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Explore The Circle of Discovery

By Kim Cooper Findling

Chateau Exterior JPEG - edited April 2015 for NPF

But Oregon’s striking sapphire beauty isn’t alone on the map when it comes to incredible natural destinations. Southern Oregon and Northern California are home to seven national park sites, which protect not only North America’s deepest lake, but also some of its tallest trees, steamiest hydrothermal areas, finest marble caves and most dramatic waterfalls. The National Park Service calls these places the Circle of Discovery, and touring them makes for the perfect family road trip full of adventure and fun.

Begin your journey in Redwood National Park on the Northern California coast. The coast redwood has existed in this region for 20 million years, can live 2000 years, grows from a seed the same size as a tomato’s to reach heights of up to 367 feet, and can have a width of 22 feet at its base. Spend some time simply walking among these incredible trees in the misty coastal air, contemplating concepts of endurance and scope.

From the Redwoods, make your way north 60 miles, deep into the Siskiyou Mountains to the Oregon Caves National Monument. Eons of acidic rain seeped through the soil in this ancient forest to erode the marble rock underneath, resulting in some of the few marble caves in the world. Ranger guides take you into the earth to tour the depths of these gorgeous, striking caves. Stay at the historic, charming Chateau at Oregon Caves, nestled in a forest of Port Orford cedar and Douglas fir.

From Oregon Caves, travel 150 miles through the heart of the Rogue Valley (home to many scenic, friendly towns to explore or overnight in) to Crater Lake National Park. The south entrance to this unbelievably blue, nearly 2000-foot-deep lake is open year-round. In winter, call on the visitor’s center and peer into the snow-surrounded waters of the lake. In summer, drive the entire rim, have lunch at the historic Crater Lake lodge or take a boat tour to Wizard Island in the lake’s center.


Park Ranger at Oregon Caves National Monument, Cave Junction, Oregon, USA.Model release 0268

Drop south from Crater Lake 60 miles to Oregon’s southern high country and the historic, outdoor-lovers town of Klamath Falls, which offers great lodging and dining options. From here it’s another 10 miles south to Tule Lake Unit of WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, the site of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, open by tour only.

Another 30 miles takes you to Lava Beds National Monument, where volcanic eruptions over a half-million years created a fascinating landscape. Explore one of this area’s 700 lava tube caves, self-guided or on a tour, and don’t miss the many examples of Native American rock art to be seen throughout the landscape.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is 140 miles south from the lava beds and another amazing example of geology and volcanism at work. Lassen Peak and the surrounding area shelter every kind of volcano found in the world. Finish the Circle of Discovery by exploring hydrothermal sites like bubbling mud pots, fumaroles and spurting steam vents.