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Oregon Caves National Monument cancels cave tours

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve announced Wednesday it has canceled all cave tours until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the underground caves are closed, the national monument’s six hiking trails and outdoor areas will remain open to visitors as long as above-ground activities can adhere to the latest guidance from public health officials, the National Park Service said.

There is snow on trails at this time, with deep snow at higher elevations, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve Chief of Interpretation and Education George Herring said Wednesday.

The historic chateau was already closed for an extensive repair and rehabilitation project. No dining is available at the national monument.

The Oregon Caves Visitor Center and Illinois Valley Visitor Center are closed until further notice.

“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners at Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve is our number one priority,” park officials said in a statement Wednesday. “The National Park Service is working with the federal, state and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.”

Public restrooms are open and available for use, although the monument may be going to portable toilets soon, Herring said.

The Oregon Caves attract visitors from around the globe to see passages, stalactites, stalagmites and other unusual features created by acidic water that has seeped through marble rock for eons.

Reaching the monument requires a scenic drive on a twisting road that runs east of Cave Junction to the remote site. Large RVs and travel trailers are not recommended. Vehicles over 46 feet long are prohibited.

The road is clear at this time, but conditions could change based on the weather, Herring said.

Park rangers advise visitors not to rely on Google Map, GPS devices and other apps because they will direct drivers through the rural community of Williams on a confusing route of mountain roads.

Those who do make the journey during the caves closure can choose from among six forested hiking trails with views of the monument and Siskiyou Mountains.

As weather warms and snow melts, the trails will become more accessible to hikers.

The relatively flat 0.7-mile Cliff Nature Trail features marble outcrops, fir forests and panoramic views of the Illinois Valley.

The Big Tree Trail is 1.3 or 3.3 miles depending on whether hikers take an out-an-back option or a loop. The steep climb takes people through mountain meadows and forests and past the widest Douglas fir tree known to exist in Oregon.

The 1-mile Old Growth Trail connects the Visitor Center to the main parking lot, offering gradual climbs past oak trees, over marble outcrops and through old-growth forests.

The short but steep 1.3-mile No Name Trail has streams, mossy cliffs, dense forests and a walk under a covered bridge along Cave Creek. Two short trails lead to two waterfalls on No Name Creek.

The 3.6-mile Cave Creek Trail winds down a mountain to the Cave Creek Campground past dense forest, splashing streams and rock outcrops.

The full day Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail has a 9.2-mile loop option and an 8-mile out-and-back hike to Mt. Elijah. The hike to the summit of Mt. Elijah features meadows and lakes, plus views of Mt. Shasta and Preston Peak on clear days.

The National Park Service urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.

For high-risk populations — such as the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease — park officials ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.

Those at high risk should stay home as much as possible to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, stock up on household items and groceries and keep extra supplies of medication. Those who do go out in public should stay away from people who are sick, limit close contact, wash hands often and avoid crowds. Avoid cruise travel and nonessential air travel, the CDC advises.

Updates about National Park Service operations across America will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Check with individual parks for specific details about park operations.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

The Bigelow Meadow Overlook along the trail to Mt. Elijah offers panoramic views once snow melts. National Park Service summer file photo.
The Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve has canceled cave tours due to the coronavirus epidemic. National Park Service photo.