For whatever reason, most people have never heard of Crater Lake, perhaps because it’s awkwardly placed in the middle of Oregon, but it should be up there with the Grand Canyon and co. on the essential USA bucket list. Last summer, in typical #MattTheTrips style, we tried to pack an absurd amount in to our two week road trip from LA to Seattle, and Day 9 involving Crater Lake was perhaps the silliest of the lot.
Native Americans witnessed it form 7,700 years ago, when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of a towering volcano. Scientists marvel at its purity: fed by rain and snow, it’s the deepest lake in the USA and perhaps the most pristine on earth. National Park Service
Medford to Portland could be a rather dull and efficient drive, but we had other plans. After driving for almost 9 hours the previous day from Santa Rosa (CA) to Medford (OR) , through multiple national parks, we grabbed 5 hours of sleep ahead of a 3am alarm call.
Why? So that we could drive for 2 hours through Oregon fog (with the Twin Peaks soundtrack on) to reach Crater Lake National Park in time for a beautiful blue sunrise. After a bit of research, we decided to aim for Watchman Overlook near Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone in the lake capped by a volcanic crater. It’s not far from the South Entrance, a little way around the slightly hair-raising West Rim Drive (which is only fully open to cars in the summer). As you can see, it was worth the effort, especially given that we had the whole place to ourselves for nearly two hours.
By 7am, we needed a proper breakfast so we ducked into the charming Crater Lake Lodge. This would be a much more sensible launchpad for exploring the lake than Medford, but bloody expensive of course. The truly spectacular views from the lodge do justify the costs though.
After a few coffees, omelettes and bowls of granola, we made our way East to the Phantom Ship Overlook, a series of viewpoints dotted around a nice little walking loop. Phantom Ship refers to the eerie little island that looks like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean from afar.
As my camera memory card started to give off smoke, we made our way clockwise around rim drive to the North Exit. We stopped off one last time at Merriam Point to say our goodbyes to the lake before driving off down the straight road to Bend.
If you have more time to explore, there’s more fun to be had with waterfalls, rock formations, hikes down to the water (quite a distance!), and even boat trips on the lake around Wizard Island. For more info and to plan your trip, head to the Crater Lake NPS website here. I would tie a short trip together with some time in Shakespeare-mad Ashland to the south, and the hidden gem of beer-filled Bend to the north plus the adjoining Willamette National Forest.
For completeness, here’s how our busy day continued:
3pm – Head on to the McKenzie Scenic Highway, a scenic road through the Willamette National Forest. First stop – views of the Cascade Mountain Range from the Dee Wright Observatory surrounded by 65 square miles of lava stone. On a clear day, you can see Mt.Hood almost 80 miles away.
4pm – Willamette Dammit! The drive turned to green and we stopped off to find Proxy Falls which was an unexpected 30+ min hike from the road. Have faith – what awaits is a waterfall infinitely more impressive than Multnomah Falls, more memorable than Niagara, and free of tourist trappings. Proper escapism and one of the highlights of our road trip. This photo is by Thomas Goebel:
7pm – Later than expected, we made our way to the secluded Chatoe Rogue Farms brewery site in Independence for a private sunset tour of the hop fields and farm buildings. It’s a magical place that deserved more of our time but I’m glad we got to see it briefly. Many thanks to Michael & co. for a hugely entertaining impromptu tour – I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.
10pm – Finally made it to our Portland Airbnb and gorged ourselves on some famous Sizzle Pie pizza that we ordered ahead from the road, washed down with Anderson Valley Brewing goses and Hop Dogma Brewing We All Grin For Lupulin IPAs that we picked up earlier on the trip. A brilliant end to a ridiculous 20 hour rampage around Oregon.