Located on the U.S. West Coast, Oregon is known as one of the most naturally beautiful states in the country. Waterfalls, mountains, lakes, and rivers are just the beginning of the eye-catching landscapes in the Beaver State. And the drive from Bend to Crater Lake National Park is one of the most scenic of all.
It only takes about two and half hours (230 kilometres) to get from Bend to Crater Lake on the fastest route (via the Dalles-California Highway) – so on the long side for a day trip and on the short side for a road trip. That said, we recommend taking a slightly longer, more scenic route via the Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway for a short and sweet road trip.
This Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway route from Bend to Crater Lake is 284 kilometres and takes about three and a half hours by car. And with all of the fun stops along the way, you can easily make it a fun two- to three-day drive.
As with all of our road trips and itineraries, these stops aren’t set in stone. Feel free to add, remove, or change up any part of this Bend to Crater Lake National Park itinerary to best fit your needs. After all, you know your likes and dislikes a whole lot better than we do!
*Pro Tip: Like all national parks in the United States, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to visit Crater Lake National Park. If you plan on visiting a few different national parks during your trip, you may want to consider buying the America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass instead.
Well, first and foremost, we have to talk about the lovely town of Bend, our departure destination. Bend is known for being one of the most beautiful places in the U.S., nature-wise. This little town is home to towering mountains, cascading waterfalls, thriving evergreens, and so much more. And before you take off on your road trip, you can spend some time experiencing all of the natural beauty that Bend has to offer.
Thrill seekers will love spelunking at the Lava River Cave and climbing a volcano at Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Rock climbers will love a visit to Smith Rock State Park. And hikers won’t want to miss out on the trail to Tumalo Falls.
Immediately after you leave Bend, you’ll get onto the Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway. And not long after that, you’ll come across Mount Bachelor.
Winter is actually peak season at Mount Bachelor, as it’s Oregon’s largest ski area. With 3,700 acres of skiable acres, you’re sure to find a slope that’s your jam. And even if you’re not much of a skier, Mount Bachelor is equipped with all sorts of other winter sport opportunities – from snowshoeing to snowboarding to dog sledding!
Surprisingly the snowy conditions in Mount Bachelor can stick around all the way until June. But even when the snow melts, there are still loads of reasons to visit this towering mountain. While you’re there, why not take a ride on a scenic chairlift, go on a thrilling white water rafting adventure, or tackle one of the gorgeous hiking trails?
*Note: Sections of Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway often close in snowy or icy weather due to unsafe driving conditions. If you plan on doing your Bend to Crater Lake National Park road trip during the winter, be prepared to change up your route a bit.
The Land of Lakes
While “The Land of Lakes” isn’t an official term for any part of the Cascades Lake National Scenic Byway, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.
Partway through your drive, you’ll come across a series of sparkling lakes. There are at least a dozen of them on this byway, and each of them has something wonderful to offer. Since you likely won’t have the time or energy to visit them all, we’ll just share a few of our favourites.
First off, there’s Devil’s Lake. Despite its sinister name, its emerald green colour makes it one of the most stunning lakes on this scenic byway. While it’s great for a picturesque kayaking or paddleboarding adventure, many visitors just choose to have a postcard-worthy picnic at this Oregon lake instead.
Then, there’s Elk Lake, which is arguably the most popular lake on the route – and for good reason. This particular body of water is known for its jaw-dropping views of both the gorgeous lake and the surrounding mountains. From here, you’ll be able to see the beloved Mount Bachelor and the trio of mountain peaks known as the Three Sisters.
Cultus Lake is somehow picture-perfect and underrated at the same time. With its brilliant blue waters, pristine white sand, and bold green trees, it looks like an artist’s palette come to life.
Last but certainly not least, we want to mention Wickiup Reservoir. This reservoir is a fantastic place to stop if you want to enjoy some time out on the water. After all, as the largest body of water on the Cascades Lake National Park Scenic Byway, there’s just so much to explore! Here, you can fish, windsurf, waterski, or boat to your heart’s content.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Oregon’s breathtaking lakes, you can then continue on your Bend to Crater Lake National Park drive. And luckily, you won’t have to drive far before you reach your next stop.
Crater Lake National Park
Eventually, you’ll arrive at your final destination: Crater Lake National Park. As the only national park in Oregon, it’s a particularly stunning spot, and there are so many ways to enjoy it.
Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, the highlight of this national park is the brilliant blue Crater Lake. And while you may be tempted to go for a swim, the water is surprisingly chilly all year round.
Instead, most visitors choose to enjoy the views of Crater Lake from afar. Tackle the 2.6-kilometre Watchman Peak Trail, the 5.5-kilometre Garfield Peak Trail, or the 8-kilometre Mount Scott Trail to get breathtaking glimpses of this glimmering body of water.
Another option is to go for a boat ride on Crater Lake. But before you head out, know that you’ll have to hike the steep 3.5-kilometre Cleetwood Cove Trail to get there. If you’re ready for the challenge, you can hike your way down and hop onboard one of Crater Lake National Park’s jaw-dropping boat tours.
From the end of the Cleetwood Cove Trail (which is the only trail in Crater Lake National Park that leads to the water, by the way), you’ll have a couple of boat tour options. You can either sail around the perimeter of the lake or take a boat to Wizard Island, a little volcano island in the middle. Both options are absolutely incredible, so you really can’t pick a bad boat tour at this Oregon national park.
*Note: Like other parts of this Bend to Crater Lake National Park drive, some roads into the national park close in the winter, so you may have to adjust your route here as well.
There are a number of great hikes you can do while visiting Crater Lake – see our summary of the top ones here! And if you’re looking for any other activities to do while in the park, check out our guide to the best things to do in Crater Lake!
And there you have it! Four epic stops on the Bend to Crater Lake Drive! As always, if you have any questions, let us know in the comments.