West Coast Road Trip Part VIII: Portland to Crater Lake to San Diego


Our final adventure. 

I don't remember when I decided that Crater Lake would be the last stop on our great West Coast Road Trip. I think I was looking at a map trying to see if there were any significant parks or sights on the way home and I noticed a giant lake east of the 5 freeway. I had never heard of Crater Lake before and figured it was no more than a lake that you could drive up alongside, park and marvel at. 

So that was the plan: we'd pick up some lunch in Eugene and maybe have a picnic by the side of this big ass lake. 

I had no idea that Crater Lake just so happens to be one of the most gorgeous, surreal, picturesque bodies of water in the world.

That morning, as I took the driver's seat for the first shift, I realized my first misconception about Crater Lake: it was not a quick little detour from the freeway. Instead, it was over 2 hours east of the freeway, making it a 4+ hour detour on our long drive home.

Without knowing anything about Crater Lake except it's name, for whatever reason I decided: worth it. Spoiler alert: it was a good choice.

Since we left Portland around 6am, by the time we passed through Eugene, it was only around 8am and I didn't really feel like stopping. I also didn't know what I'd stop for at that hour. I wasn't hungry yet, we still had our Voodoo Donuts waiting for us, and I hadn't really mapped out or planned our stop in Eugene. Plus, given the new information I'd just learned about how much Crater Lake would take us out of our way, I decided it was best to just book it there instead. 

The hours and miles that followed were some of the most peaceful woodland scenes I've ever had the pleasure of driving through. 

At one point, we were passing a huge lake on my right that was just gorgeous. For a moment, I had to check to see if this was Crater Lake and honestly, this was what I expected Crater Lake to look like: just some giant lake on the side of the road. Little did I know!

Then, soon enough, the woods and rivers and lakes turned into a desert forrest, if there is such a thing. Just miles and miles of trees in sand lining both sides of a two-lane road.

By the time we started getting closer to Crater Lake, I had begun to wonder if this was anything like what I had anticipated. There was no way a lake could just be sitting around anywhere... there were trees and sand for miles.

And when we got to a line for the entrance to Crater Lake National Park, a line that took us over an hour to move through, that's when I knew... this was going to be so much better than I had anticipated. Also, National Park? That was new information.

At the park entrance, we paid $15 for our car. They stapled the receipt into a complimentary map and finally we were in the park.

I had switched off with Ryan after my four hours of driving to the park, so while he headed down the road towards what appeared to be a hill full of trees, I opened the map and began to learn more about this national park (!) we had stumbled into.

Turns out, Crater Lake is kind of a big deal. For starters, it's a lake inside the blown off top of a volcano that erupted 7,700 years ago. Also? It just so happens to be the deepest lake in America. The lake is completely replenished by melting ice and snow, of which it gets over 50 feet of each year. Scientists believe that it may be the most pristine lake in the world.

Oh, and one last thing: it's absolutely gorgeous.

How had I never heard of or seen pictures of this place before?

One possible reason is that if I had, I'd just assumed they were fake photos. I mean, how surreal does this place look? Ryan and I couldn't resist some Senior Yearbook-style photo opps with our it-looks-like-a-green-screen-but-I-swear-it's-real background.

After our first photo stop, we drove around the Rim Road a bit more, stopping at various pullouts to snap more shots. Then we headed to the Rim Village gift shop for bathrooms, souvenirs and food before trying to navigate around the dozens of tour busses in order to get out.

We didn't drive the whole Rim Road around the lake, but driving it without stopping takes about an hour. The guide recommends to plan on 2-3 hours if you're stopping for pictures or to hike a bit. One of the things I later learned about the lake is that it is possible to legally swim in it. Even better? You can cliff jump into it... if you can handle the 55° water temps.

The trail to cliff jump is at Cleetwood Cove, a 2.2 mile hike that takes about 1.5 hours to complete. I would have loved to do it during our visit and cross off one more 30 Before 30 item, but unfortunately that trail had closed a couple of weeks earlier on August 15th for a year of repairs.

Cliff diving Cleetwood Cove is definitely on my list once it reopens in 2017!

Inside the hectic Rim Village, I was totally overwhelmed by how packed it was and then I remembered: it was Labor Day weekend. Now everything was starting to make sense.

For instance, we had gotten to Crater Lake pretty early, around 10am, so the line to get in was only about an hour long. But when we left? We passed miles and miles of traffic, a line that was easily over 3-4 hours long to get into the park.

Crazy ass Labor Day weekend crowds!

I slept while Ryan drove us back into California and woke up about 2 hours later, just as we were pulling into Weed, California. We stopped at a chain pizza place, Pizza Factory, just off the freeway and ate some dinner with a side of video games. Then it was back on the 5 towards our final destination: home.

Mt. Shasta in the distance

Now you may be thinking, "Wait, so you drove the entire state of California from Crater Lake in one day?" and my answer would be, "Well, Ryan did mostly." But yeah. That happened.

I was awake enough to think we could do it and homesick enough to want to. Plus, we didn't have any lodging plans for that night anyway. I had originally planned another "quick detour" to  Lake Tahoe as our final, final stop, but once we hit the 5, all I wanted was home, my dogs, and my bed.

We drove all night, stopping at a rest stop off the freeway for 3-4 hours to get some sleep. And then, around 6am on Labor Day, we pulled onto our street and parked. We were home.

Overall, our entire adventure covered 3,063.5 miles of the West Coast, which was not a bad dent to break in my brand new Rav 4!

Coming home to our dogs with all our new souvenirs and stories, I knew we had just finished what may have been my favorite trip yet. And it gave me a whole new list of things I would like to try if I ever do it again: cliff jumping into Crater Lake, eating in Portland, the Underworld Tour in Seattle... and those were just the things I'd added in the last 3 days of the trip.

While Ryan went to sleep, I unpacked and tidied up a bit, then sat with our pictures and thought about all the miles we'd travelled. One sentiment persisted: the West Coast really is the best coast.