PNW is Nirvana for outdoor lovers. Very likely you've heard that at least once or twice before, indeed it is! Spending three weeks exploring the region gave me a glimpse of its breathtaking beauty but I could easily spend three more months and barely scratch the surface, always in awe of the wonders found there.
I invite you to join me on this adventure that started on June'22 in Northern California; The journey will take us from Mt Shasta to North Cascades National Park, with stops at Mt Hood, Columbia River Gorge, Mt Rainier, back to Olympic National Park, to drive along the coast of Oregon down to Redwoods, CA to complete a loop.
(Being honest, I almost cancelled this trip a couple of times. Excuses were not in shortage. Overwhelmed by the challenges. I doubted my own purpose and commitment. God gave me the break I needed and I cannot/shouldn't stop praising Him for such gift. Such a sweet reminder that, when we accept His will in our life, we get to experience His steadfast love in very tangible ways.)
This article is part one of three, each part covers one week of the journey. I hope you enjoy this week 1 and come back for week 2 and week 3.
Week 1: From Mt Shasta, CA to Mt Hood, OR
I left home on Friday afternoon with the target to drive straight to the O'Brien Safety Roadside Rest Area for overnight rest. This location is an easy drive away from my targeted spot for sunrise expected at 5:40am.
Lake Siskiyou: I took the Cable Beach Trail - a short 1/4 mile trail with an amazing view of Mt Shasta. The day was beautiful and although the light wind stirred the reflections , it was undeniably a nice, quiet walk and I could breath in the freedom in the air.
Lake Heart: A short drive away is the trailhead parking for the Lake Heart. This trail was everything I expected and then some more. It is a 3 mile in-out hike with about 800ft elevation gain. Such great variety of wildflowers, awesome views and, guess what? the lake is shaped like a heart!
McCloud Waterfalls Trail: Chasing waterfalls was in my top to-do list but with so many in the region, it was not easy to pick just one; this 4-mile trail includes three waterfalls: Lower Falls, Middle Falls, and (you guessed it) Upper Falls.
It is a very popular place, specially on a hot weekend day. Picnic tables and restrooms are available and there's also a campground next to the trail. Lots of families with little ones and furry friends.
In my opinion, the prettiest one was Middle Falls, pictured here, although it was also the busiest because it has a nice pool at the bottom to swim and people can cliff jump too.
A note to myself that I should return earlier in the day and maybe in the cooler season.
Mt Shasta: After hiking over 8 miles on my first day, I needed to rest and this stop on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway (route 97) was ideal. Dinner with a sunset view extended into night under the stars as the clouds made way for the Milkyway over Mt Shasta. What a nice touch the shooting star! I always get the idea that a shooting star is like God smiling to me.
I woke up with the sun rising and started driving towards the Lava Beds National Monument, supposedly just an hour away from my location, however my GPS managed to send me through backroads into no reception area. I drove southeast for about 3 hours and almost run out of fuel. I had to adjust the plan and took the first HWY (139 N) looking for diesel which I found at the "Mercadito Ross". Missed opportunity, I skipped the Lava Beds and continued driving north into Oregon.
Crater Lake National Park: If you didn't know, this lake formed on a collapsed volcano and it is the deepest lake in America, close to 2,000' deep; For comparison, the Empire State Building is only 1,250' tall, imagine! Also, the water has such an intense blue color! wow!
It is possible to hike down from the rim (it is not an easy hike) though dogs are not allowed on the trails. A very good reason for me to take it easy and enjoy the views from the multiple overlooks as I wouldn't leave my westie in the car for such extended period of time.
There were no clouds so I decided to stay the night to capture the Milkyway raising over the lake. Beautiful dark sky. Just beware of mosquitos!
After shooting sunrise at Crater Lake, I drove northwest through the Umpqua National Forest on road 138. There are several waterfalls and I got to stop at three of them. (Please, do not confuse my inability to produce a pretty picture with a lack of beauty in the scene.)
Clearwater Falls: Easy walk from the parking lot. Lots of mossy trunks and rocks.
Watson Falls: Beautiful short hike in shadowed trail with ferns and flowers. The trail goes up to the side of the waterfall but not all the way up. This was my favorite one.
Toketee Falls: The longest hike of the three with some elevation gain and occasional glimpses of the river. The observation deck offers a view from above. Access to the bottom is fenced though I noticed some have gone off the trail nonetheless..
Then it was time to get back on HWY 5N and look for a location to rest that could also be a good spot for my first day of work on the road. It turns out that Gettings Creek Rest Area was very convenient and, very important, had good reception.
My first workday on the road went so well, such a relief! No hiccups with technology which was my biggest concern. I finished my day around 4pm and hit the road. I was 1.5 hours away from my next stop and sunset was at 8:20pm.
Koosah & Sahalie Falls: The waterfalls trail loop is a [mostly] paved trail that follows the river with viewpoints to the waterfalls. It was a very enjoyable walk, however I couldn't get close enough to the water for the kind of photo I wanted.
There is another trail, the McKenzie River Trail which might be a good option next time.
I enjoyed views of Mt Jefferson as I drove route 22 on my way back to HYW 5. I found the French Prairie Rest Area very convenient for overnight rest and for work the next day.
After completing my second successful workday, I was ready for more exploration. My eyes needed a new subject though. The coast was not in the plan this week but I was close enough to the beach to accommodate a quick visit and so I started driving on Sunset Highway (26) - another nice scenic drive.
Cannon Beach: It didn't take me long to find parking on the street, just steps away from one of the beach entrances. The sea stacks Haystack Rock and Needles are a sight to see, though my eyes turned quickly to the beach and the open invitation to walk on the sand.
It was overcast, therefore no expectations for a colorful sunset so I took on the invitation to get my feet wet and walked along the beach letting the waves wash my feet in their back and forth. Time suddenly slowed down or I just didn't care, most likely the latter. Every so many steps, I noticed people lighting a fire to wave the sun good night. I'm so thankful for those fires because it was pitch black on my way back - I should had brought my headlamp.
As I drove back towards Portland on the Sunset Highway, barely 10 min away from the beach, I found a very nice rest area which became my office for my third workday on the road.
Another beautiful day, the sky cleared up and temps were warm yet not too hot. I was looking forward to the long 4th of July weekend. After finishing my last meeting, I started driving towards Mt Hood, my next destination.
On my way, I stopped at the Jonsrud Viewpoint. As I was driving there, I saw a sign "Boring Winery", I thought that was an interesting choice of name, makes me think twice about going in. Then I saw a couple more such names like "Boring Cafe" and "Boring Middle School" and realized "Boring" was the name of the town! Still an interesting choice of name.
Lake Trillium: The lake itself is popular with those enjoying fishing, paddling, or just relaxing. For me it was also the great view of Mt Hood that called me to it. I parked at the Trillium Lake Dam Parking lot (a $10 fee) just on time to catch the last light. It was such a great way to end the day. I wanted to take star trails from this same location but the campground on the other side of the lake, together with the lights of the campers on the Mt Hood itself were a bit too bright. Time for some rest.
At dusk, I was ready for the sunrise. It was only 5am but my hope was to catch the first light reflected on the peak of Mt Hood. Mother Nature had a different plan; the fog coming from the lake was raising and got so thick, I couldn't see much of Mt Hood. That is my signal to turn around and challenge my eyes to find the not-so-obvious shot. In that wondering, I saw this little boat leaving the shore, I waited a few moments for it to get into a good position to capture this scene with the early sun light reflecting on the raising fog.
After breakfast (in the van), I spent a couple of hours doing housekeeping and catching up on rest before heading to the Columbia River Gorge, were my second week starts.
And that wraps up the first week. I have enjoyed every moment of the experience and it is my hope you have, too. While I wished I had more epic photos to show, just the opportunity to be there and enjoy quiet moments with nature is a big blessing. The cherry on top is that I got to practice with my camera capturing new landscapes.
Stay tuned for Week 2: Columbia River Gorge to Mt Rainier National Park.
If you are planning a similar trip, or have already done it, leave a comment and tell us what you liked the most of the experience or how are you planning your route.