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Run Oregon Road Trip: Run away to Southern Oregon – Ashland for Runners

Running up the switchbacks on the Bandersnatch Trail in Ashland, Oregon.

A few friends of mine have been going through some stressful things in their lives, and I found myself kid-free a few weekends ago, so I decided to invite these stressed-out friends for a girls’ running weekend in Southern Oregon. I’d been in Ashland a few times before, but never with a compeltely free schedule, so it was fun to peruse a list of suggestions from various friends and pick the places that stood out to us at the moment over our two days there.

The lobby of the Ashland Hills Hotel.

Joining me was Nikki, who writes on the blog, and our friend MacKenzie. We packed up Sunday morning and made the drive down I-5 straight to the Ashland Hills Hotel, a hotel renovated in a 70’s theme (only with a true designer’s eye and not what my mom picked out at Sears). The lobby and guest areas are all really fun, with a harvest color palette, attention-grabbing light fixtures, and funky furuniture including a spherical chair that every child hoped to claim by outrunning their sibling. Outside, a row of bikes was parked for guests to tool around town on, and the pool was really inviting, considering the heat and haze from the Milepost 97 fire up in Canyonville.

Soft woodchip trail in Lithia Park.

We popped into our room, changed into running gear, and immediately set out for Lithia Park, which we knew connected to some other great trails. We’d gotten some route recommendations from the hotel, but found ourselves at a bit of a loss when we realized none of us had reliable service in the wooded area where we parked. Undeterred, we figured we’d head in the general direction of the Bandersnatch Trail and hope for a sign, relying on a map I’d downloaded before we set out.

Have you run in Lithia Park? It’s ah-mazing. The air is cooler there, thanks to almost complete tree cover on the soft wood-chip trail. The smoke was barely noticeable as we pointed out cool trees and beautiful vignettes to each other, but we realized that the creek running along the trail was just gorgeous for its entire length. When we got cell service, we did end up finding some sketchy written directions online that led us to a wonderful trail map, and then did some creative wayfinding to finally find the Bandersnatch. (Of course now I can find great maps like this one.) These are dusty dirt singletrack trails that are surrounded by amazing views and cool vegetation. We startled countless little lizards and often stopped to just take in the views or check out the Madrone trees.

Sign at the Witzend Trailhead off Red Queen.

We connected to the Red Queen Trail and then the Witzend Trail to get back down to Lithia Park and back to the car. By then it was 7 pm and we were hot and dusty, so we washed off the trail dirt and went for a quick dunk in the pool. Of course, we couldn’t leave without checking out the hot tub, where we were in the midst of a deep conversation about toenails and I noticed a woman wearing Oofos. “Are you a runner?” (and of course she was) was all it took and she joined us in the hot tub and was agreeing to meet us at 7 the next morning for 4 miles at Emigrant Lake.

For dinner, the place that topped nearly every recommendation list we got was the Standing Stone Brewery. We sat outside on the patio and shared some roasted brussel sprouts, then discussed who would get what and whether or not we’d be sharing. It was really hard to decide, but for me, the tacos won out. Deciding on the beer was easier, because they offered a flight.

After dinner, we wanted to try more Southern Oregon beers, so we went to Growler Guys, just a few blocks away from Standing Stone. Despite it being a Sunday night, the place was fairly busy and we found a spot on the patio. I again got a flight, which you order by writing the number of each beer you’d like to try on a laminated card. This was cool because they had around 40 brews on tap.

Back at the hotel, we explored the lobby and common areas, noting the unique artwork that can be found everywhere in this hotel. Bold graphics and bright colors of hand-numbered art were in our room and in the hallways. The art in this hotel – everything about it, actually – was so different from the uber-modern or waiting-room style hotels you usually find. I liked that it had a unique personality, but offered in-room refrigerators (because of course we brought snacks) and super-soft linens.

Our trail on the east side of Emigrant Lake.

The next morning we rose bright and early. Our new friend Lisa met us in the lobby and we set off to explore a different type of trail. We drove to Emigrant Lake, a beautiful lake that was only 15 minutes from the Ashland Hills Hotel, and ran about 3 miles on an overgrown road/trail with dry creek crossings every quarter mile or so (it seemed, anyway). We saw osprey, deer, and what we think was a bobcat but didn’t try to get any closer to make sure. The trail got to be too overgrown, so we headed around to the western side of the lake, where I was delighted to find the boathouse for Rogue Rowing. I decided on my next trip to Ashland I’ll have to set up a row with their crew – Emigrant Lake is a beautiful glass lake where you could easily row a few thousand meters without having to turn around! But, we were there to run, so we asked some rowers which direction they suggested and headed out.

The views on the west side of Emigrant Lake were amazing, as we ran along the dam to a singletrack trail that wound along the shore. We got to meet a few dogs that were out with their owners, and marveled at how different the three places we’d run were. But before long, Lisa had to head back to the hotel so her family could get on the road to see relatives in Eugene and Bend.

Nikki, MacKenzie and I went back to the hotel to check out and then headed to the top-recommended place in town for brunch: Morning Glory. I’d been there before, with a college teammate who lives in Jacksonville, and remembered it had good-sized portions and excellent bacon. For me, that’s what it takes to make an amazing breakfast.

After breakfast, it was time to head back north and back to real life: moving, prepping for a garage sale, and work. We extended the vacation a bit by making the ultimate sing-along playlist for a girls weekend (Whitney Houston, anyone?) and taking a break in Eugene to stretch our legs with a walk around Alton Baker Park. We also decided that a girls’ trip to Southern Oregon should be a regular occasion – possibly an annual excursion – now that we know a good place to stay and a long list of recommendations for where to run, where to eat, and where to drink.

Check Southern Oregon out for yourself! Learn more about the Ashland Hills Hotel here, about Lithia Park here, and the Ashland Watershed Trails here. You’ll also want to check out Emigrant Lake, Standing Stone Brewery, The Growler Guys, and Morning Glory. And if you’re a rower, be sure to hook up with the folks at Rogue Rowing – it’ll be worth the views.

MacKenzie and Nikki enjoying the view from the Bandersnatch Trail.

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About Kelly Barten (1067 Articles)
I started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because I felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. I also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support LOCAL race organizers. I'm a Creighton Bluejay (undergrad) and an Oregon Duck (Sports Marketing MBA), and I live in Tigard with my husband and two kids. My "real job" is working for an incredibly awesome math textbook company doing marketing and production.

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