It's a given that we all love Bend, and most of us have our favorite season here. Autumn has always been mine, but sometimes I miss being surrounded by the glorious multicolored leaves that are reminiscent of where I grew up.
Bend does offer some autumn beauty, though. The golden maple trees along Industrial Way offer a wonderful display. Shevlin Park showcases the aspens that appear almost fluorescent green and yellow and the Western larches morph into a brilliant yellow this time of year. You can find some autumn hues in other local areas, especially the parks, but to be really immersed in the season, a bit of travel is required.
Luckily, we live in Oregon, a state with diverse climates and vegetation. After hearing friends rave about Southern Oregon, Ashland called our name and with a quick three-hour drive south, we arrived at the perfect destination for fall color viewing. Sure enough, as we passed Crater Lake and entered the Siskiyou Mountains, suddenly the foliage began to change. Towering pines gave way to colorful deciduous trees. The moisture in the air was noticeable and the smells stronger, too.
As my family and I approached the city of around 20,000, traces of the recent fires were evident in some places, but fortunately much of the area had been spared. Instead of the charred black landscape we feared, a valley full of yellows and oranges popped into view.
We arrived at Ashland Springs Hotel, an almost century-old structure on Main Street. This historic building emits a regal feeling with a comfortable mix of the past and present. Throughout the hotel hang framed samples of plants, lifelike drawings of birds and other scientific specimens any nature lover will appreciate. From the windows in our rooms, we were able to view the changing leaves in the mountains. An ideal location, this would be our home base for numerous downtown strolls.
Ashland is known worldwide for the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with the famed Allen Elizabethan Theatre hosting performances since the 1930s. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit, but like most of Oregon now, the theatre is recently reopened—another excuse to return.
The heart and soul of Ashland rests in Lithia Park. With 100 acres meticulously planned and maintained, the park sits in the middle of town with a Japanese garden, ponds, countless species of trees, trails along Ashland Creek, a playground, and so much more worth exploring. An oasis, it is the perfect Instagram pic that keeps getting posted. The girls and I walked and marveled along the trails through the park every day of our stay.
In the plaza nearby, granite fountains offer spring fed lithia water, found naturally only in a few places worldwide. Famous for its medicinal properties, the water tasted like sulfur! After one sip, I wanted no more, and my wife spit hers out. I imagine the locals (and of course our daughters) get a kick out of watching tourists like us! We decided against filling a growler.
Traveling is a different kind of fun with kids. To my girls, relaxing in the majestic lobby of the hotel was exciting. They got a sense of independence while in the hotel room alone for a short time while Mom and Dad had the opportunity to meander. They love to dine out, and though the town seemed full of elegant restaurants, they prefer to keep it simple. Louie's of Ashland was a favorite. At Martolli's, we got our pizza fix while ice cream at Zoey's Cafe and pastries at Mix Sweet Shop were added bonuses.
Also, to my daughters' delight, apparently fairy doors are scattered throughout the city. During our visit to Treehouse Books, we happened upon an interesting map. The owner explained the prevalence of fairies in the area and encouraged us to find as many as possible. With map in hand, we didn't find all of them but discovered our fair share.
What's a trip without a good hike? Half an hour away, Grizzly Peak offered just what we needed. As we approached the trailhead, the sky turned gray and then the snow fell.The parking lot was empty except for one lady and her dog who were leaving. Bundled up, we started along the 5-mile trail. Minutes after we reached the peak, the sky opened, showing the sun just for us. The heavy clouds lingered but added a deep contrast to the blue sky. What luck, and one of the many reasons we love hiking!
If only for a few days, our autumn getaway provided exactly what we wanted: local artisan shops, good restaurants, a beautiful hike, and most importantly, the amazing colors in Lithia Park and throughout the valley. A final dinner at Caldera Brewery and a restful night at the hotel ended our stay in Ashland. There's always more to see and do in any place we visit, but we got a good taste of the city and hopefully we'll return.