#ChristaKrista+Jeremy: Northern California & Oregon National Parks
Trip Dates: August 30th, 2018 - September 3rd, 2018
Finally feeling inspired to write this post as it’s nearly the end of the year and I promised I would write more (oops!) but MORE IMPORTANTLY, I will be embarking on another National Park adventure SO SOON with my very best travel buddies and fellow National Park lovers (Christa & Jeremy!) I figured it’s probably about time to recap one of our other National Park trips… When #ChristaKrista and Jeremy explored three national parks (Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, and Redwoods) over Labor Day weekend! We had an absolute blast taking in all the sites, smells, and scenery and I’m hoping we’ll do the same next week in the National Park of American Samoa(!!!!!!). But, before that... Our Labor Day trip went something like this…
We departed LAX on Thursday on a Southwest flight headed to Sacramento, promptly got our rental car, and started the drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park. After the obligatory picture with the National Park sign, we made our way to the Manzanita Lake trail to watch the sunset. We ended up hiking around the lake twice as the views and sky kept changing as the sun went closer and closer to the horizon. Afterwards, we drove over to North Lake campground to set up our tents in the dark – which, despite plenty of sunlight during the days, it was something we would find ourselves doing over and over on this trip – we had to take advantage of all the daylight hours we could!
Friday morning, we started out at Kings Creek Picnic Area to check out cooling bubbles (Cold Boiling Lake) to Mill Creek Falls. We were the only people on the trail until we reached the waterfall! At the falls, we had to decide: did we want to retrace our steps and climb up the 800-feet we had just descended OR should continue on to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and hope there is a kind soul who will take us back to our car which was parked at the Kings Creek Picnic Area. Remember when I said there wasn’t anyone on the trail until we reached the waterfall? Well, Jeremy asked the onlyother person we saw if he might be willing to give us a ride. The rest was history! We hiked out to Kohn Yah-man-nee Visitor Center with Bud, a middle-aged gentleman from North Carolina with a fascinating story. A self-proclaimed introvert, I was certain he couldn’t wait to drop us off after being bombarded with all my questions!!! Alas, he explored the Visitor Center with us before taking us back to our car, even sharing some photo spots along with the way and allowing us to stop and take photos. Safe travels, Bud, you were awesome!
From Lassen Volcanic, we started driving towards Crater Lake National Park, stopping at Burney Falls in McArthur-Burney Falls State Park on the way. Burney Falls was beautiful in of itself but I thought it was awesome that the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT; a 2,100 mile trail that transcends Mexico to Canada) goes directly through the park AND we met a young man who was hiking the PCT!!! Before I continued on, I gotta say, Lassen Volcanic is debatably one of the most underrated parks in the National park System. We only saw a sliver of the park; I hope to someday return to check out the other side of it – particularly the “Butte Lake” section of the park. Onward…
We arrived at Crater Lake around 5:45pm on Saturday and decided to go on the sunset Ranger Program to Watchman Overlook. Christa and Jeremy hadn’t been to a Ranger Program before so it was extra special to see their appreciation for the program that was so, so well done by Ranger Dave. And, we were able to see an absolutely stunning sunset over Crater Lake – the very same lake we would jump into the following day!
After Watchman Overlook, we ventured over to Mazama Campground to set up our tents – yep, you guessed it – in the dark. After a restful sleep we were up early to check out Plaikni Falls before driving over to the North Side of Crater Lake to hike down to Cleetwood Cove, eat some snacks, watch some swimmers, and finally board our ferry for Wizard Island. Fun fact: There are two islands in Crater Lake – Wizard Island and Phantom Ship – Wizard Island is a volcanic cinder cone which is located on the West End of Crater Lake. The top of the island reaches 6,933 feet above sea level (about 755 feet about the average surface of the lake) and we were able to take a ferry out and get dropped off on the island!
We ended up taking the ferry to Wizard Island and hiking to what is known as “Witches Cauldron” or the top of the caldera! We literally had 360-degree views of Crater Lake – the deepest lake in the United States and perhaps the most pristine lake on Earth as it’s fed exclusively by rain and snow. The stunning blue waters don’t even seem real against the Cascade Mountain Range. Of course, after the hike I felt compelled to jump into that (icy) blue water because, why not? When else would I be able to jump in Crater Lake?! In my underwear, I actually jumped in! I surprised myself… or, maybe the cold water surprised me? Either way, I was in my glory as I treaded water and looked around in pure disbelief.
When the ferry picked us up, we circumnavigated the entirety of Crater Lake before being dropped back off at Cleetwood Cove. An already adventure-filled day wasn’t quite over yet. We were on a mission to make it to our 7:00pm reservation at Crater Lake Lodge (the only available timeslot). I’m convinced we’ve never hiked 1.1 miles with 700 feet of elevation gain so quickly and I hope we never have to hike 1.1 miles with 700 feet of elevation that quickly again! BUT, we made it to our reservation right. on. time! My steak was perfect and made it all worth it (the appetizers, not so much). With a two-hour drive ahead of us, Jeremy and I ordered coffees to go (communication is not my strong suit) and we made it to our only hotel of the trip – Buona Sera Inn in Grants Pass, Oregon. I took a hot, hot shower and melted into a deep, deep sleep. The weekend was only about halfway over!
Of course, there were countless highlights from the weekend as every park offers something different but the grandiosity of the Redwood trees in Redwoods National Park was truly awe-inspiring. From Grants Pass we returned to California and made our first stop at Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. We proceeded on a 5.6-mile hike on Mill Creek Trail once we found the right trailhead and got the best pictures with some of the biggest trees in the entire world! And, what was
supposed to be on the way to the campground, we saw some elk – on cue, of course. Christa must’ve called ahead! Also, I have to give a shout out and huge recommendation to the Palm Café/Restaurant… One of the only restaurant options in Orick, California. They have the best root beer floats + hike recommendations…
The hike recommendations were so good we deviated from the itinerary (there’s a first for everything!!!) and went to Fern Canyon. I mean, the prehistoric ambiance is so great, it’s a filming location for Jurassic Park! The ferns literally cover 30-50 feet sheer walls and there’s even some small waterfalls in the mix! Stunning and surreal! Another stop brought us to Stout Grove and I’m pretty sure we’re still trying to find the Stouts to this day. Oh well, the pictures are great!
Guess what… we definitely set up camp in the dark – AGAIN! At least we had bought some firewood and were able to have a campfire at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Naturally, in true #ChristaKrista+Jeremy fashion, we woke up at the crack of dawn to hike in Lady Bird Johnson Grove before starting the long, long drive back to Sacramento to board our 6:30pm flight. But, I gotta say, because of this I was able to get my favorite picture of the trip: an elk in a fog covered meadow right outside Prairie Creek campground.
And just like that, another absolutely whirlwind trip is in the books. I still can’t be more thankful for friends who let me plan crazy trips while also giving the best suggestions and for spending so much time in a three-door rental car.