A Flurry of Fun - Ashland is Base Camp - Winter '24 Issue

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Scenic Drive to Crater Lake

Along the Rogue River

A Scenic Drive to Crater Lake

Story and photography by Jessica Pierson


As Crater Lake emerges from its winter snowpack in early summer, we can finally daydream of picnics along the rim, starry night camping trips, and taking in breathless views from the surrounding Cascades. Plans can be made to meet up with family and friends and for getting outside and enjoying the outdoors. Fortunately, for us in Southern Oregon, getting to Crater Lake is a pretty straightforward drive north from Medford on Highway 62.    

Beginning at the intersection of Highways 99 and 238 in Medford, Highway 62 (also called Crater Lake Highway) spans roughly 80 miles from Medford to Crater Lake National Park. Between these two points lies a literal gold mine of history, small town charm and astonishing natural beauty. If you know where to stop along the way, you’ll find that getting to there can be half the fun.


Getting the Trip Underway

To begin your journey on Crater Lake Highway, a proper map is in order. The best place to find this information is Harnish Park and Visitor Center in Eagle Point. Located on Crater Lake Highway, it is surrounded by grassy Harnish Park and bordered by Little Butte Creek. The Visitor Center includes an Interpretive Center and the Little Butte Creek Room. Be prepared to be drawn into the fascinating history of the Eagle Point area as depicted in detailed historical murals along the walls.

After you’ve gotten your bearings for the trip, there are two more places to explore in Eagle Point. Heading into the downtown area via Royal Avenue, you will come across the Antelope Creek Bridge. Originally located on nearby Antelope Creek, it was moved to its current location over Little Butte Creek in 1987. While walking through the bridge, take time to admire the queenpost construction of the bridge. This type of architecture allows for a longer bridge span as a horizontal beam can be laid across the twin posts on either side.

A five-minute walk northeast of the bridge along Little Butte Creek leads you to the site of the historic Butte Creek Mill. Before it was destroyed by a Christmas Day fire in 2015, it was the last remaining operational water-powered grist mill west of the Mississippi River. Fundraising and rebuilding efforts by the Butte Creek Mill Foundation have been underway since the fire. The building was reframed and constructed using both old timber framing and modern methods. The exterior is mostly done, now it’s time to work on the inside. Folks look forward to shopping there once more, to buying flour produced onsite—and more.  


Crossing the Upper Rogue

Following an exploration of Eagle Point, it’s time to head north on Crater Lake Highway to Shady Cove. Along the way, Crater Lake Highway becomes part of the Rogue Umpqua Scenic Byway. The Table Rocks, two flat-topped formations to the west, are just one of many intriguing natural features on this 172-mile route from Roseburg to Gold Hill.

As the Table Rocks fade into the background, the pleasant little town of Shady Cove begins to appear. Here, you’ll discover a fun hodgepodge of mom-and-pop shops that cluster around the downtown area. You will also notice many signs for rafting trips. Two outfitters to check out are Raft the Rogue (rafttherogue.com) and Rapid Pleasures Rafting Co. (rapidpleasurerafting.com).

Before leaving, stop at the Shady Cove Market to pick up some picnic supplies. They carry a great selection of freshly prepared deli items, tempting bakery treats and more. This store also has a nice selection of Upper Rogue region wines, including Crater Lake Cellars (based in Shady Cove), Kriselle Cellars (White City), and Cliff Creek Cellars (Gold Hill).


Picture-perfect Pacific Northwest Afternoon

Armed with picnic supplies, it’s time for a 1,000-foot ascent into the Lost Creek Lake area. Marking the beginning of this area is Casey State Park, named after the former Casey’s Auto Camp, established in 1929. It’s been a part of the Oregon State Parks system since 1933, and is currently a day-use only park. Today, Casey State Park is a premier fishing destination, and eager anglers can be seen crowding into the waist-deep waters as early as 4 a.m.  

Fishing on this section of the Rogue has a long and rather glamorous history. Many of our country’s pioneering outdoor champions, including Teddy Roosevelt, Zane Grey, and John Muir have dipped a fly or hook into the Rogue River here. The nearby historic Prospect Hotel shows these men and many others on its registry. Other historic hotels in the area, including Wolf Creek Inn, boast additional outdoor enthusiasts such as Jack London and Clarke Gable.

Adjacent to Casey State Park are sites related to the Lost Creek Lake Dam. First, you’ll encounter the surprisingly engaging McGregor Park and Visitor’s Center. A one-mile walking trail is set up around the museum that follows a tributary of the Rogue River. Further down Takelma Drive is the Cole M. Rivers Fish Hatchery, an overlook of the William L. Jess Dam, and a pier jutting out into Lost Creek Lake.

Dam construction took place over a ten-year period from 1967 to 1977. A devastating flood in December 1964 spurred action to create the dam. More than 200 homes were destroyed and several bridges washed out by torrential rains. The communities of Laurelhurst and McLeod were buried underwater. Today, Lost Creek Lake is a focal point for recreation in the Southern Oregon area.

Following Crater Lake Highway for a few more miles, Joseph Stewart State Park comes into focus. If you want to stop here for a picnic and swim break, turn left at the first entrance marked “Day Use,” and follow the road leading to the Lost Creek Marina and Store. The parking lot closest to Picnic Area A has a marked swim beach. Picnic tables and bathrooms with running water, flush toilets, and cold showers are nearby.

Your next stop on Crater Lake Highway will be the triple waterfalls of Prospect—Pearsoney, Mill Creek and Barr Creek falls. Two of Prospect’s founding family’s names, Pearson and Mooney, live on through the eponymous “Pearsoney” name given one of the falls. Pearsoney Falls is accessed from the trailhead leading out of the parking lot of the Prospect State Scenic Viewpoint.

Farther down Mill Creek Drive, just over the Rogue River Bridge, are two larger falls, Mill Creek and Barr Creek Falls. Mill Creek Falls has a dramatic 173-foot drop and Barr Creek Falls tops that with a combined height of 240-feet. The parking lot leading to the trailhead is easily spotted from Mill Creek Drive and features a large map of the trail network. From this trail, you can also access the Avenue of Giants, a swiftly flowing section of the Rogue River filled with astonishingly large boulders.


Farewell Bend and Beyond

Take time to see two delightful geological treasures of the journey. Beginning with Takelma Gorge, a 150-foot-deep rock canyon, you’ll encounter evidence of ancient volcanic fury. Not too nuch further north lies the Natural Bridge formation. Here, ancient volcanic activity collided with the waters of the Rogue to create a tangled network of underground lava tubes. One of these tubes sucks the turbulent waters of the Rogue River into its mouth and spews it out several hundred feet downstream, creating what is appropriately named Natural Bridge.  You can easily access both sites from the highway.

Be sure and plan a stop at popular and much-loved Beckie’s Café (about two miles up the road from Natural Bridge) for a sweet send-off to the final leg of your journey. Local folks rave about the pies, especially the legendary huckleberry pies that date back to the original 1926 owner, Ed Beckelhymer (nicknamed Beckie). Ninety years later, travelers from around the world seek out the pies, which take over three pounds of berries each to make. Rumor has it that Beckie’s glass-eyed second wife Cecil and first wife Nettie still haunt the kitchen and argue about how best to run the café.

When the last crumb of pastry has disappeared from your plate, all that’s left is a thirty-minute drive to the entrance of Crater Lake National Park. A few miles north of Beckie’s, the aptly named Farewell Bend serves to see you off. By the time you reach Crater Lake National Park’s entrance, you will have discovered that getting to Crater Lake was half the fun of your trip.

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