Medford Oregon Combines Two Incredible Natural Sites with 70 Wineries
By Max Hartshorne
In early October I got a chance to visit southern Oregon and came away with distinct memories of places unlike anything in the Northeast, where I live.
Crater Lake and Table Rock are two truly striking sights, and they’re both near the city of Medford, Oregon, about 30 miles north of the California border.
My fall visit to this city of about 76,000 on the Rogue River also took me to a few of the 70 wineries that it. The city is also the home of Harry & David, which has been mailing fresh fruit and growing acres of pears and peaches here since 1934. Today it is one of the biggest employers in the region.
Medford has been attracting more and more transplants from California in recent years, causing some to say that they’re driving up real estate prices as they buy vineyards, farms, and ranches.
The locals eye those California plates warily, but there is still a whole lot of open land out here, and I was told that the very rich are mostly interested in buying hillside homes on very large lots that keep their fame and wealth under wraps.
Jobs here are plentiful and the rate of homelessness is far below the teeming centers of Portland and Seattle – though you still see it here sometimes, as you do in most cities in 2023.
But back to Crater Lake National Park: Damn, that’s quite a sight. We drove the winding roads north two hours from Medford to the park. The lake was formed 7,700 years ago when a volcano left a basin in the place where a mountain peak once stood. Over the centuries it has been filled with rain and snow. The lake is six miles across at its widest and 1,943 feet deep at its deepest point – the deepest lake in the United States!
That Cerulean Blue!
The cerulean blue of that water is stunning, and on the day we visited it looked more impressive surrounded by a morning snowfall, covering the shore and delighting the visitors who had never before thrown a snowball. But the snowfall made driving around the rim a bit hazardous, and some of the roads were closed because of it.
The park is a massive 183,224 acres, and it stays open year-round. You’ll be completely out of the cellular phone service area, but who cares? It costs $35 for a car to enter the park, but you can use your National Parks Pass here, too. That costs $80 annually, or for seniors, $20 a year – or $80 for lifetime!
On our way back from the lake, we took a few detours to some impressive waterfalls that line the roads in Rogue River Gorge, and we had views of a few of the snow-covered peaks like Mount Abraham and over the border in California, Mount Shasta.
Medford’s Impressive Table Rocks
The other natural highlight we got to explore are the Table Rocks, two dramatic mesas that tower over the city. Upper and Lower Table Rock are massive plateaus you can climb up to on an easy path, and up top the views all around are stunning.
At one point in time airplanes used to land up here on this rocky mesa; today it’s just grassland and volcanic rock with cliffs on all four sides.
The Town of Medford
It’s an interesting thing asking the locals about Medford. Many of the local people we met prefer their small towns like Jacksonville and Ashland over the city.
With just a small downtown footprint, everything else is pretty spread out, but the city wants to encourage locals to come into town.
On the weekend we visited, the Rogue Festival was taking place in a small park downtown.
Sampling Medford-Made Wares
A local cover band pumped out some pretty decent versions of The Eagles’ greatest hits, and many of the local wineries set up tasting tables to sample their vintages and dozens of stalls offered eclectic wares, food, and jewelry. Food trucks completed the scene.
Much of the city, including the well-kept and clean hotel where we stayed, Compass by Margaritaville, is located away from the center, along busy roads lined with familiar chain stores and big Harry & David warehouses.
Much new development is happening here, including four new hotels which are set to open at the city’s airport and in the downtown in 2024.
Wine and Dine in Medford
Dining is a highlight of Medford. It started with one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve ever been served at Over Easy, located downtown.
Their Cajun shrimp toast, with peas, avocado, two eggs, and pea shoots, was just about heaven.
This place, like a few others we visited, has a fun vibe, relaxed and easy, and the food really was great.
Wineries All Over the Rogue Valley
A big part of what brings people to Medford is the huge variety of wineries all up and down the Rogue Valley. They’ve been organized into “wine trails,” making it easy to visit several during an afternoon.
Our guides told us that the sweet spot seems to be three vineyards, because at each one there will be five or six wines to taste.
And all of this is made easier when you take advantage of the two tour operators, Wine Hopper and Bravo Outings, who drive you there and wait while you imbibe.
Though it’s not a reflection of which one is better, I did really like the choice of DANCIN Vineyards in nearby Jacksonville, which is 12 miles from Medford. It was named for the two owners, Dan and Cindy, and their motif is a ballerina – all of their varietals bear labels with different dance poses.
Approaching the vineyard, you have a long sweep of vines and in the middle, the pale orange tasting room with its terra-cotta roof and outdoor tables.
It makes a perfect spot for lunch, and their flatbreads and a large charcuterie board hit the spot.
One day we set out to have some high-adrenaline fun, and for this we headed to Rogue Valley Zipline, a true bonding experience as anyone who’s ziplined will attest. The course took us up and down five different ziplines, and for each ride we were asked to coin a new nickname. Up on the platforms, the rides got longer with each stage, and the views of Table Rock and the rolling hills were gorgeous.
Haunted Del Rio Vineyards
After saying goodbye to our new friends from the three-hour zip tour, we drove a short way to another winery, Del Rio Vineyards.
We were told by marketing assistant Lena Freeman that the place is a little bit haunted. That would be because of Hattie, the resident ghost, who the French winemaker and others swear makes her presence known regularly.
This winery in nearby Gold Hill, Oregon is the largest vineyard in the region, producing grapes on 460 acres, and they produce wine for many other local vineyards.
In the cute backyard of the tasting room, they set up a low table, kind of like something you’d see in the Middle East, complete with carpet, pillows, and a groaning charcuterie board to accompany their crisp whites and flavorful reds.
These two wineries are great examples of why wine tours are so popular in this part of Oregon. Combine the beauty around you with the fine fruit of the grape and a board of snacks, and what more could you ask for?
Oh, a sober driver to take us home – Wine Hopper has that covered!
Useful Medford Websites
City of Medford: TravelMedford.org