Hiking Lithia Park’s Kaleidoscope of Fall Colors

Wander the 93 acres of Ashland’s scenic city park for first-rate leaf peeping.

The gardens and trees of Lithia Park are a feast for the senses, especially during the fall. That’s when the foliage turns this municipal wonder of Ashland, Oregon into a kaleidoscope of yellows, reds and purples. In addition to spectacular maples and other hardwoods, the park—situated southwest of downtown, where it follows Ashland Creek to its headwaters on the flanks of Mount Ashland—showcases beautiful flowers, shrubs, and pines. The vegetation is a unique blend of native plants and exotic species; some of the trees are more than a century old.

Trace those botanical roots to 1893, when the Southern Oregon Chautauqua Association erected a beehive dome along the banks of Ashland Creek as an entertainment venue to bring music, physical education and sermons to the rural area. The site became the cultural focus of southern Oregon, hosting celebrities from William Jennings Bryan to Susan B. Anthony. In 1908, the city of Ashland then set aside large parts of the original Chautauqua property and dedicated Lithia Park in 1915, hiring John McLaren, the famed designer of California’s Golden Gate Park, to develop the gardens. The park and its old Chautauqua building helped launch the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which still brings hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer to the city of 21,000. Named one of the top ten Great American Spaces, the National Register of Historic Places also designated it in 1982 as “a complete reflection of the public park movement.” 

And the park truly has something for everyone, with ornamental gardens, big meadows, and a countless number of amazing plants—the vegetation growing thicker and taller as you enter the southern part of the park. See towering stands of rhododendron, ponderosa pine, a giant sequoia, and a glorious dawn redwood. Stop at benches and picnic tables tucked into clusters of ferns and shade trees, presenting tempting spots to sit and soak in the areas’ natural beauty and rugged geography marked by boulders and cliff bands. 

Sure, you can grab a pastry from one of Ashland’s picturesque Victorian-styled restaurants to relax in one of those quiet nooks. Or, you can drink from the ornate, public fountain near the park’s entrance, though the mineral-rich, lithium salt-laced spring water (for which the park is named) is an acquired taste. But one of the best bets: Wait for the summer crowds to depart, and follow the birds, deer and butterflies to explore the stunning changing colors of the gardens and forests each fall.

A bridge with fall colors in Lithia Park

Recommended Route 

There are about 6 miles of hiking trails in Lithia Park and plenty of options. A great 3-mile loop starts at Ashland Plaza. Jump on the trail heading to the Lower Duck Pond. The Elizabethan Theater will be to your left, Ashland Creek to your right. The trail (aka Lithia Park Trail, though there's no official name) circles Lower Duck Pond; stay right, following the creek. You’ll pass the Butler Memorial Bandshell. When the trail forks at a bridge, stay right, toward the pickleball courts and Upper Duck Pond. Side paths take you to the Rose Garden, Sycamore Grove, and Japanese Garden (which celebrates a two-year renovation this October). As you near Granite Street (at about 1.5 miles), keep going toward the Parks and Rec Cabin, then take a hard left on the Pioneer Street Trail, a multi-use path that loops back to the Shakespearean Theater and Ashland Square. 

For a longer walk, continue south on the Lithia Park Trail past the Parks and Rec Cabin to a switchback and steep hill toward Glenview Drive and the Ashland Loop Road. You’ll eventually arrive at the Swim Reservoir at the south end of the park. Download the Lithia Park Trail Guide for a step-by-step tour of some of the park’s most captivating plants, trees and gardens. 

Getting There

The main entrance is across from the northern end of the park. There are additional entrances (and good parking) along Winburn Way and Granite Street on the park’s west side. You can also access the park from the east along West Fork Street and Glenview Drive.

More Info

Lithia Park is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Dogs are not allowed in the Park (with the exception of the Pioneer Road Trail), but you can circumnavigate the park on public sidewalks/roads for a great 3-mile loop.

Refresh & Refuel

Skout Tap House is located on Ashland Creek, across the street from Lithia Park and Ashland Plaza. You can eat in or grab to-go treats for a picnic in the park.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.