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 any and every opportunity to explore the state whenever we weren’t stuck in front of our computers working our 9 to 5’s.
This multi-day road trip from Portland to Crater Lake NP happened 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.
Not planning on taking a long road trip? I think you’ll still find this post useful! This comprehensive guide is also useful if you’re looking for ideas of things to do in and around the Portland, Bend, or Crater Lake area.
Happy road trip planning!
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Table of Contents
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO DO THIS ROAD TRIP?
The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park is during the summer months, from June to September, when the roads and trails are open and the weather is mild.
During this time, the park’s facilities and services are fully open, including the epic Crater Lake Rim Drive, hiking trails, campgrounds, and visitor centers. The weather is also mild, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to mid-70s Fahrenheit (around 18-24 degrees Celsius) during the day.
However, visitors should be prepared for crowds during this time. Not only is the great weather drawing nature lovers into the area, but the kids are also off of school for summer break! Expect crowds.
If you prefer a quieter visit with fewer crowds, you may want to consider visiting Crater Lake National Park during the shoulder season, which is in May or October. During these months, the park is less crowded and the fall foliage can be particularly beautiful.
Having said that, do note that some facilities and services may be closed or have limited hours during the shoulder season. Be sure to check NPS’ page on Crater Lake’s current conditions in the park before your visit!
HOW LONG IS THE DRIVE FROM PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE?
The drive from Portland to Crater Lake National Park takes approximately 4-5 hours without stops, depending on traffic and weather conditions.
The distance from Portland to Crater Lake National Park is approximately 250 miles (400 km).
It’s quite a scenic drive through the Cascade Mountains and along the Rogue River, with plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and exploring along the way (which I highly recommend you make time to do!).
You should use this road trip guide to plan your route and road trip stops in advance! Also, be prepared for mountain driving, as the route includes several steep grades and winding roads.
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 to97 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!
ARE YOU ROAD TRIP READY? YOUR QUICK CHECKLIST:
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.
Jumper Cables / Car Jump Starter | A must-have for any road trip! If you’re looking to invest in something exponentially more powerful/convenient than simple jumper cables, get the NOCO Boost HD Car Battery Jump Starter Box. This tool was sent from heaven and serves as a car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power–all in one!
iOttie car mount | This is my partner in crime on any road trip. It’s got an amazing grip and popping your phone in and out of the mount could not be easier. If you’re renting a rental car and you’re not sure if it has a navigation screen, bring a phone mount with you. The iOttie attaches by suction, so it’s easy to transport from car to car.
Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This convenient little 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.
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.
BEST ROAD TRIP STOPS FROM PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
Let’s start with a map of all the stops we’ll cover in this post.
Now, let’s get into the specific stops you’ll encounter on this road trip.
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 its 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 that you’ve already 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.
Do note, due to its recent popularity, timed reservations are likely going to be required during the summer season (June to September). You can find the latest info here.
Be sure to use the restrooms here before moving on to the next stop!
Tip: The only parking area for the site is the Interstate 84 parking lot at Exit 31. Commit this exit to memory, in case you start driving and lose cell phone service as I did. Do not continue driving to Multnomah Falls on the historic highway. There is no parking available and you’ll have to flip a U or drive extra miles to get back on the freeway to turn around.
👉 Pro Tip: Some attractions within the Columbia River Gorge, such as Multnomah Falls, may have parking fees. For places that DO charge for parking, fees can range from $5 to $10 (unless you have a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Annual Pass/America The Beautiful National Park Pass, in which case parking is free for you!). For a full list of spots that charge for parking, check out the USDA site here.
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.
2023 Update: Lavender Valley is permanently closed. What a bummer because the views from the farm were so epic! You can still visit other lavender farms in the area though, such as the one listed above.
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 serious than it is–a super laidback 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.
This is 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.
Fun Fact: 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. Unless of course, you’re looking for a fun/historical spot to stay the night!
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.
This stop is a two-for-one! 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.
If you’re a fan of learning about local history, you’ll get lots of it at the Museum at Warm Springs. You’ll 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.
💡 Can you use the NW Forest Pass or America The Beautiful National Park Pass here? It sucks, but NO you can’t. Smith Rock is part of the Oregon State Park system, so they only accept the day-use fees and annual permits you can purchase at the park, online, at Oliver Lemon’s in Terrebonne, and at the park’s Welcome Center.
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?
Crescent Moon Alpaca Ranch is a fun place to stop, especially if you love animals (or are obsessed with alpacas like me) or happen to be road-tripping 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 exploring 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 30+ 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. Once at Crater Lake National Park, 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!
👉 Pro Tip: You can use Time and Date to get the latest sunrise times.
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 simply staring into the lake, check out the Pinnacles Overlook Trail and Plaikni Falls.
Got more time at Crater Lake National Park? Here are some more must-do activities at the park:
- Drive the Crater Lake Rim Drive: The 33-mile Rim Drive offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding landscape, with many pullouts and overlooks for photo opportunities.
- Hike one of the park’s trails: Crater Lake National Park has over 90 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous. Popular trails include the Garfield Peak Trail and the Cleetwood Cove Trail.
- Take a boat tour: Boat tours of Crater Lake offer a unique perspective of the lake and its geological features, including Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship.
- Visit the Crater Lake Lodge: The historic Crater Lake Lodge offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding landscape, as well as dining and lodging options.
- Attend a ranger-led program: The park offers a variety of ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, campfire talks, and stargazing events.
- Visit the Steel Visitor Center: The Steel Visitor Center offers exhibits and information about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
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.
Our top recommendations along this route include:
Once you’re at Crater Lake National Park, you have some options.
There are two lodging options within the park, Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village. Cabin, room and lodge amenities, current prices, and availability are found on the Crater Lake Hospitality website. Reservations can be made up to 365 days in advance online.
Outside of the park, we recommend Crater Lake Resort in Fort Klamath — it’s about a 35-minute drive from the national park.
PORTLAND TO CRATER LAKE: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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!