Last updated: November 30, 2023
Crater Lake National Park is an unforgettable, unique and stunning natural wonder. The park is famous for its crystal-clear blue lake formed by the collapse of a volcanic peak over 7,000 years ago. The drive from Seattle to Crater Lake however, is an amazing adventure by itself. Here are my favorites.
Amazing Stops from Seattle to Crater Lake
The drive is just over 840 miles roundtrip if you take the most direct route. There are many, many possible detours along the way however, at some absolutely spectacular attractions. You could easily spend a fantastic week or two on this trip, depending on your interests and fitness level.
When I took this trip I explored the east of the free more as I made my way south. I stopped along the way to explore just some of the treasures to be found in the Pacific Northwest. I stayed close to I-5 on the return trip, with just a few more delightful detours here and there.
Best Southbound Stops
Here are several possible stops for exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest on your way to Crater Lake.
1. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is about two hours south of Seattle. It adds nearly four hours extra driving time on your route. It’s a beautiful and iconic natural landmark and is one of the most popular national parks in the country.
The entire park offers many unbelievable opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, fishing, photography, and wildlife watching. Paradise Visitor Center is the most popular one, and also the most crowded.
Things to do at Mount Rainier National Park:
- There are many unbelievable views on the way to the Paradise Visitor Center, to pull over, stretch and enjoy the view.
- If you want to hike but are not planning to spend all day at the park, consider the jaw-dropping Naches Peak Loop (one of my all-time favorites), the easier Alta Vista Trail or the paved path to Myrtle Falls.
- If you do want to spend some time at the park and are a more experienced hiker, you can’t go wrong with most of the hikes there. The Skyline Trail Loop, Comet and Christine Falls Trail or Bench and Snow Lakes Trail are simply incredible.
- Campsites are extremely popular and should be booked in advance. Some good campgrounds in the park include Ohahanpecosh, White River and Crystal Mountain Resort.
- The best accommodations, other than camping, are also in the park itself and are Paradise Inn and National Park Inn. These historic lodges are in the park itself and have a range of amenities. They’re extremely popular, so book your reservation well in advance.
2. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is east of Portland, and serves as a border between Washington and Oregon. The gorge is a geologic wonder, with steep cliffs, towering waterfalls, and winding rivers.
It’s a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with a variety of recreational activities available, such as hiking, camping, fishing, and paddle boarding. A detour to experience the gorge will take approximately two extra hours of driving time.
Things to do in Columbia River Gorge:
- Cape Horn Overlook has a fantastic view, is easily accessible, and is on the Washington side of the river.
- Spirit Falls, Dog Mountain and the semi-secret Coyote Wall are always a treasure on the Washington side, though more challenging physically. The latter two are also some of the best wildflower hikes in WA in the early part of spring.
- One of the absolute best waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge is the ever-popular and gorgeous Multnomah Falls on the Oregon side of the river. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s still worth it!
- There are many, many wonderful options for camping at Columbia River Gorge. Memaloose State Park and Viento State Park both have some beautiful campsites and well-maintained facilities, and are conveniently located as well.
- Skamamia Lodge or the Best Western Inn are great places to stay if you don’t wish to camp . Advanced reservations are necessary. Both are a fantastic place to rest for the night.
3. Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood National Forest is roughly sixty miles south of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s a beautiful and diverse natural area, encompassing more than 1 million acres of pristine wilderness.
Mount Hood, the tallest of Oregon mountains standing at 11,250 feet, is the dominant feature of the forest and provides a stunning backdrop for numerous outdoor activities.
Mt Hood National Forest offers are range of outdoor adventure such as hiking, skiing, and camping. The forest also contains numerous lakes, streams, and waterfalls, which are popular destinations for fishing, swimming, paddling and other water activities.
Things to do at Mount Hood National Forest:
- The Mount Hood Scenic Loop is a 100-mile drive through forests and fruit valleys with epic views of the mountain itself. It starts and ends just off the Columbia River at Hood River or Troutdale, depending on which direction you choose to take.
- Trillium Lake, Laurence Lake and Mirror Lake are brilliantly beautiful and relatively short hikes you really shouldn’t miss if you can help it.
- Tamanawas Falls, Tunnel Falls via Eagle Creek and Little Zigzag Falls trails are the highest rated waterfall hikes, easy to moderate rating, in the forest.
- The forest has close to 100 different campgrounds, ranging in price, amenities, accessibility and popularity. Kinnikinnick Campground, Still Creek Campground and Nottingham Campground are popular and worthwhile places to camp overnight.
- The Timberline Lodge and the Lodge at Government Camp are the best accommodations if you prefer not to camp.
4. Smith Rock State Park
This state park is also along your detoured path, is a stunning natural area known for its rugged cliffs, deep river canyons, and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The park is home to several impressive rock formations and cliffs with stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Things to do at Smith Rock State Park:
- There are over 12 miles of hiking trails that wind through the park. One of the highlights of Smith Rock State Park is the Monkey Face formation, a 350-foot-tall rock pillar that is a popular destination for rock climbers.
- The Crooked River Trail is easily my favorite easy hike in this park, though Wolf Tree Trail is also beautiful.
- Misery Ridge and River Trail is by far the most popular and possibly the most challenging hike at the park, with some outstanding views along the way.
- The campsites at Smith Rock State Park are walk-in only. They have restrooms and showers and do not allow fires. There are other campgrounds close by with the standard amenities and allow for allow RV camping, such as Skull Hollow and Redmond Oregon KOA.
- Alternatively, you can stay at SCP Redmond Hotel or Crooked River Ranch Cabins for an indoor treat.
5. Bend, Oregon
Bend, Oregon is a small city in central Oregon with a population of around 100,000 people . It’s known for its charming vibes and beautiful natural surroundings, including the Deschutes River, the Cascade Mountains, and numerous parks and trails.
The city also has a vibrant downtown area with shops, restaurants, and breweries, and is known for its friendly and laid-back atmosphere. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Crater Lake, making it a convenient place to stay for exploring the area.
Things to do in Bend, OR:
- The best hikes near Bend include Tumalo Falls, Trails, Benham Falls Trails and Pilot Butte Trail, all easy to moderate hikes.
- There are also many watersports and rentals along the Deschutes River.
- Tumalo State Park, Crane Prairie Reservoir and Bend-Sunriver RV Campground are all very popular places for camping.
- The Sunriver Resort and the Riverhouse on the Deschutes are both awesome places to stay indoors.
Crater Lake National Park
How long to spend at Crater Lake?
The amount of time you might spend at Crater Lake National Park depends of course on how much time you have available and what you would like to see and do. There are many wonderful options to choose from.
If you only have a few hours, you can take the mouth-dropping scenic drive around the rim of Crater Lake, which is approximately 33 miles (53 kilometers) and can take anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on stops and traffic.
If you enjoy hiking, there are many trails to explore around Crater Lake, ranging from short hikes to all-day excursions. The hikes range in difficulty, and it’s recommended to plan for at least 2-3 hours per hike, or longer for more challenging hikes.
Things to Do at Crater Lake National Park:
Hiking or snowshoeing is the best way to see Crater lake from above. There are several possible hiking trails, depending on your fitness level, that you can choose from.
- Garfield Peak Trail – This is a popular and moderate hike that takes you to the top of Garfield Peak, one of the highest points in the park. The trail is 3.4 miles round trip and offers panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
- Cleetwood Cove Trail – This is a fantastic, moderate hike that takes you to the shore of Crater Lake. The trail is 2.2 miles round trip and offers opportunities for swimming, though the water is quite cold, and boat tours.
- Watchman Peak Trail – This is a moderate hike that takes you to the top of Watchman Peak, which offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The trail is 1.6 miles round trip and is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
More Time-consuming Attractions
You can also stay overnight at Crater Lake, either in the park’s lodge or in one of the nearby campsites or cabins. Staying overnight allows you to see the lake at different times of day and explore the park more fully.
- Boat tours are available at Crater Lake, and it’s recommended to plan for at least 1-2 hours for a boat tour. If you take a boat tour, you’ll see Wizard Island up close and learn about its geology and history. The tours operate from July to early September and depart from Cleetwood Cove. This was one of my favorite adventures at the lake.
- Crater Lake National Park is also an excellent place for stargazing, with little light pollution and clear skies. You can attend a ranger-led stargazing program or stargaze on your own.
Where to Stay at Crater Lake
There are many options for accommodation when visiting Crater Lake, Oregon, either at the lake or nearby Klamath Falls.
- Located inside the national park, the Crater Lake Lodge is a historic hotel that offers rooms with spectacular views of the lake. The lodge also has a restaurant and gift shop.
- Located a few miles from the rim of Crater Lake, Mazama Village offers cabins, motel rooms, and campsites. The village also has a general store, restaurant, and gas station.
- There are several campgrounds within Crater Lake National Park, including Mazama Village Campground, Lost Creek Campground, and Crater Lake RV Park.
- Klamath Falls is the closest city to Crater Lake, located about 1 hour and 15 minutes away. We stayed at the Worldmark Running Y, which is unbelievably spacious and has the best brunch in town, at the Ruddy Duck.
I recommend you book your accommodations well in advance, especially during peak travel season, as lodging options can fill up quickly.
You should probably plan for at least a full day at Crater Lake to see the highlights of the park, and longer if you want to explore more in-depth or participate in activities like hiking, boating, or star gazing.
Northbound to Seattle
At this point you can either head straight to I-5 and north to Seattle, a 7-8 hour drive without stops, or take even more time along the journey to explore some more along the way.
6. Umpqua National Forest
The Umpqua National Forest is known for its stunning scenery, which includes rugged mountains, cascading waterfalls, and crystal-clear rivers and lakes. It has many fantastic hiking trails, including some that lead to waterfalls, hot springs, and mountain vistas.
Things to do in Umpqua National Forest:
- Diamond Lake – Although paddleboarding is not permitted on Crater Lake itself, it is allowed on the sparklingly beautiful Diamond Lake. The Diamond Lake Campground is a popular place to stay and visit, for a reason. It has over 200 campsites with flush toilets, hot showers, and potable water.
- Umpqua Hot Springs – famous hot springs, a highlight of Umpqua National Forest. The springs are a series of natural hot springs located along the North Umpqua River. They are a popular destination for relaxing and soaking in the beautiful surroundings.
- Diamond Peak – Diamond Peak is a prominent mountain in the Umpqua National Forest with several hiking trails in the area that lead to the summit of Diamond Peak, ranging from moderate to difficult. The trails offer views of the surrounding landscape, including old-growth forests, alpine meadows, and the peaks of the Cascade Range.
- Toketee falls – This beautifully stunning waterfall drops over 100 feet into a turquoise pool below, surrounded by lush greenery and rock formations. The falls are easily accessible via a short hiking trail that winds through the forest and along the river.
- There are several campgrounds located near the falls, including Toketee Lake Campground, Clearwater Falls Campground and Umpqua Hot Springs Campground. Umpqua’s Last Resort offers campsites, glamping and cabins.
7. Albany, OR
Albany is 165 miles north of Toketee Falls, in the Willamette Valley, which is known for its agricultural production and scenic beauty. The city is also known for its charming historic downtown area, which hosts a variety of shops, restaurants, and unique attractions.
There are many unique and worthwhile things to do in Albany, OR to break up your journey.
Things to do in Albany, OR
- The Monteith House Museum is a historic home that showcases the architecture and lifestyle of Albany in the mid-1800s.
- The Albany Carousel & Museum, my favorite attraction here, is a beautifully handcrafted carousel that features 52 unique animals and 1,200 lights. You can take a ride on the carousel and learn about its history at the museum next door.
- The Talking Water Gardens is a wetland habitat that provides a habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife.
- Timber-Linn Memorial Park: Timber-Linn Memorial Park is a large park with picnic areas, playgrounds, walking trails, and a seasonal water park. It’s a great place for families with small children.
- The Albany/Corvallis KOA Journey is the best rated campsite near the city. The Best Western Premier Boulder Falls Inn or the Best Western Plus Prairie Inn are the best-rated hotels in this area.
8. Salem, Oregon
Salem is the capital city of Oregon. If you enjoy the outdoors, Salem has plenty of options to choose from. But it’s also home to several historic sites, museums, and cultural attractions, such as the Elsinore Theatre and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art.
Things to do near Salem, OR:
- The Enchanted Forest is just 10 miles south of Salem. It’s an amusement park located in Turner, OR. It’s unique and whimsical amusement park that is inspired by fairy tales and fantasy stories.
- Especially beautiful in the fall, a rafting tour of the North Santiam River is well worth your time and expense and a nice break from the road.
- Less than an hour from Salem is Silver Falls State Park, a beautiful place to stop and stretch your legs. The Trail of 10 falls is the most impressive highlight here and well worth the drive.
- A truly amazing and exceedingly under-rated hidden gem is the short trail to Abiqua Falls. It’s a beautiful waterfall fairly close to Silver Falls State Park and less crowded than Silver Falls as well.
- There are several camping options available around Salem, including Salem KOA Journey, Silver Spur RV Park and Southshore Campground.
- If you’re looking to splurge a little, or a lot, the Holman Riverfront Park Hotel in Salem makes a statement you’ll not soon forget. The Best Western Mill Creek Inn is also a fantastic, and significantly more affordable, option.
North to Seattle
It’s 220 miles north on I-5 to reach Seattle from Salem. You have three general options from this point. One, head straight north to return to Seattle. Two, you can drive to the coast and head north from there, stopping along the many wonderful beaches along the way.
Or three, you can head north on I-5, stopping at any of the attractions you didn’t stop on going south. It really depends on how much time you have and what your interests are.
How many days do you need?
The number of days you need depends entirely on how many detours you plan to take. At a minimum, you need 3 days. One to get there, another to explore and one day to return.
On average, it takes around 7-8 hours to drive from Seattle to Crater Lake without any stops. However, it’s recommended to plan for at least one or two stops along the way. This breaks up the journey and lets you explore some of the many amazing attractions and scenic routes.
Personally, if I’m making time for a road trip, I make time for as many stops as possible. If you’re planning to hike or do other outdoor activities along the way, it’s important to factor in plenty of additional time for those activities.
When is the best time to drive from Seattle to Crater Lake?
Generally, the best time to visit Crater Lake is in the summer months. Between June and September is when the park’s facilities are fully open and the weather is pleasant.
The summer months also have the best driving conditions, with the least chance of encountering winter storms. However, keep in mind that summer is also the busiest time for Crater Lake. So expect larger crowds, less availability in accommodations and higher prices.
If you’re interested in winter sports such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, then visiting Crater Lake during the winter months can be a unique and rewarding experience.
However, you’ll need to be prepared for winter driving conditions. Also check that the park is open before you go, as it may close due to heavy snowfall. Many of the hikes are closed in the winter, at Crater Lake and along the way.
What to bring for a road trip
There are many things you might want to consider bringing on a road trip, depending on your personal preferences and the nature of the trip.
- Maps or a GPS device – Know where you’re going and how to get there.
- Snacks and drinks – Pack some non-perishable, healthy snacks and drinks to keep you energized and hydrated during your trip.
- First aid kit – Just in case you need it!
- Camping essentials if you plan to camp such as a tent, sleeping bag and mattress, as well as cook set and food supplies.
- Hiking essentials if you plan to hike, including sunscreen, bug deterrant, and the remaining ten essentials.
- Bring your personal hygiene items. Things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes will help you stay clean and fresh on the road.
Road Trip FAQs
A few of the most commonly asked questions about Crater Lake and the drive to it from Seattle, WA.
Yes, Crater Lake, Oregon, is definitely worth a visit! Crater Lake is one of the most stunning natural wonders in the United States.
The lake’s deep blue color, crystal-clear water, and stunning surrounding scenery make it a breathtaking sight to behold. The lake offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, boating, fishing, and camping.
The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, USA, is typically from late June to early October. During this time, the park’s roads, facilities, and visitor services are fully open and accessible.
The weather is also generally mild and sunny, with daytime temperatures ranging from the 60s to 80s F (15 to 27 C).
Crater Lake, Oregon, is so blue because of its unique chemistry and clarity. The sunlight is absorbed by the water’s molecules, which scatter the light and make it appear blue to the human eye.
In addition, Crater Lake is fed entirely by rain and snowmelt, which means that it has a low nutrient content and low levels of algae and other microorganisms. which also contributes to its clarity and blue color.
Yes, Crater Lake, OR is worth a day trip for its breathtaking blue waters, unique geology, scenic Rim Drive, and opportunities for hiking and outdoor activities.
The best route from Seattle to Crater Lake, OR is I-5 South towards Eugene, Oregon. From Eugene, take Highway 58 East to Highway 97 South, which will lead you to Crater Lake National Park. This route is the most direct while still providing a balance between efficiency and scenic beauty, allowing you to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
Final Thoughts: Road Trip Worth Remembering
There are many lovely possibilities for routes and detours if you’re wishing to drive from Seattle to Crater Lake.
The first thing to do is figure out how much time you have available, then list your priorities in order, what is it you most want to do and see, and plan accordingly. Whatever you do, you’re bound to have a fantastic time if you plan ahead and go prepared. Drive safe and have fun!