How to roadtrip through Southern Oregon and California's North Coast

Day 1: Begin your adventure in the Bay Area. Hit the road by 10am and drive straight to the town of Redding, to grab a quick lunch at From the Hearth. Then head up I-5 to get a glimpse of Mt. Shasta. Keep driving north, and stop in world famous Ashland, Oregon, right over the border, for some Bing Cherry flavored ice cream at Zoe’s Cafe & All Natural Ice Cream (previously BJ’s Ice Cream) and drinks in the festively decorated Oberon’s. The whole town is Shakespeare themed, as it is home to the Shakespeare Theater Festival. Unfortunately we did not have time to catch a show, but there are usually a few plays each night!

End your day 1 adventure at one of our favorite AirBnBs of all time, in Grant’s Pass Oregon (Sunset View Yurt of Applegate Valley with HOT TUB!). The accommodations included delicious breakfast, access to a hot tub under the stars, grapes to eat right off the vine, as well as a yurt filled with records and books. 

Left to right: Mt. Shasta looming large; Oberon's; Yurt in Grant's Pass.

Day 2: Drive 2 hours further north to Crater Lake National Park. When we arrived though, the lake was completely socked in with smoke - you couldn't see anything!

Crater Lake, socked in with smoke from the wildfires.

Hike the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a steep climb down to the bottom of the lake and then back up again. It’s pretty much the only place in the park where you can get down to the water. So naturally, we jumped in (spoiler: it was very cold).

Set up camp at Mazama Campground, which is one of the only campsites within the park itself. Alternative accommodations include staying at the the Crater Lake Lodge or cabins at the Mazama Campground. Both are pretty pricey though.

Day 3: We lucked out and it poured all night while we camped, which cleared the air and smoke out of the Crater. So, in the morning we packed up our campsite in a hurry and headed to the visitor center to take in the scene. It was nothing short of incredible.

 Crater Lake, in all it's glory.

Crater Lake, in all it's glory.

If you have a second day in Crater Lake, hike the Garfield Peak trail, which starts at the Crater Lake Lodge and is a 3.3 mile out and back hike up the peak, with incredible views in every direction, including down into the Crater. Some of the eerier vistas included smoke from the fires in the distance to the south and west of the park.

Views along the Garfiled Peak Trail.

If the roads are open, drive north to visit Umpqua Hot Springs. Unfortunately due to the fires we could not proceed that way, and instead decided to drive the rest of the day directly to our next campsite at Sunset Bay State Park. This campsite is practically on the ocean, which in Oregon has this misty yet magical chill to it.

Coastal Views at Sunset Bay State Park.

Day 4: Wake up early and drive south on route 101. Stop in the town of Gold’s Beach for lunch at the Barnacle Bistro. Continue on to Brookings, right on the California border. Besides being home to a lot of dispensaries, there is incredible ice cream at Slugs’n Stones’n Ice Cream Cones. This helps fuel up for the next stop: Howland Hill Scenic Drive, deep within Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. This scenic drive takes you past the most incredible redwoods (warning: unpaved roads), with the option of hiking a nice quick 0.6 mile loop at Stout Grove. Here, you can enjoy the majestic trees as well as the quiet of the forest along the Smith River. End the evening by driving to a campsite at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

From left to right: lunch at Barnacle Bistro; coastal views near 101; slug ice cream; towering redwood trees.

Fun fact: Redwood National Park is actually split into multiple California state parks including Del Norte Coast Redwoods, Jedidiah Smith Redwoods, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State parks. Though a national park, it is maintained jointly by the state and the federal government. Because of this, and because most of the park lies along highway 101, there is no actual fee to enter the park.

Day 5: Wake up early and hike the Damnation Creek Trail, which is a 4 mile out and back trail that picks up randomly at mile marker 16 off highway 101. Make sure you take the right trail: if you are facing the woods, take the trail to the right, not the left. The hike starts among the towering redwoods, which in the morning are filled with mist, and ends at the ocean. The bridge that leads to the ocean at the very end of the trail has been washed out though, fair warning.

After the hike, continue on 101 to the scenic route through the Avenue of the Giants, which is another gorgeous drive through the redwoods, with historical pull outs along the way. Then continue on to Fort Bragg, catching the last rays of sunset over the Glass Beach. Grab a quick dinner at Piaci Pizza and call it a night (warning: Fort Bragg is pretty sleepy and restaurants close early, so plan accordingly!).

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Day 6: Grab ice cream from Cowlick's when they open. Then drive back to San Francisco, optionally stopping at Anderson Valley for delicious Boont Amber beer (our favorite). For more information on things to do on an extended stay in the Mendocino region, check out my previous post here

Takeaways:

  1. I thought living in the Bay Area, I had seen my fill of redwoods. But the ones near San Francisco don’t even hold a candle to the ones further north. Who knew that staring up at trees would make me want to cry for their pure, unadulterated beauty.

  2. This trip was a little on the fast side, and only doable because of the long days at the end of summer (we went the first week in September). For a more leisurely journey, add a night in Gold Beach or Brookings, or spend an extra night in Crater Lake.