused by the earlier construction and visitation in the caves. Air-locks have been installed in the blasted passageways to restore the original air flows. New lights have been installed and tons of debris have been removed from the cave. Some cave features that had been damaged or broken were repaired.
Other formations you may see at Oregon Caves include Columns, Stalactites, Stalagmites, Cave popcorn, Rimstone dams, flowstone, cave ghosts, boxwork, and Moonmilk. Have fun!
For the number of interesting and unique cave formations you will see in a relatively short tour, Oregon Caves is undoubtedly among the best caves in the United States. While it is a bit out of the way to get to the caves, it is well worth the time.
The official website for the Oregon Caves National Monument is: https://www.nps.gov/orca. The Visitor Center can be reached by calling (541) 592-2100.
IMPORTANT: Cave tours are not offered during the winter! Check for tour schedules and availability prior to visiting.
IMPORTANT: Children must be 42 inches tall and able to climb a set of test stairs to go on the cave tours. There are no child care facilities available and children may not be carried on the cave tours, they must walk by themselves. The caves are not a good place to visit if you have babies or toddlers, they won't appreciate it anyway. Wait a few years for a much more pleasant visit!
As with most caves, it is cool inside, so bring a light jacket. There are over 500 steps, many on metal stairways, on the tour. The floors and stairs are wet and slippery. Some passages have low ceiling heights and require you to bend over to get through them.
The official website for the non-profit Oregon Caves concessioner (lodging, gift shop, dining room, deli & the Caves Diner) is: Oregon Caves Outfitters . Open May through October, check with them for the exact dates. Reservations on-line or phone: (541) 592-3400.
From October through May (when the Cafe is closed) snacks and beverages are sold at the Park Visitor Center bookstore.
Visitor facilities are also available in the community of Cave Junction.
There are two national forest campgrounds nearby, Grayback and Cave Creek. Minimal services. Cave Creek Campground can't accommodate large vehicles.
Cave Creek Campground
There are several private campgrounds around Cave Junction.
Allow an hour for the drive from Cave Junction to the Oregon Caves, allow more time if raining, foggy, or after dark. It is a slow road, narrow with very sharp turns.
Trailers are not allowed on the final few miles of the road, a storage area is provided for them at the Illinois Valley Visitor Center in Cave Junction or the Grayback Campground.
The nearest airport with regularly scheduled air service is the Jackson County Regional Airport in Medford, Oregon. Rental cars are available at the airport. The caves are a 2 hour drive from Medford.
Oregon Caves National Monument. The Official National Park Service website.
Architecture in the Parks- Oregon Caves Chateau An excellent historical piece on the Chateau by the Park Service.
Cultural Landscape Report This is an excellent, in-depth report on the historical buildings and landscape or Oregon Caves. Lots of historic photos. By Landscape Architects Cathy Gilbert and Marsha Tolon of the National Park Service.
Floor Plans of Chateau & Chalet Click on the link at left, then enter "Oregon Caves" into the search box. This will give you links to copies of the floor plans for the historic buildings at the Oregon Caves, as well as photos of the old guest cabins take prior to their removal. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record. Chateau Accessibility and Safety Study Prepared by Architectural Resources Group, 2006. Primarily recommendations for repairs to the building, this document also contains a brief history with time line and a good description of current conditions of the Chateau. Note: large file size- 8.9 mb.
Domain of the Caveman: A Historic Resource Study of Oregon Caves National Monument: A Historic Resource Study of Oregon Caves National Monument. 2006. Written by Stephen R. Mark, the Park Historian for Oregon Caves National Monument. If you're interested in the history of the Caves & Chateau I highly recommend this book. It is one of the books in my collection.
Text and Images by Jess Stryker. Text copyright © Jess Stryker, 2007. Photos copyright © Jess Stryker, 2004.
All rights reserved. Permission is granted for student use of photos for non-profit school/class projects.