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Ashland, Ore., in autumn: Take in a show, bike a mountain, tour a vineyard

Brian J. Cantwell, The Seattle Times on

Published in Travel News

It happens that Ashland Creek and Lithia Park played a part in spawning the Tony Award-winning Shakespeare Festival. The park traces its roots to the Chautauqua movement of the late 19th century, when the Chautauqua Association purchased 8 acres on the creek for staging its traveling programs of speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and preachers of the day, bringing to Ashland such luminaries as John Philip Sousa and William Jennings Bryan.

That Ashland tradition fueled founder Angus Bowmer's ambitions to start in 1935 (his first production: "Twelfth Night") what today has become the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Its Elizabethan theater is still enclosed by the old stone walls that surrounded one of the Chautauqua theaters.

AUTUMN COLORS AND MORE

Fall is a good time to see autumn colors in Lithia Park -- the maples in the Japanese Garden put on a good show -- or on big trees surrounding some of the stately old homes of Ashland's historical Railroad District, one of my favorite areas for an early-morning stroll with a cup of coffee in hand.

It's also prime hiking and cycling season. For flat and easy, hit the Bear Creek Greenway (after renting a bike from Bear Creek Bicycle, $25 for two hours). Have a hankering to get higher? "The Pacific Crest Trail goes right up and over Mount Ashland," says Katharine Cato of the Travel Ashland visitor bureau. "Take a 25-minute drive from downtown on a paved road right up to Mount Ashland and take a hike on the PCT."

If you want a serious mountain-bike climb, head up 7,533-foot Mount Ashland on forest roads from Lithia Park. Or do it the easy way: Book a shuttle with Ashland Mountain Adventures, which will drop you at the top for $15 and rent you a bike for the downward ride on single-track trails and fire roads.

From the top back to town, which sits at about 2,000 feet, "it's a 'whee' ride all the way down to Ashland, where you finish up with some award-winning microbrews at Caldera or Standing Stone," Cato says, naming two downtown brew pubs. (Standing Stone, by the way, hosts its annual benefit Harvest Dinner featuring local chefs on Sept. 10.)

For the serious runner, there's the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon, on Nov. 4, starting and finishing in Lithia Park. The course circumnavigates the Ashland watershed between Mount Ashland and the park, accumulating 7,200 feet of elevation change, mostly on dirt roads and trails.

WORLD OF WINE

You say you're more a Falstaff than a Phil Knight? Southern Oregon is also a distinguished wine region, and the sunny days and cool nights of harvest season make it the right time for wine touring around Ashland. Wine Enthusiast magazine last year named the area to its list of 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations worldwide.

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