Though we visited Portland several years ago and had fallen in love with its relaxed vibe, beautiful surroundings and fantastic eats, the rest of Oregon remained a mystery to our family. It’s both sizable and largely forested, and we hoped to discover more of it someday.
The pandemic proved to be the catalyst that got us road-tripping from L.A. up to Oregon. While we only covered a sliver of the Beaver State — the southern Oregon coast and Crater Lake National Park — it was more than enough to be enchanted.
We drove up from California through the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, a rugged 12-mile coastal stretch from Brookings to Gold Beach with several marked lookouts and viewpoints. We made a quick stop at the Natural Bridges viewpoint and were immediately taken by the stunning natural sea arches and small cove below. Next we stopped at Gold Beach, where we climbed rocks while shrouded by mist. In contrast to the wide sandy beaches of southern California, the Oregon coast beaches are strewn with large boulders and have an air of wild, untamed beauty. (And don’t expect balmy temps just because you’re at the beach; even in early August, we were wearing fleeces and pants.)
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Since we had already driven a long way and intended to cut east to Crater Lake, our family chose to base in Bandon, a pint-size beach town that likely hasn’t changed much in decades. With tourism still in nascent stages along the southern coast, much of the charm is the simple, small-town feel. There’s a quaint Old Town that’s fun to stroll, with shops, restaurants and a brewery. We especially liked nearby Bandon Rain’s Cranberry Squall hard cider.
Many of the region’s farms (including Valentine Blueberries, where we picked sun-kissed berries), artisanal restaurants, bakeries and breweries are part of southern Oregon’s Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail to help visitors and locals alike engage with like-minded growers and purveyors in the area.
Vacation rentals and small inns are the norm along the southern coast. With younger kids, we found it handy to have a kitchen to prepare breakfast and snacks. Choose a beachfront rental and you’ll enjoy easy access down to dramatic Face Rock beach, the town’s showpiece. The dramatic sea stacks here, like the rest of Oregon’s coast, were formed millions of years ago by lava that cooled into solid basalt. Today, many of these rocks are home to a variety of shorebirds up top as well as sea creatures such as barnacles, mussels, sea stars and more, clinging to the sides below.
Our family also spent an afternoon exploring the string of state parks — Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago — in Coos Bay, 30 minutes north of Bandon. The parks are connected by hiking trails and can also be seen from sea cliffs above. Look for colonies of seals and sea lions on Shell Island and Simpson Reef.
From the coast we drove east to Crater Lake National Park. Given its remote location, we knew if we wanted to visit, this road trip would be our chance. We weren’t disappointed: The cobalt blue lake is a gorgeous natural wonder that looks almost as though an artist had taken a paintbrush and colored it in. Formed by Mount Mazama, a volcano that erupted and collapsed thousands of years ago, and eventually filled with snow and rainwater, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,943 feet. Its vivid hue is related to the clarity and purity of the water.
While Crater Lake is a smaller park with the lake as its main attraction, there is still enough to fill a day or two. You can drive along the rim, hike, chat with a ranger and take the boat to Wizard Island (closed during our visit). Our favorite was the 1.6-mile Watchman Peak Trail, which not only gave us a spectacular view of the lake and Wizard Island, but also a sense of satisfaction that we completed the 420 feet climb as a family.
We chose to spend two nights in the park, though many visitors make it a day trip from Bend or Eugene. Accommodations include a rim-facing lodge as well as recently renovated cabins at a campground a few miles away.
Visiting southern Oregon and Crater Lake underscored our sentiment that traveling and discovering more of our country, including overlooked or under-the-radar regions, is much more than a consolation or silver lining during these difficult times. It’s a gift to families, including ours.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Tanvi Chheda.
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