If you’re heading to the Pacific Northwest and you have a long weekend or even a week to spare, a road trip from Portland to Crater Lake National Park, Oregon should be on your to-do list. Many travelers/road trippers tend to fly into Seattle, WA or Portland, OR and rent a car from there. From there, the drive from Portland to Crater Lake National Park (or vice versa) can easily be tackled in 4-5 hours. But you wouldn’t want to make that drive without stopping to see some of the awesome spots, hikes, and sights in between, right? The drive from Portland to Crater Lake National Park is drop-dead gorgeous.
When we had the chance to stay in Oregon for a month, we found this multi-day road trip to be one of our favorites! To help you make the most of your trip, we’re sharing a complete list of our favorite stops to explore along the way from Portland to Crater Lake National Park.
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ROUTES FROM PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
There are a few routes you could take to get to Crater Lake National Park from Portland (or vice versa), but this list focuses on the stops along two main routes— taking US-26 E / US-97 S vs. taking I-84 E / US-26 E / US-97 S through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, then down to US-26.
What’s the difference? Well first off, let’s review what you’ll see along both routes.
- 84 E to 26 E to 97 S
- You’ll be taking I-84 E through the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River, where you’ll then take 35 down to Mount Hood via US-26 E and finally along US-97 S to Bend and onto Crater Lake National Park. This route is longer and more time consuming than the more direct path below.
- Total duration and mileage: 5h 15 minutes, 298 miles.
- 26 E to 97 S
- This route cuts out the Columbia River Gorge portion. It’s more of a straight-shot from Portland to Crater Lake National Park, which will save you time and miles on your drive. You won’t be passing the Columbia River Gorge or Hood River, but you’ll pass Mount Hood and everything thereafter.
- Total duration and mileage: 4h 30 minutes, 255 miles.
If you opt for the longer, more scenic route of I-84, you’ll be adding on another 40 miles, but the additional 40 miles is well worth it! The total travel time really depends on how long you stop at each of the pitstops on your itinerary.
I’d recommend going the longer route if you haven’t had the chance to explore the Columbia River Gorge or the town of Hood River yet. If you’ve been blessed to have explored the Columbia River Gorge before, then taking the more straightforward route of US-26 is the more ideal option. With this road trip, I’d highly recommend doing it over multiple days so you can fully enjoy your time and linger longer at some of the really cool spots below.
ROAD TRIP PREPARATION: RENTAL CARS
If you don’t have a car or don’t have a reliable car you trust to get you out of Portland and back in one piece, I suggest you pick up a rental car for your road trip.
We like to rent from Hertz. Why? Well with their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive. Check out rental car pricing and availability here.
If you are more the type to compare prices between rental car companies, use Priceline’s rental car search. Not only does the tool allow you to compare rental car prices between car rental companies, but most of the time you can book with no prepayment and no cancellation fees!
BEST ROAD TRIP STOPS FROM PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
Portland is a bustling city in Oregon and is one of the greenest cities in the world. Portland prides itself on embracing weirdness, which makes this city so fun to explore. There are tons of quirky neighborhoods to explore, each with their own unique atmosphere and personality. The food truck scene is popping, as are the coffee and craft beer scenes. If you’re starting (or ending) your road trip in Portland, make sure you have at least three extra days to eat, drink, and explore the city of Portland!
McMenamins Edgefield is so much more than a historic hotel. This property is 74-acres large and located only 20 minutes away from downtown Portland. Formerly a poor farm during the Great Depression, McMenamins is a wonder to see and explore. It’s so expansive there is even a visitor’s guide and map of the property available to visitors. Seriously, the estate is huge! You could easily spend a few hours wandering about the extensive gardens (glass of wine or a pint of beer in hand), play golf, visit the glass/pottery shop, distillery, and winery, take a seat and enjoy one of the many bars, eat lunch in the outdoor courtyards, watch a recent-run movie in the theater, listen to live music, and explore the gift shop. If you’re a hotel guest here, you can also take advantage of the beautiful soaking pool next to the tea bar.
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
The Columbia River Gorge is so beautiful and packed with jaw-dropping waterfalls, overlooks, and hikes that they named it a National Scenic Area. The Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway is actually considered one of the most scenic drives in the country. Along this 70-mile highway, you will have the chance to see several historic buildings, monuments, fish hatcheries, the Oneonta Gorge, and numerous waterfalls including Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahclella Falls, and Fairy Falls. Given recent fires over the years, it’s best to check their website to check for trail closures.
It’s likely you’ve visited or at least heard of this popular waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge before. If you haven’t, it’s a must-see as you travel along the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway. It’s a quick stop off the highway and you can walk right up to marvel at the falls without even breaking a sweat. Talk about bang for your buck! You can grab lunch, ice cream, coffee, and other refreshments here as well.
Continue along the scenic byway running alongside the Columbia River to reach your next stop, the charming town of Hood River. Hood River, also known as the windsurfing capital of the world, hosts a good amount of wineries, breweries, and restaurants. This is the perfect place to stop for a meal or a cup of coffee. If you’re not feeling hungry, you should still get out of the car to stretch your legs, walk through the town, and peruse the lifestyle/home decor stores and gift shops.
I love this little off the road travel attraction! There’s nothing better than visiting a lavender farm during the summer season and going to annual lavender festivals. At Lavender Valley, you can wander the lovely lavender fields, cut and pick your own lavender, and explore the little gift shop after you’ve enjoyed your stroll through the grounds. The view of Mt Hood is as intoxicating as their fragrant fields! No lie, the view by far is the best thing here and certainly does not disappoint. If you’re looking for an alternative, there are other lavender farms in the area including Hood River Lavender Farm.
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the entire Northwest is just a quick hike away from your route to Crater Lake. The iconic 7-mile roundtrip hike on Ramona Falls Loop Trail provides stellar views of Mt. Hood and the grand Ramona Falls. The trail itself is relatively easy, but the hike requires either crossing the Sandy River on fallen logs, rock hopping, or trudging through the river. If river crossings aren’t your thing, maybe skip this stop. It’s quite an adventure and totally worth it when you get to feast your eyes on Ramona Falls flowing down 120 feet of sheer basalt rock.
Government Camp sounds much more formal than what it is–a home base for people visiting Mount Hood and exploring the national forest that surrounds the area. “Govey,” as the locals call it, is a quaint alpine village that has plenty of eateries, watering holes, and an abundance of small-town charm. It’s an excellent place to stretch your legs and use the restroom before continuing on your road trip from Portland to Crater Lake National Park!
As you approach the south side of Mount Hood, take note of the signs for the Timberline Lodge (you’ll be making a left to get there). Timberline Lodge is a magnificent historical mountain lodge, built during the Depression Era. This is yet another great place to grab a bite to eat with a side of awe-inspiring views. This National Historic Landmark is perhaps most known as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s less than 15 minutes from Government Camp and you can expect to spend about 30 minutes to an hour here.
Just 10 minutes south of Government Camp, you’ll find the picturesque Trillium Lake sitting beautifully among the great outdoors. This lake is all about the view–featuring Mount Hood towering overhead nearby. This creates an amazing mirrored view of its snow-capped peaks, especially on a clear day. If you have some to spare, consider doing the 1.9-mile loop hike around the lake, kayaking/paddling, fishing, or packing a picnic to enjoy here. Since motorboats are not allowed here, you’ll get an even more peaceful, enjoyable experience.
INDIAN HEAD CASINO / WARM SPRINGS INDIAN MUSEUM
A bit further south on the 26 will bring you to the Indian Head Casino as well as the Warm Springs Indian Museum. Their proximity to each other will allow you to test your luck with slot machines or table games, and experience the rich history and culture of this region after. Visitors of The Museum at Warm Springs will experience firsthand the sounds of ancient songs and languages, the mastery of traditional craftsmen, and the sights of various cultures that make up the Confederated Tribes of The Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. The collections of the museum are rotated throughout the year.
PETER SKENE OGDEN STATE SCENIC VIEWPOINT
Located just 9 miles north of Redmond, Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint is a cool roadside attraction. This brief stop boasts a dramatic view of the canyon against the Crooked River. The two sides are connected by historic bridges that create a dramatic glimpse of central Oregon’s geological and historical features. The land was once owned by the Oregon Trunk Railway and was later acquired by the State between 1925 and 1930. Eventually, the park was named after explorer Peter Skene Ogden, who entered the Crooked River Valley in 1825. This viewpoint is perfect for photography lovers and has restrooms and picnic areas.
SMITH ROCK STATE PARK
If you enjoy scenic views of towering canyons or rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is the place for you. Rock climbers from all over the country flock to Smith Rock State Park to experience the thousands of climbing routes in the park. Here you’ll find dynamic routes that are ideal for various types of climbing and bouldering.
If climbing isn’t your thing, Smith Rock SP is still worth visiting. It’s great for trail running, hiking, wildlife spotting, and mountain biking as well. If you’re looking for a place to camp, the park also has a walk-in area for tent camping on a first-come, first-served basis.
Pro Tip: Smith Rock State Park is a popular attraction, and with that comes potential challenges with parking, especially during the peak season and on weekends. If you want to beat the crowds, visit on a weekday or try to get there before 8am on weekends. The parking/day-use fee costs $5.
CRESCENT MOON ALPACA RANCH
I added this to the list in hopes that anyone reading this is also in love with alpacas as much as I am. At the alpaca ranch, you’ll get the chance to feed the adorable alpaca as well as enjoy the alpaca boutique. It’s only 8 minutes away from Smith Rock, how can you say no?
It’s a fun place to stop, especially if you love animals or are traveling with children. You can expect to spend 45 minutes to 1 hour here.
We missed this on our last road trip, but we’re definitely making it a priority the next time we road trip in Oregon.
Redmond is a hub in the high desert along the US-26 E with a rejuvenated downtown, a growing beer scene, and lots of recreational activities to enjoy. Head to Downtown Redmond for a light stroll among fine dining restaurants, boutiques, bookstores, and cafes. You’ll also find a few breweries in Redmond including Kobold, Initiative, Cascade Lakes, and Wild Ride.
For family-friendly fun, check out Splash Park or the ice rink in the heart of the city. Near the airport is the Deschutes Fair & Expo Center, which hosts a wide range of events, concerts, trade shows, automobile shows, and more. Redmond is also where the Deschutes County Fair & Rodeo is held in August.
If you didn’t know, Bend, Oregon is an absolute outdoor haven all year round. Summers are ideal for hiking, biking, rock climbing, and water sports, while winters are perfect for skiing or snowboarding on Mt. Bachelor. It’s the ultimate land of outdoor adventure, and you can’t forget about the craft beer tasting! Seriously, the sheer amount of fun you can have here is unreal. If you’re continuing south to Crater Lake National Park, make sure you dedicate a good few days to explore Bend. It’s an incredible place to be at any time of the year.
Start your day off with breakfast at McKay Cottage Restaurant or Jackson’s Corner, then grab a handcrafted cup of coffee at Thump Coffee. Take a stroll in Downtown Bend, ride a mountain bike along Phil’s Trail, or spend some time floating down the Deschutes River. In the afternoon, check out one of the 20+breweries located in Bend. The majority of these breweries have food as well and would make for a great lunch or dinner option.
There’s a lot to do within the city limits and even more to do outside of them! Seriously, we love Bend so much. Check out our Bend travel guide, featuring a full list of 25+ exciting things to do in Bend.
After leaving Bend for Crater Lake National Park, stop at Sunriver for some quick shopping and strolling. Sunriver is a neighboring town located south of Bend on the Deschutes River. It serves as Central Oregon’s premiere retreat, resort, and residential community.
Aside from luxury condos and river-view lodges with unforgettable spas, you can also find world-class golfing, 35+ miles of paved biking trails, horseback riding, and family fun at a waterpark. There’s an awesome shopping/dining area called The Village at Sunriver where you can shop and eat tax-free! In the wintertime, they have ice skating here as well. If you’re looking to try more craft beer, don’t miss Sunriver Brewing.
Considering spending a night in Sunriver? Sunriver Resort is one of the best options in town.
Exploring the Newberry Crater is a great way to learn about the geological history that helped make Central Oregon the beautiful place it is. Once you’re in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument area, visiting Lava Lands Visitors Center is a perfect way to get oriented before you head to Newberry Crater. Stop at Paulina Falls, an 80-foot double waterfall located only a short walk from your car. From there, check out Paulina Lake, a lake area complete with a lodge, restaurant, and watercraft rentals.
LAVA RIVER CAVE
After you’re done exploring Newberry Crater, check out Lava River Cave! The lava tube is over 5,200 feet long, and since it hovers around 42 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, you’ll definitely need a puffy jacket to keep you warm.
Once you descend down 100 steps into the darkness, then hike a mile each way to explore this massive lava tube.
Ice stalactites hang from the ceilings even during the summer season, giving it that out-of-this-world feel. If you are looking for fun things to do with kids, this is a great place to explore. Since it’s dark and the ground is uneven, be sure to have sturdy shoes and two light sources with you (headlamp, flashlight, or lantern– your phone won’t cut it). If you don’t have an adequate light source with you, the Forest Service will rent one to you.
CASCADE LAKES SCENIC BYWAY
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a historic highway that starts on Century Drive in Bend and winds its way through 66 miles of towering mountain peaks and lakefront vistas. The route offers stunning mountain views including Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, and South Sister.
Stop along the way at one of 14 alpine lakes in the area to enjoy various recreational activities. You can go fishing at Hosmer Lake, rent a standup paddleboard or boat to explore Elk Lake or Cultus Lake or stop for a hike with epic views of Devil’s Lake. The byway is open late spring through fall, but some sections are closed during the winter months due to snow.
CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
The drive to Crater Lake is around 1.5 hours from Bend. Head towards the visitor’s center, which also serves as the start of a few good hikes. We recommend checking out the Discovery Point Trail, which is an easy 4.0-mile walk with stunning lake views the entire time. This makes for a great intro hike before exploring the rest of the park. If you love chasing sunrises, try getting to Crater Lake National Park before sunrise. This sounds like a really early start, but having the opportunity to watch the sun ascend above the horizon and hit Crater Lake is hands-down completely worth it. Catching the sunrise at the top of Watchman Peak is even more epic!
After a picnic lunch at one of the many amazing viewpoints, head down the Cleetwood Cove Trail (1.8 miles roundtrip) to access the lake for a cold, refreshing swim and some unforgettable cliff jumping! The trail is downhill the whole way down, which means you’ll get a good workout coming back up. For more varied scenery that doesn’t involve starting into the lake, check out the Pinnacles Overlook Trail and Plaikni Falls.
PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE ROAD TRIP: WHERE TO STAY
If you’re planning on breaking this trip out into multiple days, chances are you’re going to have to stay in multiple towns as you make your way over to Crater Lake National Park.
PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE ROAD TRIP: PACKING LIST
Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without for your Portland to Crater Lake road trip:
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
- Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
- Umbrella | An umbrella, particularly a wind-proof umbrella, is crucial when traveling to destinations with varying/unpredictable weather. If you have an umbrella with you, then it means the rain can’t stop you from enjoying your trip and exploring the outdoors.
- Travel Pillow | If you have room in the car for a regular pillow, I find that they are the most comfortable for long car trips. If you need a more portable option, this memory foam travel pillow works well not only for car travel but also for camping!
- Travel Blanket | For all your napping needs–especially if the driver likes AC and you’re trying to snuggle up for a nap. This one is packable so it won’t take up very much in your car.
- Slip-on Sandals | Slip-on/slip-off sandals are a must for that extra comfort while sitting in the car. This allows you to make lots of stops without having to go through the process of putting your sneakers/boots back on.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road-trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Garbage Bags | Because you don’t want the inside of your car to resemble a dumpster can. Plastic bags (or garbage bags) can also be used to hold wet clothes if you get caught in the rain, go for a swim, etc.
- GoPro | Capture all those awesome action/adventure moments with a top of the line action camera. Your regular camera or iPhone won’t be an option if you’re engaging in action sports like mountain biking, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting. For water sports, you could always get a waterproof case, but GoPro has time and time again proven to be the best for underwater photography.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or at the Cascade Lakes, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers in Central Oregon, in Bend, and at Crater Lake. The high desert climate brings chilly evenings year-round, even on warm summer days. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Laundry Bag | Summer and outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from a river or lake to a car. This one here is a great option.
- Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
- Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
- Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot and wet climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage if you’re traveling in the summer and plan to be on the water. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness or through lava caves in darkness is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great breweries and eateries… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.
- Inflatable Float Tube | If you plan on floating down the Deschutes River, definitely invest in one of these, they’re comfortable and even come with cup holders!
And that’s our list of best road trip stops from Portland to Crater Lake National Park! I hope this post helps you plan your perfect Oregon road trip. Drive safe and have a blast!