Side-by-side, Shady Cove in Southern Oregon has one of Oregon’s loveliest strips and one of its ugliest. The ugliest is Oregon 62, which cuts right through it and is the only business district in the town. It’s a mishmash of shops catering to tourists, a couple of restaurants and bars and some rafting companies. It’s possible to find riverside retreats, such as Bel Di’s Restaurant, or a flavorful local business like Fishing Hole Fly Shop, but you have to look hard. The other strip is the Rogue River, which flows near the main drag, broad and green, pushing against forested banks on both sides.
Rafting and fishing are the favorite sports here, and for a different water experience, there’s Lost Creek Lake, about 10 miles east of Shady Cove, where there are 30 miles of shoreline, with park sites, boat ramps and a trail system.
Getting there: Take Interstate 5 south from Portland 262 miles south to Gold Hill and follow Oregon 234 20 miles northeast to Oregon 62 and then a few miles north to Shady Cove. More scenic is to leave the freeway at Canyonville and take Oregon 227 through pretty forested country, joining Oregon 62 at Trail a few miles from Shady Cove.
It’s no accident that Shady Cove looks like a tourist town strung along a highway strip, because that’s what it is. It began as a summer home and camping area and later became a suburb for commuting millworkers. It wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1972. To encounter anything that looks like history, you would have to go to Trail—or what’s left of Trail—a few miles outside Shady Cove. Trail’s roots go back to the 1850s when it was a transportation hub for Southern Oregon and points beyond. Later, it became a productive timber town.
The Upper Rogue at any time of the year is entrancing and Shady Cove offers an excellent jumping off point. In the summer, from about May 15 to Sept. 15, Rapid Pleasure Raft Rental, oldest of several local rafting companies, transports rafters 10 miles up the river to a fish hatchery located below Lost Creek Dam, and leaves them to float for three or four hours back to Shady Cove. The river here also is famous for salmon, steelhead and trout fishing. Casey State Park, 10 miles northeast of Shady Cove is a good place to start enjoying the river for fishing and boating.
A stop – maybe: If you can fish and raft on one of Oregon’s loveliest rivers, why visit a museum? A good question, but the Trail Creek Tavern Museum might be enough to tear you away. Begun in 1934, the tavern pumped suds to local loggers and built a reputation for rowdiness and general disrepute until New Years Eve 1996 when the Jackson County Sheriff pulled its license. The Upper Rogue Historical Society acquired it and turned it into a museum, retaining the original bar where countless pints were hoisted.
The museum’s exhibits are varied, but two stand out. One is a small collection of memorabilia relating to actress Ginger Rogers who owned Rogers Rogue River Ranch, nearby. Rogers appears to have been well-liked in the area, and her mother Lela, one of the most notable of all stage mothers, resided at the ranch full time. The other is a collection of three metal wagon wheel rims, turned into works of art by an extraordinary machinist and welder, Carl Jantzer. Jantzer chose an assortment of the museum’s collection of unusual tools, laid them on a welding table and created designs with the tools that would fit into the space of a wagon wheel and then welded them together. It took not only extraordinary precision and welding ability, but a fine artist’s eye to visualize an overall pattern made with the tools that could fit into the space. Among the tools are a butcher knife, a shovel, sickle, harpoon fork used to lift loose hay, a sheep shearer, and dozens of other items.
Night and day: Shy’s, a comfortable, off-hand café, is a good place for breakfast and there are Mexican, Chinese and American-style restaurants. For food and setting, Bel Di’s, a three-bedroom house converted to a “dinner house” in 1978, is a good option, with its serene dining room on the Rogue River and air of somewhat dated comfort. Shady Cove is too much a family place to offer a hot nightlife scene. Bel Di’s lounge, once a master bedroom, is comfortable, and for a wilder time, try the Shady Cove Sports Bar, particularly on the two or three nights a week when there’s karaoke and the local sing rock and country like they are singing their lives.
Where to stay: The Maple Leaf Motel offers spacious , attractive rooms at very reasonable prices. The Edgewater Inn is more expensive but it’s right on the river and maintains a path, a fishing hole and a boat launch for guests.