Our Guide to the Heart of the Rogue Valley: Medford, Oregon
A perfect getaway to Southern Oregon, where wine, nature, and culinary delights abound.
In fall, Oregon beckons travelers with promises of rich hues of red, orange, and gold that signal the arrival of crisp air. It’s the perfect time to visit its diverse landscape of evergreen forests, dramatic coastline, and high desert. It’s also home to Medford, the beating heart of Southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley, where I spent several days immersed in its undulating vineyards, ambling along the bustling Rogue River, and exploring its geological marvels.
“A 10-minute drive almost always means a 10-minute drive,” my Uber driver told me, noting the easy-to-navigate traffic en route to the sparkling new Compass Hotel by Margaritaville that would serve as my base of operations. This held true for the duration of my stay, whether on a short jaunt to a local watering hole or an 85-mile trek to the wondrous Crater Lake National Park. Between its international airport and tranquil drivability, Medford is remarkably accessible from anywhere in the West or beyond.
Herewith, the ultimate itinerary for exploring this world-class wonderland of nature, culinary excellence—and some of the best wine in the West.
Fall is harvest season in Medford, and one of the most exciting times to visit the region. Home to the Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area, wineries benefit from predominantly volcanic soils found in only one other place in the world: southern France’s Rhône River region.
Kriselle Cellars was the first winery on my vino-centric itinerary. The pride and joy of Scott Steingraber is nestled on a south-facing slope between the Rogue River and the Upper Table Rock Plateau. The land, a sun-drenched, plot brimming with round river rock and silts, produces a grape rich in depth, character, and terroir. Here, visitors can sample Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and other varietals from an elevated main hall that yields stunning views of the riverbed below.
I continued my Medford vinous safari at 2Hawk Vineyard and Winery, where estate wines are complemented by inspiring views from 2Hawk’s rustic tasting room or from one of the property’s cozy fire pits. Boasting a lifetime of farming expertise, the 2Hawk crew employs sustainable agricultural practices and real-time conditions monitoring to fine-tune flavor and achieve unique combinations of flavor and personality.
Dan and Cindy Marca’s ethereal winery Dancin is enveloped by cedar, oak, and pine that thrives on the region’s topographical diversity and cooler climates. Varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are staples here, the latter of which is harvested at more than a 3-to-1 ratio in the Rogue Valley due to the region’s conducive climate. The onsite restaurant features artisanal pizzas and flatbreads, formaggio boards, and Cindy’s own recipe of mushrooms stuffed with spicy Italian sausage, Chardonnay cream sauce, Parmesan, and balsamic syrup. Like each of these three vineyards, the Rogue Valley’s vino culture touts a remarkably diverse scene that, through every geological influence, stands tall in character and quality.
For travelers seeking an adventure pairing to wine country, the Medford region is awash in recreation. Fly fishing thrives on the Rogue River, but for adrenaline-seekers, whitewater rafting and high-speed options, courtesy of Rogue Jet Boat Adventures, hurl and spin passengers through stretches of scintillating river flanked by overhanging trees, historic and celebrity homes, plus the occasional osprey nest.
No visit to the Rogue Valley would be complete, however, without admiring its expanse from overhead. Rogue Valley ZipLine Adventures and its team of certified guides usher guests through a five-zipline course that meanders through towering tree canopies and unveils awe-inspiring views of the valley below.
If keeping feet firmly planted on solid Earth is preferable, the region offers hiking opportunities galore. From Crater Lake and the local Table Rock Mountains, which over millennia have developed unique ecosystems atop their elevated island-in-the-sky surfaces, to Mill Creek and Barr Creek Falls, the 173-foot and 242-foot gushers, respectively, that emerge from a sea of evergreens, outdoor adventure is everywhere.
With the Rogue Valley culinary scene ready to deliver, I found my bliss in a three-stop tour of some of the finest spots. Ninety-year-old Rogue Creamery is a must for any out-of-towner, boasting a dizzying round-up of artisanal cheeses and jams that can be found in restaurants all over the world—thanks in part to its status as grand champion of the 2019-20 World Cheese Awards in Italy, the only U.S. creamery to ever earn the award. Go next door to Coquette Bakery for rustic loaves and refined pastries to complement your cheese. Then venture to Forage Coffee Company for some of Medford’s finest brew in a space abundantly decorated with fiddle leaf figs and other trending plants you can buy.
No matter the pit-stop category penciled in on my own itinerary, there was a welcoming spirit among Medford’s residents. It may have been my first time exploring the city’s world-class vineyards, eateries, and outdoor attractions, but by the end of my short trip I came to understand that it is Medford’s sense of community that comprises the heart of its identity. And as they did with me, its locals are eager to share it with you.