1. Crater Lake plunge
After a long, hot day of work, Shawn Reinhardt likes nothing better than a 20-foot jump off a rocky cliff into his favorite swimming hole, butterflies in his belly and all.
"No matter how many times I've done it, there's always a little anxiety," Reinhardt says. "It definitely takes a little bit of courage.
"But you don't have to worry about hitting the bottom," he says.
Hitting bottom is never a concern when you're swimming in Crater Lake, the deepest, bluest and all-around coolest swimming hole in the world.
This epic plunge from the rocky rim at Cleetwood Cove tops our list of 5 things to do before summer ends.
The only place it's safe and legal to get to the lake's shore and swim is off the Cleetwood Cove Trail. The steep hike down to the water's edge also leads to the docks where tour boats load passengers for tours of the lake and Wizard Island.
The trail is 1.1 miles long and drops nearly 700 feet to the lake shore. Visitors are welcome to swim in the lake from the shoreline at the end of this trail.
The hike out culls many would-be cliff jumpers, says Reinhardt, a 27-year-old Southern Oregon University grad.
"The rangers joke it's 1.1 miles down but 10 miles back up," Reinhardt says.
2. Climb an icon
Scrambling to the top of one of Southern Oregon's most visible features is a bucket-list item for all Rogue Valley residents, but the trek up Pilot Rock near Ashland is also one of the better and easier ascents when wildfire smoke shrouds the valley floor.
It's one of the most accessible wilderness hikes, and it's even better now thanks to a trail reroute and improvement project conducted last year by the Ashland-based Siskiyou Mountain Club.
The initial part of the 1.2-mile route goes up a closed logging road, then veers onto the Pacific Crest Trail to the Pilot Rock Trail.
The final ascent used to include a 650-foot stretch of poor, steep and eroded trail. The Siskiyou Mountain Club built 764 feet of new trail last year, including a series of steps created with rocks scraped from the hillside.
The hike has a 1,000-foot elevation gain that will get you to the base of the rock, and hearty hikers can shimmy from there to the pinnacle.
Follow I-5 south to the Mt. Ashland exit at milepost 6. Follow Route 99 south for approximately 2.4 miles. Turn left at the BLM sign that reads "Pilot Rock Road 40-2E-33.0." Stay left at the first intersection and turn right at the second intersection. After 2.1 miles on this bumpy road, you'll reach a former quarry that serves as the trailhead parking lot.
A new zipline opened this week near Rocky Point off Highway 140 near Agency Lake, giving Southern Oregon residents another option for zipping down cables strung between tall trees.
Crater Lake Zipline offers a nearly three-hour tour through nine ziplines totaling 8,200 feet of suspended cable and two sky bridges suspended up to 90 feet above the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Participants also face two rope descents.
Tours begin at $95 per person. See www.craterlakezipline.com or call 541-892-9477 for details.
Closer to home is Rogue Valley Zipline Adventures off Kane Creek south of Gold Hill. The course includes five ziplines through the trees in progressive order from easiest to the most thrilling.
Rogue Valley Zipline is at 9450 Old Stage Road, Central Point. Customers meet in Gold Hill and take a shuttle to the site. Tours must be reserved in advance, and customers are required to sign waivers. Cost is $82, with a $10 discount for those younger than 18. For details, see rvzipline.com or call 541-821-9476.
4. River float
The upper Rogue River is always calling area residents to come cool off. The most common float on the upper river is an 11-mile stretch from Cole Rivers Hatchery to Shady Cove, a roughly three-hour glide down the most accessible stretch of the 157-mile river.
Shady Cove is loaded with rafting liveries that will rent you what you need, shuttle you to the launch site and pick you up at the Jackson County boat ramp just downstream of Highway 62.
The flows now are higher and more paddle-friendly than any time since early July and are forecast to remain pretty sturdy for rafters through Labor Day.
Inflatable kayaks run about $25 for the trip, while four-person rafts go for about $55 and 10-person rafts about $85. Many give discounts for cash, but also expect a $3 per boat city tax.
5. Rogue River Gorge
If you take a drive up Highway 62 to Union Creek right now, you can see the Rogue River Gorge like you've never seen it before ... unless you were there in the summer of 1996.
There are two main river channels through the basalt that meet and form the Rogue Gorge, a 30-foot drop through lava rock that is part of tourist photo albums across the globe.
The majority of the flows historically were in the main channel on the far side of the river when viewed from the bank off Highway 62, says Rick Johnson, field ranger for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's High Cascades Ranger District.
That changed when the New Year's Day flood of 1997 sent logs and other woody debris cascading down the river and blocked the main channel, forcing most of the water down the channel near the highway, Johnston says. It stayed that way until February, when a high-water event blew that log jam apart, and now all but a trickle of water has returned to the main channel of old.
The channel that used to carry water close to the highway now is virtually dewatered — a sight not seen since the Clinton presidency.
"The river has moved back to where it was flowing before," Johnston says. "Nature is dynamic, not static."