Based on Jim’s recommendation, we decided not to take the most direct route from Portland to Crater Lake and instead made some stops along the way. It stretched the drive from a 4.5 hour one into an almost 8 hour one, but it was well worth setting up camp in the dark to be able to see Timberline Lodge and eat at Deschutes Brewery.
The Timberline Lodge is a popular skiing resort up on Mt. Hood during the winter, and it still offered some incredible views in spite of the lack of snow during our June visit. More exciting to us was the fact that it was used as filming location for the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. We went based on Jim’s recommendation and had no idea that it was used for The Shining until we saw all the movie-related merchandise in the gift shop. The Shining is one of my favorite horror films, and Glenn, who joined us later in the trip, is an even bigger fan. He was devastated that he missed out on seeing the Overlook Hotel.
Next we made a quick stop at Smith Rock State Park, which is a popular rock climbing location. After that we headed down for dinner at the Deschutes Brewery Public House in Bend, OR. They had good beer and even better burgers. We finally made it down to our campsite at the North Crater Lake Sno-Park around eleven o’clock at night. I kept my headlights on on my car so that we could set up the tent, and then we immediately went to bed. The next morning we got up early and packed up right away, so we hardly spent any time at that campsite, which was fortunate since it was completely overrun with mosquitoes. They were everywhere, and our bug spray did not seem to deter them in the slightest. James ended up with the worst of it and had bites covering his legs.
We got breakfast that morning at a small roadside diner in the first town we could find north of Crater Lake. There was only one old lady working there as a waitress and she was not the friendliest, which only seemed to fit with the stereotype of a small town truck stop waitress.
After breakfast we headed down to Crater Lake, which was formed by the eruption and subsequent collapse of a giant volcano thousands of years ago. The resulting crater filled with rain water, and because it is not fed by any other water source and is protected from human intervention it remains some of the purest water in the world. It is crystal blue with record-breaking depth of visibility. It is the deepest lake in the U.S., and with all those lava tunnels running underneath it is unknown how deep it really is.
James started out that morning a bit on the grumpy side. He was in the middle of the woods with no service and no way of keeping track of the World Cup games, and he hadn’t had his coffee yet. He was not interested in seeing “some stupid lake.” All of that changed once we got into the national park and he caught his first glimpse of Crater Lake. He immediately jumped out of the car and kept going on about how incredible it was. Sean and I laughed at him, but I have to admit I was also stunned by the lake’s beauty. It far exceeded my expectations, and pictures don’t do it justice.
We got some pictures up at the rim before heading down to the visitor center where we watched a short documentary about the lake. Then we went back up to Rim Village and hiked around a portion of the Discovery Point trail. There are lots of hiking trails in the park both up at the rim and in the forest below. There is also a road that goes all the way around the rim of the crater, so it is possible to see it all from the comfort of a car. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore for very long, as we needed to get on the road to our next destination if we wanted to make it before sunset this time.
We stopped for lunch at the first place we could find outside of the national park, which ended up being Prospect Pizzeria in the tiny town of Prospect, OR. Sean and I split a delicious barbecue chicken pizza and possibly the best caesar salad I’ve ever had (artichoke hearts!). We then splurged for some Tillamook ice cream to make up for the fact that we never stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Oregon. The owner of the pizzeria was kind and asked us about our trip. He told us to look out for the gorgeous views of the Rogue River Highway 62 offers as it follows it for a long stretch of the drive. I will definitely stop by Prospect Pizzeria and this beautiful part of Oregon if I ever make this road trip again.
As soon as we passed the border into California (which on Highway 199 is just a sign saying “Now leaving Oregon” followed by a sign saying “Welcome to California!”) we immediately entered the Klamath National Forest. It was here as we neared the coast that we got to our first of several extremely windy roads on this trip. The hairpin turns were fun, albeit exhausting to drive. Sean sat tensed up in the front with me as I laughed and said it was like driving in a video game, while James was clueless in the back, too wrapped up in the episodes of Parks and Rec he had downloaded on his phone to be nervous.
That night we camped at the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, which, unlike the North Crater Lake Sno-Park, was pretty busy and almost every campsite was full. The mosquitoes were present but not nearly as much of a problem. We had time to build a fire and boil some water for our backpackers’ dinners, which are basically plastic bags of instant meals that you just add water to. Sean had chicken and rice and I had Mexican rice, but we switched after I realized that the Mexican one was full of beans, which I hate.
The next morning as we exited the campground the lady at the gate gave us some advice on where to stop on our drive through the Redwood National and State Parks. We went to the Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA where we explored their Native American museum and saw Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, but we didn’t pay to go on their trails or treetop gondola, since you can see essentially the same things in the state parks for free. The lady at the gift shop told us how to get to the nearest drive-thru tree. It was owned by a little old lady who was originally from Greenlake in Seattle. We paid five dollars to drive through the almost one-thousand year old tree, which was well worth it for the photo-op and the experience.
Later we stopped in the Redwood National Forest and went on a short hike where we saw some really big trees, including one that was 1,500 years old. We had fun wandering the trails and climbing the trees, which stretched out what otherwise would have been a very short hike.
On our drive down to our next campsite we went through another windy road, this one even worse than the last, but when we finally made it out the other side we were on top of a cliff with a great view of the Pacific Ocean. We pulled over to look at the view along with the people who had been in front of us. The driver of that car got out, looked at me, wiped his forehead, and said “We made it!” There was a railing along the cliff with tons of graffiti on it, so Sean, James, and I decided to leave our mark as well. If you’re ever on the Shoreline Highway in Northern California near Hardy just where it leaves the woods and meets up with the coast, stop for a minute and look for our names.
That night we camped at MacKerricher State Park, which is right on the coast, near Fort Bragg. We were able to walk to the beach from our campsite, which is the first thing we did as soon as we set up the tent. The boys dipped their toes in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, but they didn’t go much farther than that since it was freezing. We played football (American football) for a long time, and then helped James dig a hole and buried him in it, since that is his favorite thing to do at a beach, apparently.
We slept well that night and went to breakfast at Denny’s the next morning before starting our drive down to San Francisco.
Want more? Read about our next set of adventures in San Francisco Part One!