9 Awe-Inspiring Stops on a Seattle to Crater Lake Road Trip

seattle to crater lake road trip
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As a lover of road trips, I always look for new and exciting destinations to explore. Being based in Seattle, I am lucky to have access to some of the most beautiful scenery the Pacific Northwest offers. My goal is to explore Oregon more, and last year I decided that one of the best ways to do so was by taking a Seattle to Crater Lake road trip.

As someone who loves national parks, I couldn’t wait to explore Crater Lake, one of the most stunning parks in the Pacific Northwest. A volcanic eruption thousands of years ago created the lake in this park, which is well-known for its clarity. I was excited to take in the stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, hike some of the park’s stunning trails, and explore the park’s history and geology.

In this article, I’ll provide all the information you need to plan your perfect road trip from Seattle to Crater Lake. From the must-visit stops to the best route to take, I’ll cover everything you need to know. I’ll also share a sample 5-day itinerary to ensure you see this incredible drive’s highlights.

Seattle to Crater Lake Travel Tips

crater lake road trip

Here are some tips you’ll want to consider while you’re getting ready for your drive from Seattle to Crater Lake.

How far is it from Seattle to Crater Lake?

The driving distance from Seattle to Crater Lake National Park is approximately 435 miles if you take the quickest route going along I-5 and don’t stop anywhere along the way. However, there are multiple ways to get there, and you will want to take your time there – believe me, I’ve done it before and was almost too tired to explore the park by the time I got there.

My Seattle to Crater Lake itinerary will show you how to break up your route. You can also check out my road trip trivia questions to help entertain yourself and your passengers.

Make sure to reserve your rental car ahead of time! I love using Discover Cars for my trips.

What is the Seattle to Crater Lake drive time?

If you drive straight there on the quickest route, the drive from Seattle to Crater Lake takes about 7.5 hours. However, that’s assuming you don’t run into any traffic, which never happens (especially when leaving Seattle, as well as potentially Tacoma, Olympia, and Portland…).

Similar to driving from Seattle to San Francisco, I strongly recommend taking multiple days to get down there. This will allow you to enjoy your trip so much more than just rushing to get there and feeling tired and grumpy.

You’ll also want to stock up on food, especially road trip snacks for toddlers if you have little ones with you.

What time of year should you drive from Seattle to Crater Lake?

crater lake road trip snow

The best time to drive from Seattle to Crater Lake is typically during the summer, from June to September. During this time, the weather is generally warm and dry, the roads are clear and easy to navigate, and all park facilities are open.

However, Crater Lake is at a high elevation and can experience snowfall as early as October and as late as May, so it’s essential to check the weather, road conditions, and the park website before going on a road trip during the shoulder seasons or winter. I last visited in July, and while the roads were clear, there were a ton of hikes that still had snow on the trails.

Also, keep in mind that, similar to driving from Seattle to Glacier, some roads are completely closed in the winter, so you’ll need to plan around that.

What’s the best route from Seattle to Crater Lake?

The best route from Seattle to Crater Lake depends on your preferences and how much time you have for your road trip. Here are a few different options to consider:

  1. Via I-5 and OR-58: This is the fastest and most direct route from Seattle to Crater Lake. You’ll take I-5 south through Oregon, then head east on OR-58 to connect with OR-97, which will take you to Crater Lake. This route takes about 7 hours and covers approximately 400 miles.
  2. Via I-5 and OR-26: This is the route that’s listed in my Seattle to Crater Lake itinerary that will have you on I-5 until you hit Portland, and then head east to go through Hood River and slowly make your way south.
  3. Via the Columbia River Gorge: If you have more time and want to take the scenic route, consider driving east on I-90 to Cle Elum, then heading south on Highway 97 to the Columbia River Gorge. From there, you can take the Historic Columbia River Highway and see stunning waterfalls and other natural wonders along the way. Depending on how many stops you make, this route adds about 2-3 hours to your drive.
  4. Via the Oregon Coast: For a truly scenic drive, consider heading south on I-5 and then turning west to follow the Oregon Coast Highway (Highway 101) all the way down to Crater Lake. This route takes about 9-10 hours and covers approximately 400 miles, but it’s worth it for the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged coastline.

Does the road to Crater Lake close in the winter?

You’ll need to plan your Seattle to Crater Lake road trip according to the weather and seasonal closures that can impact the road to Crater Lake. The park’s North Entrance Road and Rim Drive typically close in the winter due to heavy snowfall and may not open until late May or early June, depending on the snowpack. 

It’s always a good idea to check current road conditions and weather forecasts before planning a trip to Crater Lake, especially during winter. I always use the National Park Service website and social media channels for up-to-date information on closures and conditions.

Even if the forecast looks clear, you should always bring tire chains, a shovel, and other essential supplies if driving to Crater Lake during the winter in case of unexpected weather conditions.

For a shorter drive, check out the road trip from Seattle to Portland.

How long does it take to drive around Crater Lake?

Depending on traffic and road conditions, it takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to drive around the entire rim of Crater Lake. The road around the lake is 33 miles long and offers stunning views of the crystal-clear water, the surrounding cliffs, and the volcanic formations. Again, keep in mind that this drive is not always possible year-round, as the road can be closed due to snow and ice in the winter months.

I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to help me plan out my trips and find fun stops along the way. Use my code “BTR5QTP” for $5 off when you sign up!

Seattle to Crater Lake road trip map

Here’s a visual so you can see where you’ll be going.

9 Stops to Make on a Seattle to Crater Lake Road Trip

Whether you drive from Seattle to Crater Lake or do a Crater Lake to Seattle road trip, here are some of the top places you’ll want to stop at.

1. Snoqualmie Falls

snoqualmie falls

Your first stop on this scenic drive is a short distance from Seattle at the awe-inspiring Snoqualmie Falls. I’ve been here at least a dozen times over the years and never get sick of it. There are lush forests and hiking trails all around the falls, which stand at about 270 feet tall.

You can start at the viewing platform at the top to see the waterfall plunge into the river below. After that, I recommend taking a short hike down to the base of the falls to see it from a different angle.

When you get hungry, you can head to Salish Lodge and Spa for dinner and a drink, or you can choose to stay at the stunning location overnight. I did this last spring, and it was one of the most scenic hotels I’ve ever been to.

For another fun drive to Seattle, you can do a Vancouver to Seattle drive.

2. Mount Rainier National Park

mount rainier

This is always one of my top day trips in Washington, so a stop at Mount Rainier National Park is in order for your next destination on your Seattle to Crater Lake road trip. The Paradise area of the park is particularly stunning, with its wildflower meadows, stunning views of the mountain, and the park’s visitor center and lodges.

There are over 260 miles of hiking trails, with my favorite ones being Skyline Trail, Bench and Snow Lakes, and Mount Fremont Lookout. If you only spend a day here, I recommend picking just one to two hikes to complete, as they’re pretty spread out over the park.

Similar to when doing a Banff road trip from Vancouver, this is a very popular area, so starting as early as possible is the best way to see everything and get parking.

If you don’t want to get out, it’s also a gorgeous place just to drive around and get plenty of inspiration for your Instagram road trip captions. The park’s scenic drives offer a fantastic way to take in the area’s natural beauty. There are tons of places to safely stop along the way to get pictures of all of it. Just keep in mind that summer is the most popular time to go, so you’ll want to allow more time.

Make sure to buy your America the Beautiful pass ahead of time so you can easily enter all the national parks for a low price.

Another beautiful road trip is the drive from Seattle to Banff.

3. Mount St. Helens

mount st helens

Mount St. Helens is an active volcano in the Cascade Range, which is always a thrill to visit. Even though it hasn’t erupted since 1980, you can still see steam coming from it on a daily basis. There are plenty of activities to do at the park, including hiking, biking, and exploring the many attractions in the area.

Speaking of, one of my favorite ways to experience Mount St. Helens is by taking a hike. There are a variety of trails for all levels of hikers, ranging from easy walks to more challenging climbs. 

Some of the trails I recommend include the Ape Canyon Trail, which offers spectacular views of the mountain and surrounding landscape, and Harry’s Ridge Trail, which lets you go right through the blast zone to provide a unique perspective on the volcano’s eruption.

If you’re not feeling like being active, stop by the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center to learn about the history of the area and the events leading up to the 1980 eruption. The Johnston Ridge Observatory, located near the summit of the mountain, is fun to visit so you can see exhibits and attend ranger-led programs.

4. Portland

portland

Portland is always my go-to stop when driving from Seattle, as it’s a fun city full of places to get amazing food in. They have some of the best food trucks I’ve ever tried, with everything from sushi to hot dogs.

One of the must-visit attractions in Portland is the Portland Japanese Garden, which is a beautiful garden with a traditional Japanese tea garden and a stunning koi pond. You can take guided tours or explore the garden at your own pace.

Another fun attraction in Portland is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. This museum features a variety of exhibits, including a planetarium, a submarine tour, and hands-on exhibits that explore topics ranging from biology to engineering. They also have a theater that features a rotating selection of documentaries and films.

Portland is also an ideal place to go over your road trip packing list for families and buy anything you may be missing, as they have plenty of stores here.

This is also the perfect time to head out on a Seattle to Cannon Beach road trip if you crave the ocean.

5. Multnomah Falls

multnomah falls portland

I love waterfalls, which is why I put Multnomah Falls on this list of places to stop on a Seattle to Crater Lake road trip. It’s located just east of Portland and an excellent stop to take some incredible pictures. 

One of the most popular activities at Multnomah Falls is hiking. You’ll love the wide range of trails for all levels of hikers, from easy walks to challenging hikes that take you to the top of the falls. 

The most popular trail is the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, which I recommend so you can see several other waterfalls before reaching the top of Multnomah Falls. 

In addition to hiking, you can also visit a gift shop and a café serving various snacks and refreshments. After, visit Benson Bridge, which offers a unique view of the falls and the surrounding area.

6. Hood River

Hood River is one of my favorite towns in Oregon and is in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. One of the main draws of Hood River is its proximity to the Columbia River, which makes it an excellent spot if you’re a water sports enthusiast. 

You can go windsurfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding on the river. Several rental shops and schools in town offer equipment and lessons for all skill levels if you feel like being adventurous.

Another popular attraction in Hood River is the Hood River Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive that takes you through orchards, vineyards, and farm stands. I highly recommend you stop and sample fresh fruits, vegetables, and artisanal goods or enjoy a glass of local wine or cider. The fruit loop is especially popular in the fall when the leaves start to change, and the orchards burst with apples and pears.

There are also plenty of places to get dinner, with Full Sail Brewing Co. being one of my favorites for their beer and beer cheese soup.

We did this trip with a toddler and baby in tow, so read my tips on going on a road trip with an infant.

7. Bend

smith rock bend

Bend does two things very well – hikes, and beer, making it a perfect place to stop on a Seattle to Crater Lake drive. Some of the most popular trails include Deschutes River Trail, Lava Butte Trail, and Pilot Butte Trail. If you’d rather bike, there are plenty of great bike trails as well, such as  Phil’s Trail Complex and the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

Bend is also a great foodie destination, with many delicious dining options. From trendy coffee shops to farm-to-table restaurants, Bend has it all, so you’ll love making a stop here on your Seattle to Crater Lake road trip.

You can either visit an upscale restaurant or grab a quick and delicious bite at a local food truck, depending on what you’re feeling like. Some of the most popular dining spots in Bend include Jackson’s Corner, 10 Barrel Brewing, Bangers & Brews, Chow, and Spork.

Bend has become a top destination for craft beer lovers, boasting a thriving and dynamic beer scene you’ll love. With over 30 breweries and pubs, you can sample a diverse range of beer styles, from IPAs and stouts to sour beers and barrel-aged creations.

Some of the most popular breweries in the city include Deschutes Brewery, 10 Barrel Brewing, Boneyard Beer, and Crux Fermentation Project. Many of these breweries offer tours, tastings, and taprooms where you can enjoy a pint and learn about the brewing process.

8. Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is the main stop on this itinerary, so you’ll want to spend at least a few days there. There are plenty of things to do, such as hopping on a boat tour of Crater Lake. You’ll get an up-close look at the lake’s stunning blue waters and learn about the area’s geology and natural history.

Since it is a national park, it does get crowded, so like when doing a road trip to Joshua Tree, so you’ll want to plan ahead. I recommend booking your tour in advance to get the day and time that you want, as it can get crowded.

If you’re up for a hike, there are several trails to choose from that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Cleetwood Cove Trail is my favorite one which takes you down to the lake’s edge for a unique perspective. You can also head out on Watchman Peak Trail, which has one of the best views in the park. For a longer hike, the Mount Scott Trail is a great option.

Before you leave, you’ll want to take a drive along the Rim Drive, a 33-mile scenic route that offers numerous overlooks and pullouts where you can take in stunning vistas. Some places to stop include the Discovery Point Overlook, the Phantom Ship Overlook, and the Pinnacles Overlook.

9. Eugene

eugene

If you’re traveling through Oregon, don’t overlook the vibrant city of Eugene. As the second-largest city in the state, Eugene has plenty to offer visitors. This is the last main stop on your Seattle to Crater Lake road trip, which I put on here to help break up the drive back.

The University of Oregon is a must-see destination, with its fascinating museums like the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. You can take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful gardens and appreciate the stunning architecture of the historic buildings.

For nature enthusiasts, Eugene is a haven for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and fishing. With its proximity to the Willamette River and the Cascade Mountains, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful scenery. Be sure to stop at popular spots like Alton Baker Park, Skinner Butte Park, and Mount Pisgah Arboretum.

After a day of adventure, satisfy your appetite at one of Eugene’s many dining options. From farm-to-table restaurants to cozy cafes and brewpubs, there’s something for every taste bud. I recommend trying out the local craft beer scene with breweries like Hop Valley Brewing Co. and Ninkasi Brewing Company

Seattle to Crater Lake Road Trip Itinerary: 5 Days

crater lake sunset

Now let’s get into how to put all these Seattle to Crater Lake stops together! I have a recommended itinerary for 5 days so you can fully enjoy your time here, but feel free to adjust it as needed.

Day 1: Seattle to Hood River

Start your Seattle to Crater Lake road trip with a scenic drive along the Columbia River Gorge. You’ll love the stunning views of the river and the surrounding mountains as you make your way to Hood River. There are tons of waterfall hikes to check out here along the way, which I recommend if you have time.

Once you arrive, explore the quaint town and stop at local attractions like the Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center and the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum. In the evening, sample some local cuisine at one of the town’s many restaurants or breweries, such as Full Sail Brewing Company.

Where to Stay

Westcliff Lodge is a beautiful place to stay that’s right on the Columbia River, is known for being quiet, and is dog-friendly if you’re traveling with your pup.

Day 2: Hood River to Bend

Today, you’ll continue your journey south to the charming city of Bend. Stop at Smith Rock State Park for some hiking or rock climbing (my personal favorite) along the way. Once you arrive in Bend, explore the city’s vibrant downtown area, which is filled with shops and art galleries. The Bend Factory Outlet is the perfect place to stock up on items you need at a discounted price.

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, the nearby Deschutes National Forest has tons of recreational activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and fishing. For dinner, head to the kid-friendly Bend Burger Company.

Where to Stay

I stayed at McMenamins Old St. Francis School years ago for a wedding and adored the stunning decor, and also loved the central location to downtown and to on-site bars and restaurants.

Day 3: Bend to Crater Lake

Today is the day you’ve been waiting for! Get up early to go to Crater Lake National Park and spend the day exploring the area’s stunning natural beauty. Take a scenic drive around the rim of the lake, as there are plenty of viewpoints along the way to take in the breathtaking views of the crystal-clear water and the surrounding cliffs.

You can also take a hike or bike ride on one of the park’s many trails (Cleetwood Cove is my favorite hike there) or take a boat tour of the lake to get a closer look at the stunning blue water. If you want dinner with a view, book a reservation at the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room.

Where to Stay

Crater Lake Resort is a great option if you want to save money over staying at the main lodge, and it includes a fully-equipped kitchen and fridge, and has an outdoor playground.

Day 4: Crater Lake to Eugene

You have two choices for the fourth day of your Seattle to Crater Lake road trip – you can either spend more time in the park if you didn’t see enough yesterday, or start making your way to Eugene.

One of the most popular stops along the way is the Umpqua National Forest, which is just a short detour from the main road. The forest has several scenic drives, hiking trails, and waterfalls, including the famous Toketee Falls.

If you’re a fan of wine, there are several wineries in the area that are worth a visit. The Umpqua Valley Wine Trail is a popular destination for wine lovers and has over 20 wineries that offer tastings and tours. Some popular wineries I recommend include Abacela Winery, Girardet Wine Cellars, and HillCrest Vineyard.

Where to Stay

I stayed at Comfort Suites Eugene a few years ago and loved that it was away from the noisier part of downtown Eugene and had modern rooms and an indoor pool.

Day 5: Eugene to Seattle

The drive from Eugene to Seattle is a long one, but there are plenty of interesting stops to break up the journey. If you’re looking for a more urban experience, consider stopping in Vancouver, Washington, which is located about halfway between Eugene and Seattle. They recently redid their waterfront area and I think it looks amazing. The Smokin’ Oak Barbeque Restaurant is an ideal place to stop for lunch.

You can also visit Tacoma on the way home, which is home to several museums, including the Museum of Glass, which showcases the work of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to stop at the Tacoma Farmers Market, which is in different places throughout the week and offers a wide range of local and organic produce.

Where to Stay

Either head home if you live in Seattle, or stay at Staypineapple, Hotel FIVE, Downtown Seattle to explore downtown Seattle a bit before catching your flight.

A Seattle to Crater Lake road trip is something you won’t forget as you explore some of the best places to stop in Washington and Oregon. Now it’s time to start planning your own drive!

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