"One size does not fit all" — that's the message coming from the Oregon Caves National Monument this year.

"One size does not fit all" — that's the message coming from the Oregon Caves National Monument this year.

The ranger-led walking tour at this unique marble cave system high in the Illinois Valley has long been popular with locals and visitors alike. This year, however, the National Park Service will offer two tours, each targeted to a different group.

"What we found was that one-third of ticket sales were to kids, so presumably at least another third was to parents," explains George Herring, the caves' director of interpretation. "So we've created a family-friendly tour, with special kid activities. We want to give them the freedom to explore the caves at their own level."

Kid activities include learning about bats and a bat skeleton, and experiments with liquids and solids, including ice.

The second tour, dubbed the "speleo-science tour," is aimed at adults who are interested in the science behind the formation of the caves. The family tour will be shorter to better match the attention span and endurance of children, and will be guided by rangers with a talent for working with the wee ones.

On Fridays and Saturdays in the summer — and possibly on Sundays, as well — a special "off-caves" tour is available by advance sign-up for spelunkers and others who don't mind crawling on their bellies with headlamps in tight passageways. Only one-half of one percent of the Caves' 50,000 visitors each year opt for this demanding tour, but the results are worth it.

The only way to see the vertical chert formation in the Snake Room, or the vast Whitfield Dome littered with auto-sized chunks of marble, is by crawling through the chilly caves in coveralls. The year-round temperature there is 44 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are plenty of opportunities for adventure above ground at the Oregon Caves. Consider taking the cave tour in the morning and spending the afternoon hiking in the sun. Three short hikes begin either at the visitor center or main parking lot.

The shortest of the three is the half-mile Old Growth Trail, which showcases several forest types in the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains, one of the most biologically diverse regions of North America. The one-mile Cliff Nature Trail offers panoramas of the Illinois Valley. The 1.3-mile No Name Trail follows both No Name and Cave Creeks. All three trails feature moderately steep climbs.

If you're after longer and more challenging hikes, consider the popular Big Trees hike, which features a 3.3-mile loop with an elevation gain of 1,100 feet. The average time for this hike is two to three hours, and the trailhead is located behind the visitor center. In addition to seeing the widest Douglas fir tree in Oregon, you'll pass through wildflower-blanketed mountain meadows.

For the dedicated hiker, the Bigelow Lake-Mount Elijah hike traverses a mountain top, meadows and the lily pad-strewn Bigelow Lake. This 9.2-mile hike follows half the Big Trees Trail before branching off on a lollipop-shaped trail. The average time for this journey is four to six hours.

More than 100 species of wildflowers grow within the boundaries of the Oregon Caves National Monument. This summer, the caves will launch an online wildflower guide, destined to be a boon to hikers. Called "A Trailside Guide for Wildflowers," this list of wildflowers, including those in bloom at any given time, can be downloaded and printed as a trailside ID guide.

The resource will include identification tips for ferns and conifers, as well. Later on, the plan is to have the guide professionally printed and sold at the visitor center.

Though wildflowers make for up-close viewing, don't forget your binoculars. The Park Service has documented 86 bird species, 75 butterfly species and 8 kinds of bats, all within the monument boundaries.

With all the hiking available, many visitors choose to make the Oregon Caves a two-day excursion. And why not, with the historic Oregon Caves Chateau but a stone's throw from the visitor center.

This six-story, cedar-sheathed lodge was built in 1934, and its interior is replete with a variety of wood, from huge exposed beams to the main staircase to the furniture. The architecture is unique — a rustic lodge nestled into the hillside with a stream running through the dining room.

The chateau is open from May through September. Room rates run from $109 to $199. There is no entrance fee to the Oregon Caves National Monument, but cave tours cost $8.50 for adults 17 and older, $6 for 16 and younger. Group rates are available. Call 541-592-2100 for details.

For more information about the Oregon Caves National Monument, see www.nps.gov/orca/index.htm

To visit the Oregon Caves, take Oregon Route 199 to the town of Cave Junction. Turn east at the gas station on Route 46 and follow for 20 miles up the winding road to the monument.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org