Cramming Crater Lake: How to Tourist the S#@% Out of a Daytrip
Have you ever observed how hardcore tourists travel? They spend the day visiting as many locations as they possibly can, with the attitude firmly implanted that relaxing is for wimps and dead people. If you are going to visit Crater Lake there can be more to it than just driving up and saying “look, a lake!”
Here is how to cram the day full of a multitude of activities while driving up and back from Crater Lake, so long as you hustle and don’t gripe.
If you are driving from Medford or parts south you might be tempted to start out on Highway 62 (it is called Crater Lake Highway after all) but don’t do it. The drive through White City isn’t necessary. Instead drive by Roxy Anne Winery on North Phoenix road and follow it as it turns into North Foothill Road, and when it dead ends into Corey Road turn right and follow it into Bingham Road until you end up back on Highway 62 in Eagle Point.
If you are coming from Gold Hill or points north you can take Highway 234. Whatever you do, keep it scenic by staying off that ugly stretch of highway 62 between I-5 and Eagle Point.
Your first stop will be at Mill Creek falls (Prospect State Park), just off of highway 62 as you pass by Prospect. (Get off the highway by taking a right onto River Road and then take a left on Mill Creek Road. This detour is only a mile or two out of your way.) Viewing this spectacular falls requires a half-mile hike each way. No whining! It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to hike a mile. Add 5 minutes for waterfall viewing and photos and this excursion costs you less than a half hour.
After getting back on Highway 62 you have less than ten miles before you come to Natural Bridge, your next stop. Natural Bridge is where an entire river (the North Fork of the Rogue) goes into a subterranean cave originally formed by a lava tube. That’s right, you get to see an entire river disappear and then reappear a few hundred feet downstream. And it takes less than a half-mile of easy walking to get this one done. Give yourself a leisurely 20 minutes to view this.
Don’t get too comfortable in your car, because Rogue Gorge is only about a mile away. It is right by the parking lot, so you don’t need more than ten minutes to view this really narrow and deep gorge. Since there is ice cream and pie nearby at Becky’s Pies you can make it a 15-minute stop, but only if you eat it in the car.
After getting back in your car and driving like a maniac for another 40 minutes you will arrive at the west rim of Crater Lake. Go to the Garfield Peak Trail so you can get a really good view by giving yourself a 3.4-mile hike. And remember, three miles per hour is not too much to ask for, so just walk fast. Eat your lunch quickly and there’s no reason why you can’t do this in two hours.
On the east rim, a short drive away is the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which is short but steep, starting with a descent of almost 700 feet ending at the lake. Go towards the North side a few hundred feet to find a good cliff to jump into the bluest water you’ve ever seen and take a swim. After all, you didn’t come all this way to not swim in the lake. The water is invigorating and you will need to be plenty invigorated for your hike back to the rim. When you get back to the top do not walk too slowly or the mosquitos will eat you alive.
The lake was refreshing, but since you followed it with a strenuous uphill climb you are now a big sticky sweaty smelly mess. Your next objective is to head back towards home looking for another place to swim. Casey State Park on the Rogue River is one option, but since Highway 62 parallels the Rogue River it shouldn’t be too hard to find other decent places to swim. The swimming here on the Rogue might be kind of a let down compared to Crater Lake, but at this point beggars can’t be choosers.
Now that you’re refreshed, start driving home. Since you will need to eat dinner by this point, stop at Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant in Shady Cove. Have an enchilada. Tip 15 percent and vamoose right outta there to head home and pass the fudge out. You’ll sleep tonight.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons