From the Blog

Hi, Internets. Can I Have Your Opinion, Please?

Have you been to Crater Lake? Did you like it? We will be driving back from Elko, Nevada in the first part of September and we are trying to determine our route.


We get advice on Crater Lake ranging from “It’s beautiful! Unmissable! Amazing!” to “Eh, you can see it in an hour.” Having never been there, I’m reading that there is a big campground run by the concessioner in the park. But there is also a first-come-first-serve tent campground that is supposed to be a jewel. 16 sites. We would be arriving midday, after the kids are back in school. So we are hoping to show up and camp there with no reservations. Not nerve wracking at all.

We have other options, like going to Steens Mountain area, but here is the catch: we will be camping. And it will be September. I’d rather not die of exposure in the desert. The last night, we may stay in Bend.

So, we have three nights to get from Elko back to Portland. Which way should we go?


  1. I think you should do both the Steens Mountains and Crater Lake. Don’t bother with Bend (except to maybe zip through on your way to Crater Lake).

    I recommend staying at the French Glen Hotel – It is a little like camping.

    I would spend all 3 nights down south and then drive from crater Lake to home on the last day. It will take all day, but it is worth it to spend more time in the fun areas.

    I have only stayed at the big campground at Crater Lake, but liked it. There are not much growing between the sites, but it is roomy. I didn’t feel too crowded considering it was completely full. Crater lake is beautiful and there are a few other cool things to see in the area. If you see those other things, circle the lake, with a stop to hike to the bottom of the lake, that is a pretty long day – better done in a day and a half.

    I would leave Elko early and hang out in the Steens Mountains till midday the next day, drive to Crater Lake, do a few things for the rest of the 2nd day. Spend nights 2 and 3 at Crater Lake and leave the morning of the 4th day for home. But then again, I could spend several days in the Steens Mountains. However, there is a lot of enjoyment just driving through.

    Have fun!!!!!

  2. I recommend doing the hike from the lodge up to Garfield Peak. Absolutely beautiful.

    Then do some beering in Bend.

  3. I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased about Crater Lake.

    When I was young, my dad was a professional photographer (amongst many other self-employed careers), and every year we’d trek down from Gladstone to Crater Lake with me and my two slightly younger brothers. We have pictures taken every year for a half dozen years of the three of us sitting at the same bench with the lake in the background.

    If you’re going when the rim road is open, for goshsakes, take the entire drive. That’ll take you an hour or two, even more if you divert for the Pinnacles out the southeast access road, which I highly recommend. Stop frequently, get out, take a few pictures, but mostly take in the fresh fresh air at 6500 feet. And then stop at the lodge… as I recall, it’s one of those big WPA projects like Timberline Lodge, with lots to see and take photographs of.

    And until you’ve seen the lake in person, you just can’t get how *clear* and how *blue* it is. Pictures do not do it justice. I can promise your jaw will drop when you see it.

    And if you have a few more hours, the Oregon Caves are nearby… also an incredible experience.

    So, definitely a lot more than an hour. Maybe even more than a day.

  4. Excellent guys! Thanks! Keep the suggestions coming! Maybe we’ll take two weeks off!

  5. Do Steens!!! Steens is not desert, it’s ABOVE the desert. BIG difference. Not sure what the weather’s like in fall, but there’s a gorgeous non-official campground just before the gate near the top. (There’s also what looks to be a nice official campground just after the gate.)

    Crater lake: color me “meh.” It sounds like you’ve heard this perspective — I mean, it really is amazing, but I personally lack the mental composure to just stare at amazing for more than about an hour, especially if there happen to be screaming kids around.

    That said, I have heard the camping and hiking there is nice, and don’t have direct experience with that.

    If it’s possible to take the boat ride out to Wizard Island, I bet that would be really cool. But I”ve heard that’s booked out like 6 months in advance.

    Have fun!

  6. Okay, I just read Randal’s answer, and am suddenly full of shame for my “meh.” Don’t listen to anything I said about Oregon’s only national park. I’m full of it!!

  7. divebarwife says

    We camped nearby at Diamond Lake – beautiful campsite (I do think it was first come first serve though) – but standing out on the dock of the lake in the middle of the night you can actually see the milky way it’s so clear and isolated.

    Crater Lake itself – WORTH IT! We were there last year about this time and did the boat out to Wizards Island – I don’t think it’s booked in advance much at all – we had our choice of times to choose from. there’s a trail down into the crater then you boat across – that alone is worth it.

    But I’d definitely do the drive around the whole lake as well… it’s a weekend’s worth for sure!

  8. I’m in the “meh” category about Crater Lake. It’s worth seeing once every five-six years, but is way too busy most of the time to be enjoyable. Although the rim drive is worth the trip.

    Hiking in the area is great though. I’m looking to go back and attempt a few of the trails next summer.

    Personally though, don’t over look Bend if you’re going that way. The High Desert Museum, the Lava Forest, the Ice Caves and Newberry Caldera are all worth a visit.

  9. I say spend 2 extra days in Elko, then drive to Crater Lake, Bend and back to Portland in one day. Easy!

  10. I have driven this rout a few dozen times (love to drive the back country)on my way to a lake in southern Nevada. My last visit to Crater Lake was on Cycle Oregon, camped at Diamond Lake. Crater Lake hurts you, because you know something cant be that perfectly beautiful. we will talk about the Steens later.

    Take hwy138 N Umpgua river from Cottage grove (I5) to Diamond Lake and then onward to the North Entrance of Crater Lake, do the rim drive stopping to hike up the South peak.

    Now drive to Newbery National Monument… CAMP for the night, rent a canoe and have a romantic evening on Paulina Lake.

    Drive South on 97 to La Pine head west on Hwy 31 to Fort Rock, Hike… then look at he Homesteaders
    Museum. Now drive on..

    Head South to Summer Lake (a decent restaurant for lunch) and the town of Paisley.FILL UP WITH GAS HERE OR DRIVE INTO LAKEVIEW Merge on to 395 for 3–50 miles look for and turn East onto HWY 140 towards Adel. About 50 miles you will come to a great escarpment: Guano Ridge, Awesome!! then on up over into Northern Nevada. drive about 15 miles inside Nevada and turn left on a small dirt road and travel about 4 miles to Big Springs Reservoir. CAMP

    This pace is a little like the high plains of Africa, you will feel VERY isolated. no man made objects are insight. We camped down along the waters edge on some soft sedum like plants that are kept mowed by the wild horses. Lots of wild horses, this appears to be the home of a white stallion and his ladies. He is always herding them around. You may see coyotes,stalking geese at night, deer and antelope at the lakes edge lots and lots of water fowl.
    Now drive to Denio and then down to Winamucca and 80.

    The return trip by way of the Steens next…..

  11. miss Heather
    a few photos

  12. I can’t give advice on Crater Lake (still on my list of places to go!) but don’t pass up Bend… Like Rick mentioned, there’s lots to check out around it, plus Deschutes and Bend Breweries are there – yum! I recommend staying at the St. Francis (McMenamin’s) hotel!

  13. Others have covered the reasons and possibilities well enough, so I will simply chip in with the suggestion that you take at least one day for Crater Lake. Not only is it an amazing thing to see, but it also requires a pretty substantial investment of time just to get to it. After all that driving, it would be a shame just to spend an hour or two.

    Don’t stay in K-Falls — only death and despair await you there.

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