The largest city in Southern Oregon, Medford is best known as a rest stop for weary drivers between California and Portland or Seattle. Located directly on Interstate 5, which runs from Mexico to Canada, it is a convenient place to stop for the night, and indeed, that is what most people think of when thinking of the area.
That is a shame, as Medford (and Southern Oregon in general) has so much to offer. Whether you are a lover of the outdoors, a connoisseur of good food, or a devotee of culture, Medford could just be the destination you’ve been looking for!
A street view in Ashland, just south of Medford.
For most visitors to Medford, Interstate 5 will be the route in. Located about three hours’ drive south of Portland, or four hours north of Sacramento, it is a welcome respite from a long drive.
For those interested in flying in, Medford has a small but lovely airport with most major American airlines scheduling daily flights from their western hubs. This means that those from the West Coast can get in direct, and visitors from anywhere else can fly to this wonderful area with a single stop.
You will definitely want a car for your visit to Medford and Southern Oregon, as some of the surrounding natural areas cannot be explored via any sort of public transportation. Be aware, though, that parking in downtown Medford and Ashland is not free, so if paying for parking is something you desperately want to avoid, you may want to give yourself a bit of extra time to circle around.
Downtown Medford is cute, but free parking is hard to come by.
Traffic in the area is virtually non-existent, and signage is good. I never had an issue navigating.
Where to Stay
A fairly small metropolitan area, Medford and Southern Oregon is not a place where you will find luxury resorts. However, hotel rooms are easy to find, with every chain having some sort of property in the region.
If you like the Bed and Breakfast experience, Ashland is home to many. But if you are like me and prefer a hotel, Medford has much more availability than the other communities. I have stayed at the independent Rogue Regency Inn and would highly recommend it. Comfortable rooms, incredible service, and a location just off the freeway (and close to the airport) that will make it easier to get around the region. (Medford has only two exits on Interstate 5, so being just off one of them will save you time in every direction.)
The Rogue Regency Inn, my personal recommendation for lodging in Medford.
Things to Do
For such a small metropolitan area, Medford (and Southern Oregon in general) has a ton of things to do, with appeal for travelers of all types.
First and foremost, this is one of the most incredible areas for any outdoor enthusiast. Medford sits just southwest of Crater Lake National Park, one of my personal favorite places. While in the winter there isn’t much to do but look (though seriously, how gorgeous is this), in summer the Park is a perfect place to hike, swim, and explore. On the other side of the area lies Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, an exceptionally botanically diverse group of beautiful mountains.
Crater Lake in winter
In addition, the Rogue River offers some of the best white water rafting around, Mt. Ashland is known for its skiing, and other spots for hiking, biking, and winter activities abound. Personally, I went zip-lining in the mountains, and had a profoundly meaningful experience.
If you prefer culture, tiny Ashland, just south of Medford, is a hub belying its size. Ashland is home to the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, as well as other smaller theatres. While the season is at its peak in summer, OSF hosts productions from spring through fall at its indoor venues.
The links above will connect you to The Royal Tour guides of these amazing activities in Southern Oregon.
The Allen Elizabethan Theatre in Ashland gets set for a show.
Other Useful Information
Medford (and Southern Oregon in general) is a bit of a political dichotomy. It is, by and large, a fairly Conservative area. However, it is also a region leading the way in sustainable farming. Medford is a mainly white, homogenous city, but Ashland is young, diverse, and has a hippy vibe. Many residents are proud Oregonians, yet there is also a secessionist movement for the State of Jefferson (along with far Northern California).
The weather here is not “normal” Oregon weather. While there is significant rainfall compared to my home in California, it isn’t anything compared to what most think of the Pacific Northwest in having. There is snow in winter. Summer, on the other hand, regularly reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit (high 30s Celsius). These are not the mild summers of much of the state.
Nothing here is formal. You are fine in jeans basically everywhere.
Porter’s, one of Medford’s nicest restaurants, is built into the old rail depot. Fine dining food with a causal atmosphere? Yes please!
Medford and Southern Oregon truly are able to offer something for everyone. This is one of my favorite areas, and I hope that you consider stopping for a few days rather than just driving through.
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Note: thank you to Travel Medford for partnering with me on this journey, and for providing my accommodations on this trip. All opinions are based solely on my personal experiences.
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Please correct your travel times as people may rely upon them.
Portland to Medford: 4 h 16 min (273 miles) via I-5 N.
Sacramento to Medford: 4 h 46 min (308 miles) via I-5 S.