Redwood Forests & Crater Lake - Labor Day 2016

Nine hundred Miles, two nights, two National Parks, and with that finally visited all 9 National Parks in California. We drove up from San Francisco during Labor Day weekend to check out the Redwood Forest and Crater Lake National Parks. We had tickets to see Coldplay that weekend, but Chris Martin can come back next time (with a better album, yup I said it); any chance to travel and get outside the city is always preferred.

It’s about 350 miles from San Francisco to the Redwoods, another 150 miles to Crater Lake, and a 400 miles doubling back to the Bay Area. We planned on passing by Redwoods National and State Parks with a short hike, and camp out a couple nights near Crater. The drive up highway 101 to Redwoods is pretty scenic, passing by Marin and skirting the coast line near Eureka, CA. You can even get a preview of the Redwood trees by taking the Avenue of the Giants scenic byway.

Redwood National & State Parks itself is actually a jointly managed cooperation between the state and federal agencies. It’s really more like a collection of several smaller parks with a few small towns nestled in between.

A few miles into the park, we pulled over to see Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox at the Trees of Mystery roadside attraction. I noticed that there’s quite a bit of these tourists attraction along the way actually. Wonder when these proprietors switched from logging redwoods to running a tourist trap.

We did a short hike in Stout’s Grove in the Jebediah State Park portion of the area. It’s about a mile stroll around a patch of old growth Redwood trees. Seeing these trees from up close is always amazing, especially knowing that some of these are thousands of years old. They’ve stood here like a silent historian of the world, watching high up from their towering perches.

It’s even sadder to know that the groves that we see nowadays are but maybe 10-20% of what used to line the California coast due to heavy logging. It’s amazing really to see the efforts of conservationists, state, and federal government to be able to save these trees from capitalizing private companies. I wonder if nowadays that kind of conservation effort is still possible or even welcomed by the general public.

After finishing our stroll, we took the North exit out of the Redwoods passed the Hiouchi entrance, and cross the California state line to Crater Lake National Park. We had reserved a campground in a state facility about 11 miles outside of the national park entrance and got there after sundown. Quickly set up our tent and slept to wake up early to catch the sunset the next day.

Waking up around 5AM, we drove straight into Crater Lake and headed towards Watchman Point. Navigating around Crater Lake is actually fairly simple, there’s essentially 2 entrances (South / North) and Rim Drive that circumnavigates the perimeter of the lake. You basically pick either going clockwise or counterclockwise around the park.

Watchman Point sits on the west edge of the lake, overlooking Wizard’s Island, the leftover cinder cone peak from previous eruptions. Sitting here early in the morning, we saw the sun rise over the ridge across the other side of the lake. I can tell that it’s going to be a clear day without any clouds in the sky.

After getting our fill of the sunrise, we cooked our breakfast near the Rim Village, where most of the park amenities are: nice hotel, stores, and cafes (with really bad coffee), and took a bit of a nap. A little more awake, we start driving on East Rim Drive toward’s Scott’s Peak to do our hike for the day. Plenty of scenic stops and vista points along the way, like the Phantom Ship overlook or Pumice Castle. Most of the points of interests are really a view of the lake from different angles.

Scott’s Peak is the highest point in the lake and a medium-strenuous 5-mile roundtrip hike. The hike itself starts fairly moderate until you get to the side of the mountain and hit the switchbacks. You do get a pretty nice view of the surrounding area, and again the lake from afar.

At the top of the peak is a fire watch station, which looks like it’s still occasionally used, but otherwise somewhat rundown with very precarious wooden steps. You can’t actually get on the station, but you get to chill and enjoy the view around it.

Coming down from the hike, we did a short detour to Plaikni Falls, a leisurely 1 mile roundtrip to a nice waterfall. And from then on, we got back on East Rim Drive to take the long way around back to Watchman Point.

We thought about joining the Ranger-led group hike up to the Watchman Peak overlook to see the sunset. But after we layered up and walked to the meeting point, quickly decided to just hike up on our own. The group was pretty big and we wanted to stake our spots at the peak before the crowd gets there.

The hike up was just 0.8 miles and pretty moderate, but by the time we got up there were already a bit of a crowd forming. We had made a good decision coming up on our own instead of joining the group hike.

Back to my spot, I continued to shoot at the lake until the light faded. Within literally seconds of the sun setting, a thick cloud rolls straight into the lake and pretty much obscured the view nearly completely. I managed to sneak in one cool shot before the cloud blocks the rest of the view.

Coming down from the peak, we thought we might just wait out the clouds for a bit until the stars would come out and I can start getting Milky Way shots, just like those I’ve seen on Flickr or 500PX. But assessing the sky, it doesn’t seem like the clouds are going to let up anytime soon. A little disappointed, but knowing that we’ve had spend a good full day in the park, we were pretty satisfied and began driving back to our campground. Save the stars for a next visit maybe.

The next morning, we started our drive straight back down to San Francisco. It was a pretty packed 3-day weekend but it was completely enjoyable. And as a bonus, we also got a pretty nice view of Mount Shasta. The mountain is always calling.


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