The Rogue Valley region of southwest Oregon is a very challenging place to visit without a car. Medford is the largest city (pop. 80,000) and the only place with commercial air service. Klamath Falls (pop. 21,500), located about 75 miles east of Medford, has once-daily passenger rail service in each direction via the Coast Starlight. Ashland (pop.21,600) is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University but Ashland has no airport or rail service. Nevertheless, despite the distances that separate the population centers and the low overall population density, there is a basic public transportation system that stitches together the communities of the Rogue Valley. Just be sure to carefully plan your trip if you hope to use the public transit system.
The local transit system is operated by the Rogue Valley Transportation District. The RVTD provides bus service on 8 routes, all running through the Front Street Transit station in downtown Medford. The service pattern is based on half-hourly pulses and most routes start at 5am and run until about 9pm. Three of the routes have 60 minute headways, 4 routes run every 30 minutes and the route that connects Medford with Ashland and Southern Oregon University runs every 20 minutes on weekdays. On Saturday, all routes operate hourly and there is no Sunday service. Service to the Medford airport runs every 60 minutes.
Unfortunately, land use patterns in Medford are pretty typical of many mid-sized American cities. On the list of US metropolitan cities, Medford ranks #206, which is very similar to Bellingham (#201). Medford’s downtown core is one-way main aterials mostly lined with bars, antique malls, pawn shops and empty storefronts. There is no visible urban revitalization movement in central Medford and the only new businesses that are locating near downtown Medford are the cannabis retailers. Shopping malls with big box national retailers are still under construction on the edges of town as Medford sprawls into the adjacent farmlands. Meanwhile the local transit system is centered on the disused downtown transit center.
The picture in Ashland is more hopeful. Shakespeare attracts over 400,000 visitors a year to the centrally located theaters and the adjacent downtown streets and parks are active and full of pedestrians. Yes, the local economy is based largely on tourism, but Ashland seems to elevate the experience above the level of “tourist trap”. Hotels, restaurants and shopping are all located within walking distance of the OSF theaters. The RVTD route that serves Ashland, SOU and Medford is the only route that offers somewhat frequent service.
From downtown Medford there is a once-a-day bus line to Klamath Falls, Southwest POINT. The route is managed by the Oregon DOT. Arrival and departure times in Klamath Falls are convenient for Coast Starlight passenger connecting to/from California. Riding to/from the north will require overnight stays in Klamath Falls.
Medford and Grants Pass are connected 5 times on weekdays by the Rogue Valley Commuter Line. Greyhound also offers 4 daily trips to Eugene (220am, 505am, 905am, 405pm) with a scheduled trip time of 3:30 to 3:45.
Car-free travel to the Rogue Valley is possible, but it requires some careful planning ahead of time. You can fly into Medford but I would recommend staying in Ashland where there are more car-free options. Using Amtrak round trip from Seattle would require 2 overnight stays in Klamath Falls or long bus rides to/from Eugene.