Want to go on a road trip but not sure where to go? Feeling the call of the great outdoors? Some of my buddies and I were having nature withdrawals so we planned a trip to visit Crater Lake National Park over Labor Day weekend. Along the way, we made scenic stops at places like Shasta Lake, Mount Shasta, Burney Falls, McCloud River, and Bend, Oregon. Driving along the beautiful Pacific Northwest and visiting these sights was an incredible experience and this is how we did it:
How to Visit Crater Lake, Burney Falls, McCloud River, Mount Shasta, Shasta Lake, Bend, Oregon in Four Days
Day 1: Redding, CA and Lake Shasta/Whiskeytown Lake
We started from the Bay Area, CA and left early on a Saturday morning. Our first destination was Redding, CA because Shasta Lake was close by. Hungry, we got lunch from the #2 Yelp-rated spot in Redding at Wilda’s Grill (the first was In-N-Out lol), which wasn’t bad. If you’re going, try their Buddha bowl!
It was hot, but not unbearably so, and it was a perfect day for visiting Shasta Lake. Our Airbnb host gave us the inside scoop though and recommended Whiskeytown Lake for swimming rather than Shasta, as Shasta is mainly for boaters. She also told us that up until our arrival, it had been in the 100s and had only recently “cooled off” to the 90s. If you’re planning on visiting, make sure you check the temperature before you go! And bring lots of sunscreen.
To find a good beach spot at Whiskeytown Lake, we drove around, asked some people for recommendations, and eventually found a nice strip of beach that had a chill vibe, good conditions to play spikeball, and was family friendly. You can find more info about good beach spots here. The lake is also only a 15-minute drive from Redding.
To close out the night, we went to Kahuna’s Mongolian BBQ for dinner in Redding. It’s Mongolian-style BBQ, where you choose your proteins, veggies, and sauces, and then bring it to the chef who cooks it right in front of you on the griddle. Even though I was starving when we got there, one portion was extremely filling. You can have up to two servings and even my bottomless-pit guy friends were full after their second one. Dinner was only $14.99, so it was definitely a good deal!
After dinner, we walked off our fatassery by visiting the Sundial Bridge, which crosses over the Sacramento River and is accessible at night or day. It is shaped like a huge sundial and is considered one of the largest in the world. It is also close to Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which offers a closer look at nature with a botanical garden, a natural history and science museum, and educational nature programs.
The next morning, we left our Airbnb for Burney Falls, which is located in McArthur-Burney Falls State Park and is about an hour-drive from Redding. There was a line for vehicles to get into the park, but once you entered, it was an easy 10-minute walk down to the falls. Our original plan was to spend only an hour at the falls, but of course it ended up turning into a much longer photoshoot session, especially as it’s less crowded than you might think and there are so many good photo spots! The water is prettyyyy cold but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can go cliff diving here too. You can see video of the falls here.
After visiting Burney Falls, we drove 30 minutes to visit McCloud River for its waterfalls. It also had the added benefit of being on the way to our ultimate destination of Mount Shasta. Apparently, the waterfalls were supposed to have some cool cliff diving spots, but we didn’t have much luck with them. At Lower Falls, we found some good photo spots but there were no easily accessible ways to reach the river. At Middle Falls, we did see some brave ass kids cliff diving, but the rocks were too close to the cliff for my pansy self. You could also see some people fishing and others courageously wading through the frigid water. If you’re going to swim, I highly recommend doing it in Redding because the water there is much warmer.
We wanted to spend more time hiking so we headed to the Gray Butte Trail upon the recommendation of a park ranger. This trail was a bit more difficult as it’s steeper, but still doable even if you’re like me and only in decent shape. The trail essentially leads you to the top of the mountain, where you’re in between two buttes and as you stare down the slope of the mountain into the grove of trees below, you see so many fucking shades of green, it’s almost like a Bob Ross painting waiting to happen.
After hiking Mount Shasta, we continued north to Crater Lake. We stayed at a cool historical hotel, Prospect Hotel, where upon entering, it was literally like you stepped back in time with its doilies and lace curtains. We took advantage of being far away from any city and residual light by going stargazing. At first we were going to chill at an empty parking lot, but with no lights at all it was way too creepy. We ended up crashing a campground instead, but no matter where you go stargazing, definitely make time for it as it was MAGICAL. We could see the Galactic Center, shooting stars, and so many more constellations than the typical city night allows for. In that sense, it reminded me of the beautiful stargazing that was possible in the ink black sky of Acadia National Park in Maine.
The next day was our last full day and we headed to the piece de resistance of our trip, Crater Lake National Park. And it was unfreakingreal. Words don’t do it justice and I almost don’t even want to try. My pitiful attempt is that it was so blue…and vast…and still. The blueness just stretched on and on. The lake is in a caldera, which formed when the volcano erupted and collapsed onto itself. Also, random fact, but did you know that it’s the deepest lake in the States??
The island you see pictured below is actually a cinder cone and is named Wizard Island. There are many of them in the lake, but this is the only one that’s tall enough where it’s visible above the water. We did the Rim Drive which takes about an hour if you don’t stop, but of course we stopped at pretty much every pitstop so it took us closer to 3 hours. If you’re looking for more of an immersive experience, you can go on a boat tour too.
After getting our fill of photos, we continued northeast an hour and half to Bend, Oregon where we explored downtown, visited Deschutes Brewery, and couldn’t help but make comparisons between the amount of space Oregon had versus the Bay Area (so much more) and people (so freaking nice). After visiting, I can see why so many people choose to move out of the Bay to Oregon.
At the recommendation of a Bend local, we started our morning with a delicious American-style brunch at Chow (with bottomless coffee thank the lawd) and then began the 8-hour drive back to the Bay, so nothing too exciting.
Overall, I’m happy to cross Crater Lake off my bucket list and had an amazing time on the trip. It had beautiful views, chill music, straight roads perfect for that road trip Spotify playlist, and best of all, good company.
If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments below!
Where to Stay:
1. Airbnb for Redding, CA
2. Prospect Hotel for Prospect, CA (visiting Crater Lake National Park). Breakfast is included in your cost too!
3. Airbnb for Bend, Oregon
- Cheap car rentals – If you have a Costco membership, car rentals can be super cheap! We were able to reserve an intermediary car (like a Toyota Camry) for four days for only $100. We also got a free upgrade to a Jeep so you might get lucky too 🙂
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