Take a Scenic Road Trip from San Francisco to Bend, Oregon
By Kimberly Merryman
I love the drive from my home in California to visit family in Colorado every summer. The stretch through Utah is especially beautiful, and I look forward to my regular stops throughout the state. However, in the last couple of years, as my dog has aged, he has become less tolerant of the heat on the usual route through Nevada and Utah.
This year, I decided to grab an Escape Campervan, and take a scenic road trip from San Francisco to Bend, Oregon, and Idaho, then to northern Utah, and finally to Colorado. My goal was to find more northern latitudes that might result in more pleasant temperatures. While I didn’t totally avoid the heat, I made some unforgettable discoveries while adventuring in new places.
The first stretch of my scenic route from San Francisco to Bend would make a great trip on its own, from either the Portland camper van rental location or San Francisco camper van rental location. Check out my top recommended stops in northern California and Oregon—from lake swimming and big views on the trails in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest to iconic Crater Lake National Park and on to wildflower meadows below Mount Bachelor in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest.
First Stop: The Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California
Camping at Shasta Trinity National Forest
I stayed four nights in one of a handful of the free, dispersed campsites along Road 26 through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in far northern California. My spot was about 20 minutes from the funky town of Mt. Shasta and right on the South Fork of the Sacramento River.
Complete with plenty of shade and a swimming hole, sites like these are often easy to find on the iOverlander app. You could also check Castle Lake Campground or Gumboot Lake Campground nearby—both are free, but they fill up on summer weekends.
TIP: Don’t forget to bring your own water unless you reserved a site at a campground with potable water. There is no access to potable water at any of the above-mentioned campsites.
Hiking at Shasta Trinity National Forest
Just a few miles up Road 26 from camp, I parked at the Gumboot Trailhead and headed south on the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) toward the Seven Lakes Basin. The Seven Lakes Basin hike is a 6-mile (round trip) trek of mild to moderate hiking difficulty with stunning views of prominent peaks and forested lake basins, that lead to a chain of small lakes. My dog and I were overjoyed to take a dip and eat our PB&J tortillas on a quiet shore midway through the hike on a hot day.
Another option during a scenic road trip from San Francisco to Bend is to head north on the PCT from the same trailhead to hike a little over 12 miles to Porcupine and Toad Lakes. This hike is longer than Seven Lakes Basin and it takes longer to get to some water, but it’s an easier hike and has great views.
TIP: If you don’t have a GPS device with you, grab a detailed hiking map from one of the shops in the town of Mt. Shasta. I found myself somewhat lost a couple of times due to fallen trees or lack of signage, and cell service in the area is spotty.
Eating at Shasta Trinity National Forest
I enjoyed my standard camp meals of mac and cheese with broccoli and pesto angel hair pasta while camping here. But I couldn’t head out of the area without stopping at Yak’s in Mt. Shasta for their Shasta Veggie breakfast burrito and an iced coffee.
Next, Spend Some Time at Crater Lake National Park
Camping at Crater Lake National Park
I didn’t end up camping here, as the only sites left weren’t shady enough for my hot, old dog, but Crater Lake does have two campgrounds with bathrooms. They are open only during the summer months, and many of the sites are first-come, first-served. If you plan to go in July, August, or September, I recommend reserving a site ahead of time. Be sure to check the park’s website for updated information about closures before you go.
What You Can See at Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the US which also sits inside a dormant volcano crater, is unlike any lake I’ve ever seen. Since I had the doggo with me, I was only able to walk the paved path around the rim of the lake, but it was inspiring. (TIP: Dogs aren’t allowed on most trails in US National Parks.) The short, easy walk offered a variety of views of the surrounding landscapes perfectly reflected in the deep blue of the lake.
If you only have humans in your group, check with a park ranger or grab a map from one of the visitor centers in the park for information on several hikes in the park.
Finally, Don’t Forget to Stay at Cascade Lakes/Deschutes National Forest, Oregon
Camping at Cascade Lakes
Before leaving Crater Lake, I picked out potential campsites on iOverlander along the route to Bend, Oregon, and headed in that general direction. I found myself on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Deschutes National Forest, a 66-mile route looping several lakes and Mount Bachelor.
The byway was full of national forest campgrounds, many of which are reservable online. While they were mostly occupied since it was evening when I arrived, a few spots were available at South Campground, about a mile off the byway nestled among lodgepole pines next to quiet Hosmer Lake. My site had a c-shaped driveway and a little path down a small hill to a picnic table and fire ring from which I ate my veggie stir fry and watched the sky at the edges of Mount Bachelor glow pink as the sunset.
Hiking at Cascade Lakes
There are several trailheads with hikes of varying lengths and difficulties along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. I opted for an easy hike with great views on my way out of the forest toward Bend. Todd Lakes Loop is just under 2 miles and has very little elevation change. It does just what the name implies—it loops Todd Lake! It also includes a forested trail as well as a meadow of wildflowers with a view of Mount Bachelor beyond it and boardwalks over the muddier parts.
You can make the hike a little longer and get a little more of a workout with a 0.8-mile side trail up to a viewpoint of the lake. It was a perfect morning excursion before continuing on my scenic route from San Francisco to Bend to stock up on groceries and find some good coffee.
Book your Escape Camper van rental now from either of the Portland or San Francisco camper van locations and round out your summer with some quality outdoor adventures in Oregon and California. Stay tuned to find out where we went next!