The Perfect 3 Day PNW Road Trip
Sometimes when you travel without an itinerary you stumble upon the best places. This past weekend I loaded up my Jeep with enough supplies for the long weekend and headed south from Seattle. My first stop was Lower Lewis River Falls in Gifford National Park. This is an easy hike that passes three waterfalls. There is a campground, it’s dog friendly, and you can also bike the trail.
From here I drove to Stevenson, WA along the Columbia River Gorge and had dinner at my favorite diner, Big T’s. The service at Big T’s is the friendliest around, the omelets are delicious, your coffee cup never runs dry, and there is such a thing as a “Peanut Butter Bacon Burger.” Yum! Since this trip was about low budget and cramming in as much goodness as possible, I decided to convert the backseat of my car into a sleeping area for Nym and I. This allowed us to park in the lot at Dog Mountain overnight and wake up before sunrise to hike up before the crowds arrived.
Dog Mountain is something I’ve been daydreaming about hiking for ages now. I’ve heard so many tales of how beautiful the wildflowers are along the top of the mountain that I just had to see it for myself. What I wasn’t expecting to see when I neared the top was low-flying clouds surrounding me on all sides. We were literally walking in the clouds and boy, was it cold and wet! Nym, with her typical undaunted-self, decided that the clouds were no obstacles to fetch. Her delight in the simple things really puts everything in a positive perspective for me, so suddenly it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see more than 20 foot in any direction. We didn’t pass another soul until we were back at the bottom, where the parking lot was bursting with people about to begin the hike.
My next destination was pretty up in the air. I had considered trying to make it to Crater Lake in Southern Oregon, but the drive was so long for a solo trip. This is where my little travel secret comes in, audiobooks. Once I turn on an audiobook miles, time, and tiredness slip away. There is only Nym, the road, and my favorite characters, and as long as the book is playing I can drive forever. So with this I said, “Why not?! Let’s drive to Crater Lake! It’s still early yet!”
Across the Hoodsport Bridge we went, and immediately the breathtaking view of Mount Hood reaffirmed that we’d made the right choice. Further down the road we left the forest setting abruptly and found ourselves looking out at desert like plains and a mass of white peaks. It is impossible to be bored with the scenery on the way from Hoodsport to Bend, OR.
By the time we got to Bend my Peanut Butter Bacon Burger from the previous day had worn off, so I decided to stop for lunch. There is something you should know about my travel style… While traveling I eat at diners 95% of the time because coffee tastes best out of a bottomless white diner mug and breakfast is the best meal on Earth. These factors and a quick Yelp search led me to Jake’s Diner. I chose a seat on the sunny patio and ordered coffee and an Everything Omelet. Jake himself came over to greet me and make sure everything was to my liking and it added that amazing personal touch that make me love diners so much. I asked my waitress what she recommended I try to see around Bend or between there and Crater Lake and she gave me the best advice ever, “You should do the Cascade Lakes Highway!” A highway full of alpine lakes had me sold instantly, despite it adding close to two hours to my drive. She gave me a coffee to go and off we went!
The drive to the Cascade Lakes Highway in itself is a treat. You have Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top mountains on the horizon. Once you get to Mount Bachelor, there is a lovely lake to explore every few miles. I highly recommend spending a week here and camping beside Devil’s Lake, preferably with a kayak or canoe in tow.
Crater Lake is like a Wonder of the World. The blue of the water is so deep that the ripples on the water look like folds in cloth. The rim of the crater contrasts starkly with the water and Mystery Island floats just out of reach. We were able to enjoy both sunset and sunrise from the edge of this beautiful oasis.
As Memorial Day dawned we sat perched on the ledge snuggled together for warmth. It was 5:30am and we’d spent a good portion of the night stargazing. Watching sunrise always seems to rekindle your soul and rejuvenate your inner child. After making coffee in the Jetboil, we set off towards home. The wanderlust wasn’t done with us just yet though and as we stopped at a gas station to refuel, the attendant threw out a suggestion that we take the Highway of Waterfalls on our way back. Um… what? A highway that is full of waterfalls? Oregon never ceases to amaze.
Since it was barely 6am, I decided that increasing our journey home from six to eight hours wouldn’t be an absolutely horrible idea. I stopped at four of the dozen or so waterfalls along the enchanting Highway 138 and then decided to save the rest for another time since I found myself a bit waterfalled out. (Who knew that was possible??)
By the time I reached home I’d driven 1,000 miles in three days comprised of a summit hike, 8 waterfalls, 7 alpine lakes, and Crater Lake. I also saw more standalone peaks in this trip than I’ve seen in my life. It was a Memorial Day to remember and an experience I’ll not soon forget. Every time I travel alone I feel like my heart grows three sizes. I’m constantly amazed at how incredibly nice and helpful strangers are when you give them the chance. Where would you like to travel to this summer?