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8 outings that beat the heck out of shopping

It's Thanksgiving weekend, and something we're always thankful for is the abundance of outdoor opportunities within easy reach.

Rivers, mountains, ocean, trails and all manner of options exist for getting outdoors, burning off some calories, and showing off the neighborhood to your out-of-town visitors.

In case you're looking for ideas, here are eight options right off the top of our heads.

1. Climb a mesa

The Table Rocks are arguably the most popular hiking locales in Southern Oregon.

The Upper Table Rock Trail covers 2.8 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of about 720 feet. The hike up Lower Table Rock is about 5.4 miles up and back, with an elevation gain of 780 feet.

To get there from Medford, take Table Rock Road north and cross the Rogue River. To reach Upper Table Rock, turn right on Modoc Road and continue for 1 mile to the trailhead, which is on the left side of the road.

To reach Lower Table Rock, go past Modoc Road to Wheeler Road, turn left and continue about a half-mile to reach the trailhead on the left side of the road.

Bring water, because there's none on the trail, but both trailheads have restrooms.

2. Picnic in a park

Lithia Park is worth seeing any time of year. The 93-acre jewel in the heart of downtown Ashland follows Ashland Creek through undeveloped woodlands, with a Japanese garden, two duck ponds, a formal rose garden, groves of exquisite trees and a number of secluded spots. Plus it hooks into Ashland's extensive woodlands trail network, with trails that climb all the way to Mount Ashland. Download a Lithia Park trails map from the city's website at http://ashland.or.us/Files/Lithia_Burnson.pdf.

3. Cut a Christmas tree

Get into the holiday spirit by heading into the forest and coming home with a fresh-smelling tree. Just purchase a $5 permit at the Bureau of Land Management's Medford office, one of several U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, or at outlets such as Blackbird Shopping Center and Grange Co-op. Trees must be smaller than 12 feet tall and cut on BLM or Forest Service land at least 200 feet away from state highways, campgrounds and recreation sites. You'll get a map of places to cut when you buy a permit. Don't forget a saw, gloves and a thermos of hot chocolate. For details, see http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/rogue-siskiyou/passes-permits/forestproducts/?cid="stelprdb5327574"

4. Walk along a river

The Upper Rogue River Trail between Prospect and Union Creek is a great place to take visitors who want an authentic Oregon experience, with giant trees and a spectacular river. To reach the trail, take Highway 62 for about 45 miles to Prospect. Look for the Prospect Ranger Station on your left as you enter national forest land. Continue toward Union Creek and you'll find several places to reach the trail, such as Natural Bridge, Union Creek Campground and Rogue Gorge. For details and directions, see http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/rogue-siskiyou/recarea/?recid="69944"

5. Go spin

The flat, paved Bear Creek Greenway is kind to beginning cyclists but long enough to satisfy a workout maniac, and it has many starting locations along its nearly 20 miles. The trail connects Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford and Central Point, and community parks along the way offer restrooms, drinking water, playgrounds and picnic opportunities. See www.bearcreekgreenway.com for maps and detailed directions.

6. Slip slide

The Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink is open today from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and it also happens that the Grand Illumination is this evening, when about a million lights start twinkling for the holiday season. The cost to skate at the outdoor rink is $4 for adults and $3.50 for kids. Skate rental costs $2.50. Hockey and skating lessons also are offered. Call 541-488-5340 for information or see the website at www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=14057

7. Holiday lights on the coast

Holiday Lights at Shore Acres State Park have been drawing visitors to Coos Bay since 1987. The event, which features 325,000 lights in a botanical garden next to the ocean, opened last night and runs through Jan. 1, with the lights shining from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The seasonal display draws 40,000 to 50,000 visitors each year. Guests can warm up in the Garden House, where volunteers serve hot cider, punch, coffee and cookies. The grounds are handicapped-accessible. For details, see www.shoreacres.net

8. Go on safari

More than 500 animals native to Africa, Asia and the Americas, including elephants, cheetahs and lions, roam 600 acres of habitat at Wildlife Safari in Winston, about 97 miles from Medford. And they're all easily seen from your car window. The 4.5-mile drive through the park takes about an hour and a half. For details, including hours and admission prices, see www.wildlifesafari.net or call 541-679-6761.

— Reach Mail Tribune features and digital engagement editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or dsmigelski@mailtribune.com.

A family of wood ducks brighten the water in Lithia Park. Photo courtesy Sooney Viani
The upper Rogue River Trail passes by this stretch of the river near Natural Bridge. Mail Tribune / file photo