15 Best Things to Do in Josephine County, OR

15 Best Things to Do in Josephine County, OR

Nestled in the heart of Southern Oregon, Josephine County has been my home for years.

With its stunning natural beauty, rich history, and friendly community, it's a place that's close to my heart.

I love exploring the vast stretches of wilderness, enjoying the local food and culture, and participating in the variety of events that take place throughout the year.

There's always something new to experience and discover here, whether you're a first-time visitor or a long-time local like myself.

Join me as I share my personal favorites, hidden gems, and insider tips on the best things to do in Josephine County.

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Explore the Splendors of Lake Selmac

The waters of Lake Selmac
David Crockett Photo / Shutterstock.com

Whenever I yearn for a break from my routine, I find myself drawn toward the serene beauty of Lake Selmac.

Nestled in the heart of nature, it is one of my favorite spots to unwind.

A day at Lake Selmac is always a day well spent.

Packed with my fishing gear, I often spend my mornings here, indulging in calming activity while soaking in the tranquil environment.

The lake is teeming with a variety of fishes, making it a haven for fishing enthusiasts like myself.

After a satisfying morning of fishing, I sometimes grab my kayak and paddle across the calm waters of the lake.

The lake's expanse is perfect for kayaking, offering an opportunity to relish the surrounding greenery and the cool, refreshing breeze.

What I love about Lake Selmac is how well it caters to people of all ages.

There's a wonderful play structure that the kids absolutely adore, and the open space is great for family picnics.

To make things even more comfortable, the area has restrooms and picnic tables.

Even for those who prefer a more laid-back day, the lake is a perfect spot.

There are several places by the shore where one can pull in and enjoy the beautiful view.

A short distance away, there's a boat launch and camping area, making it an ideal place for weekend getaways.

Having lived in the vicinity for a while, I've had the pleasure of stumbling upon a unique gem.

It's none other than Glass Forge Gallery & Studio LLC, a place brimming with captivating glass creations that will undoubtedly make your jaw drop.

On a typical sunny day, after my usual stroll through the farmer's market, I decided to venture in.

The studio was bustling with local artists crafting mesmerizing pieces of glass art.

I was even fortunate enough to witness an artist in action, shaping an exquisite glass piece.

I must say, it was an enriching experience to observe the creative process.

The gallery has an eclectic range of pieces, from beautiful earrings, hummingbird feeders, intricate ornaments, and sophisticated vases to stunning glasses, wall pieces, sculptures, and more.

The experience of buying a glass art piece was truly unparalleled.

The accommodating staff allowed me to partake in the creation of a simple piece.

It was a thrilling experience to see my own creation come to life.

Yes, it took a night for the glass to cool off, but the anticipation made the reveal even more exciting.

And for those who can't wait, they'll be glad to know that the gallery offers shipping services.

And I couldn’t resist making an appointment to return next month with a dear friend for another round of creation.

I can't wait to see what we'll create next!

This place truly makes you appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into these beautiful glass creations.

Discover the Depths of Hellgate Canyon

It's remarkable how the raw beauty of Hellgate Canyon never fails to take my breath away, even though I’ve been living near it for years.

The rugged terrain and the sheer drop of the canyon, combined with the striking view of the Rogue River snaking through the valley, present an enchanting spectacle.

Getting to the canyon is an adventure in itself.

Just five miles past Merlin, Galice Road leads the way.

There are two pull-offs where you can park your car.

If you're looking to dip into the river, the second one, near the yellow bridge, is where you can descend right into the water.

A quick swim is a refreshing break before or after your exploration.

One of my favorite things to do when I visit the canyon is to climb to the top.

It’s not an easy climb, mind you, but the reward is well worth the effort.

Standing on the edge of the canyon, looking down those few hundred meters, you’ll feel on top of the world.

It's a thrilling experience that offers a unique perspective of the canyon's expanse.

A word of advice: take a moment to sit and absorb the majesty of Hellgate Canyon.

The stunning view is one of Southern Oregon’s many natural treasures.

The canyon has a way of grounding you, reminding you of the vastness of nature and your small place within it.

And on a sunny day, be sure to spend some time on the banks of the Rogue.

Experience Wine Tastings at Schmidt Family Vineyards

It's hard to resist the charm of Schmidt Family Vineyards.

Nestled in the heart of my hometown, this winery is a gem I frequent often.

There's just something magical about it that keeps drawing me back.

The first thing you notice is the stunning architecture of the building.

It's not just a winery; it's a work of art, sitting in the midst of a sprawling landscape that's high on beauty.

The vast expanse of the property is carpeted with lush green grass and dotted with beautiful gardens.

It's a treat for the eyes and a balm for the soul.

But the real magic happens indoors.

With an enormous selection of wines to choose from and wine flights that never disappoint, this place is a wine lover's paradise.

But don't let the wine distract you from the food.

The oven-baked pizzas are a hit with everyone who visits.

The crispy crust, the fresh toppings, and the perfect blend of cheese - it's an experience in itself.

My visits here often turn into impromptu pizza parties!

One of my favorite features of Schmidt Family Vineyards is the outdoor heaters.

On chilly evenings, these heaters and the roaring fire pit create a cozy atmosphere that's perfect for unwinding with a book or a game of cards.

There's also live music to add to the ambiance.

Explore the Enigmatic Oregon Caves

Interior of a cave at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Oregon Caves from Cave Junction, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brimmed with stalagmites, stalactites, and an incredible array of marble formations, the caves in Oregon Caves visitor center are a local treasure that holds a special place in my heart.

I spend countless summer weekends here, diving deep into the belly of the earth to admire its ancient beauty.

One of the best ways to explore these caves is undoubtedly through guided tours.

My initial visit wasn't planned, so I ended up calling the Illinois Valley Visitor Center, which is conveniently located on the way to the main Oregon Caves visitor center - the starting point of the tours.

The friendly folks at the visitor center were kind enough to inform me about the available tours and their timings.

They also advised that self-guided tours aren't permitted; hence it's wise to make reservations in advance, especially during the peak season.

The journey from the Illinois Valley Visitor Center to the caves is a short yet breathtaking one.

The winding uphill road stretches for about 15-20 miles, but it takes an hour to reach, owing to the steep terrain.

But trust me, the views along the route are worth every minute.

Rock formations at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Jeffhollett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once you reach the caves, the magic begins.

As you meander through the labyrinthine chambers, you'll be awestruck by the intricate marble formations that have taken millions of years to form.

The stalagmites, stalactites, columns, draperies, and bacon ribbons are all a sight to behold, each with its unique pattern and story.

But, what stole my heart was the ghost room and the lost paradise, where the ranger turns off the lights to give a feel of how dark it truly is down there.

Although I haven't had a chance to explore the other trails, the surrounding Siskiyou forest is a sight to behold.

Full of lush greenery and pristine wilderness, it's the perfect backdrop to the caves.

While some may be slightly disappointed by the more structured elements of the cave, like the flat platforms, grated walkways, and spotlighting, I find these to be a thoughtful addition.

They make the caves more accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, and I appreciate that.

Visitors center at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve
Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wander Around at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center

There's something truly special about the Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center.

Now, I've made my fair share of visits, but there was something about my trip last week that was particularly special.

The center managed to introduce us to a whole range of different animals, some of which I'd never seen up close before.

The center is more than just a rehabilitation facility; it's also a petting zoo with a good variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles they’re caring for.

I'd highly recommend purchasing the guided tour as it's quite comprehensive and not rushed at all.

It's perfect for bigger kids and adults alike who want to learn more about these wonderful creatures.

What struck me the most was how their efforts to meet the facility's goals heavily rely on the volunteers and contributions.

It made me realize how each visit, each donation, makes a difference in supporting these animals and their rehabilitation.

This place isn't just a local attraction; it's a cause that deserves our full support.

Explore the Grants Pass Museum of Art

There's something quite enchanting about walking through the doors of the Grants Pass Museum of Art.

Maybe it's the creatively vibrant atmosphere, the friendly staff, or the fact that each visit feels like an intimate conversation with the local and regional art community.

With every visit, I find myself amazed by the diversity of artistic talents showcased.

Each visit is a new adventure, with artworks that capture a myriad of emotions and stories.

One exhibit that left a profound impact on me was Sayaka Ganz's sculptures - a mesmerizing blend of artistry and imagination.

What I absolutely adore about our little art haven is how they curate excellent traveling shows, providing a window into different types of art over the year.

I've found myself moved, inspired, and educated during these tastefully arranged exhibitions.

The museum also serves as a cultural hub, hosting music and poetry events and workshops.

It's heartwarming to see the community come together, sharing, learning, and growing through these events.

Experience the Wild Beauty of Red Buttes Wilderness

There's something about waking up in the heart of Red Buttes Wilderness that makes you feel truly alive.

This rugged and remote landscape nestled amidst the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest is nothing short of magnificent.

Every morning, I find myself entranced by the sight of the dew-kissed grass sparkling in the sunrise, the trees whispering their ancient stories to the wind and the symphony of bird calls echoing through the wilderness.

The wilderness is a treasure trove of biodiversity that always leaves me awestruck.

On my hikes, I often spot a myriad of birds darting among the trees, and a careful observer may even spot a few deer grazing in the meadows.

Just the other day, I came across a family of river otters playing in the stream.

It's these unexpected encounters that make living here a never-ending adventure.

When it comes to hiking, Red Buttes Wilderness simply cannot be beaten.

There are more than 20 miles of trails wind through the wilderness, each with its own unique charm.

My personal favorite is the Butte Fork Trail, which offers unparalleled views of the Siskiyou Crest and the eponymous Red Buttes.

One of the best things about living here is the peace and quiet.

Far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, the only sounds you'll hear are the rustling of leaves and the chirping of birds.

It's the perfect place to reconnect with nature and find much-needed tranquillity.

Explore Indian Mary Park

The waters of Indian Mary Park
Little Mountain 5, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every so often, I find myself yearning for a bit of serenity and a break from the constant hustle and bustle.

That's when I pack my fishing rod and head down to the Indian Mary Park.

Located in the gateway to the lower Rogue River, this park offers a tranquil retreat for locals like me who simply can't resist the allure of world-class fishing and kayaking.

As you venture into the park, the first thing that strikes you is the pristine beauty of the Rogue River, a sight that never fails to take my breath away.

The river seems daunting for a swim, but trust me, dipping your toes in the cool water is a refreshing experience.

One can't help but appreciate the fantastic amenities that Indian Mary Park provides.

The bathrooms, showers, and utilities for your RV are simply top-notch.

What makes the park even more special is the friendly camp hosts.

They're always happy to assist and are a boon for any camper.

This park holds a special place in my heart, not just for its natural beauty but also for the memories it houses.

I remember being there last winter when snow blanketed the Rogue Valley.

The sight of the snow-covered landscape as I sat by a roaring campfire is a memory that will stay with me forever.

Tour Down the Memory Lane at Pottsville Historical Museum

Every year, when Father's Day weekend rolls around, Pottsville transforms into a living history exhibit, thanks to the Pottsville Historical Museum.

It's incredible how the quiet streets of Pottsville, Oregon come alive with the chug-chug and toot-toot of steam-driven tractors and other vintage machines.

This event is something I eagerly anticipate every year.

Not only does it give me a chance to step back in time and admire the engineering marvels of the past, but it also provides a unique bonding experience for my family.

The sheer excitement and wonder in my children's eyes as they marvel at these age-old machines is priceless.

One of the highlights of the event for me was the big Fairbanks Morris Engine display.

The sight of this majestic engine, hearing its powerful roars, and feeling the ground shake beneath my feet as it rumbled to life, was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Have Exhilarating Adventures at Treehouse Ziplines

There's nothing that quite compares to the adrenaline rush on those crisp Saturday mornings when I strap on my harness and take on the Treehouse Ziplines.

I've seen children as young as six and seven boldly take on the ziplines; their faces lit up with joy and fearlessness.

It's admirable to see such young spirits embrace adventure so fearlessly.

My personal favorite is the Tarzan swing.

The first time I stood on the platform, peering down at the ground below - it was terrifying.

But the moment I took the leap, swinging through the treetops like a modern-day Tarzan, was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything.

In my book, it even surpasses the thrill of the zip lines.

Spend a Day at Illinois River Forks State Park

I've spent countless sunny afternoons at Illinois River Forks State Park.

The place has changed over the years, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

I can't help but feel a pang of nostalgia, reflecting on old projects that I’d undertaken here, like the 'Seasons at the Forks' photo series that was lost along with a stolen laptop many years ago.

The park’s evolution doesn’t change the fact that it remains my favorite escape in Oregon, just 45 minutes away from my home in Grants Pass.

With every turn of the wheel, I am greeted by scenes right out of a picture book.

The drive to the park is nothing short of a visual treat.

The clear water of the river, and the tiny beaches lining its banks, all add to the charm of the place.

It’s not just the natural beauty that draws me to Illinois River Forks; it's also the convenient amenities.

There are well-maintained bathrooms and a fun disc golf course with nine holes.

Parking is never an issue here; it's plenty and free, making it easier for visitors to come and enjoy the park.

Although it closes at 8 pm, there’s enough time to soak in the serenity.

Have Fun at Great Cats World Park

A person feeding a serval at Great Cats World Park
Victoria Ditkovsky / Shutterstock.com

Let me tell you about one of my favorite ways to spend a day: visiting the Great Cats World Park.

Nestled within ten beautiful acres, this park is a hidden treasure in our community.

It's not just lions, tigers, and leopards that call this place home, but a wide variety of exotic wild cats too.

Each time I visit, it's like stepping into an entirely different world.

A world where stunning, exotic cats roam and play in their vast habitats.

As a regular visitor, I've taken the guided tour multiple times - it never gets old!

A serval at Great Cats World Park
Brendon Connelly from Newberg, Oregon, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For just $16, I get to spend one and a half hours learning about these majestic creatures.

Every penny spent is worth it, especially knowing it contributes to wildlife conservation efforts.

You should see how the cats positively respond to his presence; it's quite a sight!

Discover the Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside

You won't believe the kind of beauty that’s just a stroll away from my doorstep.

I'm talking about the Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside, a site that never fails to amaze me no matter how many times I visit it.

Fresh air, wildflowers by the dozens, and the unique sight of wind bonsai'd ponderosa pines - it's a paradise for nature lovers.

The trail is mostly flat, with only a slight gradient here and there, and stretches across a river plateau.

During my walks, I'm always captivated by the little Manzanita bushes scattered along the path.

It's like having a personal tour of nature's art gallery.

But perhaps the most extraordinary part is when the trail leads you down to the river.

Talk about a stunning view!

The landscape is filled with the most perfect round river stones, as far as the eye can see.

Adding to the beauty are the Ponderosa pines and the river meandering and branching into side streams.

It's a sight so mesmerizing that I often forget to take pictures.

And did I mention the locally made, artistic benches that are provided along the trail?

They're the perfect spots to relax and soak in the surroundings.

Explore the Wonders of Rusk Ranch Nature Center

What a joy it is to have the Rusk Ranch Nature Center right here within our reach!

I had the pleasure of sharing this magical place with my grandson, who is just seven, and it was one of those experiences you simply don't forget.

Our adventure began when we were presented with a caterpillar upon buying a butterfly weed, and we had the privilege of watching it transform into a beautiful butterfly, which we then set free.

This process sparked such fascination and curiosity in my young companion, proving to be an unforgettable experience for both of us.

The Nature Center offers a wealth of experiences beyond just butterflies.

When you first arrive, you're greeted by an outdoor pollinator garden, a perfect place to gather information about butterflies and how to become a butterfly guardian.

Breathtaking hummingbirds can sometimes be seen zipping around the garden, adding an extra layer of magic to the place.

The indoor butterfly garden is a peaceful haven with swinging benches, and you're surrounded by captivating flowers and fluttering butterflies.

But the excitement doesn't stop at butterflies and hummingbirds.

The center also has bunnies, turtles, and even carnivorous plants to discover!

Plus, the play area is jam-packed with fun for kids of all ages.

From a fast slide and hobbit tunnel to a music exhibit, sandbox, water feature, and animal tracks exhibit.

My personal favorite is the fairy garden – a magical little corner that can keep you spellbound for hours.

The puppet stage is another delightful feature that can ignite the imagination of young and old alike.

And, if you think of bringing your lunch, there are picnic benches where you can have a leisurely meal amidst the beauty of nature.

Final Thoughts

Life in Josephine County is truly a testament to Oregon's reputation for boundless beauty and adventure.

From the mesmerizing glass exhibits at Glass Forge Gallery & Studio to the breathtaking vistas of Hellgate Canyon, there is always a new sight to behold or an activity to discover.

Simply put, the allure of Josephine County is irresistible, and I can't help but look forward to the next day's adventures in this beautiful little corner of the world.

Whether you're a resident or a visitor, the charm of Josephine County is sure to leave you wanting more.

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