Thanksgiving's extra calories are reason enough to get out and enjoy Oregon's outdoors. But if a little exercise and change of scenery aren't worth vacating the couch, a day trip or weekend excursion will give out-of-town relatives something to chew on besides leftover turkey.
The staff at Oregon Outdoors has compiled a list of our favorite activities to give you and yours some outdoor options this holiday weekend. Some can be enjoyed year-round, while others reflect the season's spirit or its bounty. A few could even claim the status of holiday tradition.
Cut to the chase
If you thought Thanksgiving came early this year, that must mean Christmas is closer than ever. Get into the spirit with a forest trek for the perfect tree.
It may be headed for the living room, but a pine or fir taken straight from the woods is bound to smell fresher and last longer.
The price certainly can't be beat. Purchase a $5 permit at the Bureau of Land Management's Medford office or one of several U.S. Forest Service ranger stations. Trees must be less than 12 feet tall, within 12 feet from another tree and cut on BLM or Forest Service land at least 200 feet away from state highways, campgrounds and recreation sites. Don't forget a saw, gloves and a thermos of hot chocolate.
See the light
Now in its 21st year, Holiday Lights at Shore Acres State Park draws thousands of visitors rain or shine to Coos Bay. Even in a drizzle, more than 250,000 lights warm up the night. The event opens today and runs through Jan. 1, the lights shining from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Also popular with summer tourists, the five acres of formal gardens are all that remain of a lumber baron's estate. Each year brings new animated light sculptures and ornaments on the garden's 20 Christmas trees. Cost is $3 per vehicle to enter the park. An Oregon Parks and Recreation Department parking pass, Oregon Coast Passport or current campground receipt also gains admittance. There is no extra fee to see the lights.
Holiday Lights at Shore Acres (www.shoreacres.net) boasts between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors, depending on the weather. Guests can always warm up in the Garden House, where volunteers serve hot cider, punch, coffee and cookies. The grounds are handicapped-accessible.
Move over turkey casserole
A trip to the coast can be tasty, too. Late November often brings remarkably good and relatively easy crabbing to the Southern Oregon coast, where places like Bandon, Charleston and Winchester Bay sport places to rent all you need to catch Dungeness crabs.
For less than $30, anyone can rent a couple crab rings, buy a shellfish license and bait. Hit a bait shop in either of those towns for help and directions. No boat? Crabbing is frequently fine off the docks in Charleston and Bandon boat basins.
Waterfront shacks will cook your catch or pack them on ice for the trip home. A portable propane burner set up in the driveway keeps the kitchen clean and odor-free.
The upper Rogue River is home to summer steelhead now scattered in riffles from TouVelle State Park to Cole Rivers Hatchery. If you have the gear and a little steelheading knowledge, try fishing the McGregor Park area upstream of Casey State Park off Highway 62 about 30 minutes north of Medford.
Go on safari
More than 500 animals native to Africa, Asia and the Americas roam 600 acres of habitat at Wildlife Safari in Winston. And they're all easily observed from your car window.
Wildlife Safari (www.wildlifesafari.org) has been delighting animal lovers for more than 30 years. The 4.5-mile drive through the park takes about an hour and a half. Because animals roam freely as they would in their native lands, visitors have to employ some measure of caution: no feeding the animals, and windows must be rolled up through the carnivore exhibit (or whenever an animal approaches the car).
Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $14.50 for adults, $8.50 for youth ages 4-12 and free for children 3 and under.
Take a hike
The Rogue River trail to Rainie Falls brings hikers to one of the most dramatic sites on the river. The path is short (1.9 miles) and easy to drive to any time of year.
The Rogue drops about 15 feet at Rainie Falls, which take their name from a man who lived nearby for decades. The spot is often a good place to get a close-up look at rafters and kayakers and their gear.
To get to the trail, take Interstate 5 to the Merlin exit, turn left and follow the Merlin-Galice Road down into the Rogue River canyon. Follow the Merlin-Galice Road to the curved bridge just downstream from the place where Grave Creek joins the river. At the bridge look for a place to park alongside the road. The trail begins on the left bank as you face downstream.
Spin your wheels
A bicycle ride or brisk walk on the Bear Creek Greenway is just the thing after that slab of pumpkin pie. This paved, flat route is friendly to beginning cyclists and has many starting locations along its 16 miles.
In Ashland, at the north end of Helman Street, a 10-mile stretch extends to the bridge for the new Medford Sports Park. Two other access points for this section are at the west end of Eagle Mill Road and where the south end of Talent Avenue meets Highway 99.
The Medford section is a 5.75-mile strip connecting Barnett Road in south Medford to Pine Street, east of Interstate 5 in Central Point. Bear Creek Park, Hawthorne Park and Railroad Park all are good starting points in Medford.
While the south Medford interchange with I-5 is under construction, an alternate route is suggested along South Stage Road between the Greenway's south and north sections. Visit www.bearcreekgreenway.com for maps and detailed instructions.
Keep your cool
The surrounding hills may not have enough snow to break out the skis this weekend, but the valley's only outdoor ice rink is open to skaters of all skill levels in Ashland. In its 12th year, the Darex Family Ice Rink plans a community free skate from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Friday with open skate from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open skating sessions start at noon this Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $3 for adults and $2.50 for kids. Skate rental is $2. Hockey and skating lessons also are offered. Call 488-5340 or 488-9189 for complete schedules. Weather permitting, the rink is open through February.
More than 600 lava caves and tubes are waiting to be explored at Lava Beds National Monument near Klamath Falls.
Caving expeditions, many self-guided, are suitable for groups of any skill level. Park guides categorize caves as least challenging, moderately challenging and most challenging.
Off Highway 97 just over the state line, the park (www.nps.gov/labe) illustrates powerful seismic forces that shaped the Earth, as well as American Indian history. Ancient engravings can be seen at Petroglyph Point off the northeast boundary of the monument. A natural fortress, the caves also sheltered more than 50 Indian warriors and their families from U.S. Army troops between 1872 and 1873.
Civilian Conservation Corps shaped the landscape into a park during the 1930s. To get there, take Highway 140 east to Klamath Falls and Highway 39 south to Tulelake, Calif., and follow signs to the monument.
Take it outside
If Thanksgiving's NFL marathon hardly quelled your appetite for football, toss the ol' pigskin around on the lawn. A friendly touch (or tackle) game not only works up a sweat but takes some of the fight out of feisty relatives.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail email@example.com.