Spoiler alert: this is a long blog with a lot of pictures. Blame America.
The day we left San Francisco, the city was wet and grey so we we were glad to have done the cycling in the sun the day before. But as we got further north, and the sun came out we had a great day of road tripping. Highway 1 continued to wind around the coast, and the scenery was just as spectacular as the Big Sur. Surf beaches, mountains into the sea, cliff stacks and ridiculous views all day. We stopped for a picnic at one point, and once again saw a whale swimming by!
Bodega Bay was a cool little town to stop in, and we had some tasty chowder at The Birds Cafe, named after the fact that Alfred Hitchcock filmed some of the classic film there.
At the end of the day we stopped in Fort Bragg. It wasn’t the nicest motel in the world, or the prettiest of towns, and the weird smell of Indian food clashing with weed kept wafting into our room! But it was fine and cheap, and the free pastry in the morning was alright.
The following day was another load of epic driving, and through some more of the most stunning scenery. After another stretch of coast, we turned inland at the end of Highway 1 and into the Redwoods. These are some of the tallest trees in the world and the road felt endless as we cruised through the thick forests. After the coast, the sea of green that surrounded us so different. We drove through the kitchy Chandelier tree, that had a tunnel cut through the trunk for carriages back in the day, and tourists with $5 today!
After this we pulled off the highway, and took the scenic Avenue of Giants. This is a 30 mile stretch of road twisting through the huge trees. There were various groves to stop in, and we spent a lot of time wandering amongst the trees and craning our necks. It’s impossible to capture the scale of the Redwoods in pictures, but we tried!
That night, we stayed at a campsite just outside Crescent City right in a Redwood forest. Drinking wine and having a picnic outside our cabin and seeing the sun set on the trees was a pretty good end to a couple of epic days of driving. From the craziness of LA to the coast and now these trees, via Yosemite, California has got a lot going for it!
The next day, we hit the road early pushed on into Oregon. Since seeing an image of Crater Lake in a Reader’s Digest type book as kid, I’d always wanted to go there. We weren’t sure we’d fit it in as it was quite a detour from the coast, but we are so glad we did! The drive out there was awesome, as we slowly climbed through more redwoods and forests, passing by a river gorge and a lot of crazy looking Sasquatch chainsaw-made statues. Also, we learned the states have some different laws – so far no sales tax (awesome), and you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas here.
However, as we got higher and closer to the park, the skies got greyer. Crater Lake is supposed to be an amazing sight – as the name suggests, the lake is at the top of a mountain in the crater formed when the volcano exploded thousands of years ago. It’s water is entirely made up of snowmelt and rain, and is some of the purest in the world. When we got there on the afternoon after our early start we saw… nothing.
The whole top of the mountain that the lake lies in was swamped in super thick fog! The scenic 30+ mile drive around the rim, which we started and then abandoned, had visibility of about 10 feet – it was crazy! So, after joining the crowds of slightly angry Americans in the visitor centre (”And you’re saying you’re not sure if the weather will clear!? Great thanks”. The poor park rangers got this and worse) we headed back to our cabin in the woods and drowned our sorrow with a huge meal in the diner across the road.
Fortunately, the next day was the complete opposite. We got up early, and the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Our first proper sight of the lake from the rim was breathtaking. The water is so blue it’s hard to describe, and we stopped a few more times on the rim drive to take photos and just stare gormlessly from different angles. But, in the spirit of making the most our time in the area, I had found out what the highest mountain in the National Park was and made us climb it!
Mount Scott is just under 9000 feet, but it wasn’t too difficult a hike. After an hour of switchbacks and sweating, we were at the top. The views were incredible. The lake is obviously the big draw and dominates the western view, but staring in all directions was awesome. We could see some of the Cascade Mountains, tipped in snow, and all around were endless green forests and no sign of civilisation. Incredible and so worth it. Plus, because it’s a hike and not too easily accessible, there were hardly any people up there!
After climbing to the highest point in the park, we did the next obvious thing and got to the lowest. The lake itself is only reachable by one trail because the sides of the crater are so steep and unstable. Boat tours are available but expensive, so there were quite a few people trekking down to the small dock at the base of the trail. But just beyond the dock, the path moves on to the most natural cliff jump spot I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you can climb down to dip your toes in the safe way, but really when else are you going to get to jump into the crater at the top of a volcano, into the deepest and purest lake in America?
Surprisingly it wasn’t that cold, and I was quite happy swimming around peering into the stunning blue depths. After drying off and hiking back to the top, we found a quiet spot on the rim for one of our most scenic picnics yet! Crater Lake, like Yosemite and some parts of New Zealand and the rest of this trip, is one of those wow places that we’ll never forget.
But that wasn’t all our fun for the day. After leaving the lake we had the small matter of a 200 mile drive back west to the coast to deal with. Continuing Oregon’s trend of being really damn good looking, the drive was amazing. The entire way wound down through the trees, along rivers and gorges and was just stunning. When we finally hit the coast, the pretty continued. First the huge sand dunes, then rough and rugged coast with forests right down the cliffs into the sea and picturesque lighthouses. After a bite to eat in Florence, we watched the sunset into the Pacific and finally made it to our motel in Yachats in the dark.
In these four days we racked up a lot of miles, and could have hit Portland, our next stop, in a much more direct route. But this section of the road trip was just incredible. Long driving, windswept and wild coastline, the tallest trees on earth, huge American portions of food and unique natural wonders. The best zigzagging detour ever.