Alpine Adventures

Don't Miss Two Cascades Trips, Opening This Week

It's time for excursions into the mountains, which aren't accessible during snowy months or wildfire season. McKenzie Pass and Crater Lake boat tours just opened this week.

By Sam Stites June 29, 2023

With Summer in full swing, it can be overwhelming to select where to head in Oregon. We have a vote: consider the high cascades, which are now accessible due to snow melt and a lot of shoveling—and not yet immersed in wildfires. We’ve got two suggestions: 

Take a Spin through McKenzie Pass 

Last week, the Oregon Department of Transportation finished its annual task of digging out the McKenzie Pass Scenic Byway to reopen the road to cars and cyclists. Highway 242 is a seasonal route that will take you from the McKenzie River on the west side of the Cascades, eastward through forest and lava fields, past mountain lakes and peaks, dropping you off in Sisters. You'll take in panoramic views of peaks like North and Middle Sister, Mount Washington, and Black Butte. Make sure to stop and take the very brief hike up to the Dee Wright Observatory where you can identify all the mountains via a metal plaque and get a brief geology lesson on the volcanic history of the nearby Belknap Crater

According to ODOT, private funding built the highway in the 1870s for use as a wagon toll road, and the pass became a seasonal scenic highway in 1962 when the Santiam Pass (Highway 126) was completed. The road’s narrow and twisting path, along with elevation in excess of 5,300 feet at its highest point, make it too difficult for transportation crews to keep it clear for more than a few months each year until Veterans Day. 

There are plenty of options for lodging near either terminus of the McKenzie Pass Highway, including camping along the McKenzie River just off Highway 126. We suggest Paradise Campground, which is heavily shaded and offers easy access to the chilly river known for its rafting and fly-fishing. If camping isn’t your thing, the Five Pine Lodge in Sisters is the very definition of “mountain chic” (yes, we’ve been watching a lot of HGTV) with its wood-framed beds, an abundance of stone accents, and giant soaking tubs. The lodge has rooms, as well as cabins, for rent, meaning you could travel solo or bring family and friends. To top it off, the lodge is located right next to Three Creeks Brewing, a severely underrated member of Central Oregon’s craft beer scene despite winning many of the same accolades as the region’s bigger brewing names. 

If you ever wondered how the boats get into Crater Lake, now you know.

Tour Crater Lake by Boat 

Three, brand-new, 41-foot aluminum boats were dropped off via helicopter this week into Crater Lake to shuttle visitors to and from Wizard Island—the volcanic cinder cone protruding from the west side of the lake’s surface—and on tours of the rest of the lake. 

According to Crater Lake Hospitality, the group that operates the boat tours, the new boats being put into operation in 2023 are more fuel efficient, provide more seating for visitors, and are quieter than previous models. There are no private boats or flotation devices allowed, in an effort to avoid invasive species being introduced to one of the cleanest, clearest, and (definitely) deepest lakes in the United States. 

Those interested in taking a boat tour should be warned that reaching the docks requires use of the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a hike down a series of brutal switchbacks dropping more than 700 feet in just over a mile. People with mobility or health concerns are discouraged from attempting. 

Boat tours include interpretive talks by park rangers educating guests on the history and geology of Crater Lake and allow visitors to view the park from unique perspectives. You'll also have the chance to explore Wizard Island's 2.5-mile trail to its summit, or to swim in the lake’s frigid water. 

Finding campsites within Crater Lake National Park is extremely hard unless you plan on hiking through the backcountry. We suggest heading outside the park. If you’re a camper, there are several campgrounds along the upper stretches of the Rogue River just southwest of the park. Farewell Bend Campground—not to be confused with Farewell Bend State Recreation Site seven hours away—in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is picturesque, with most of its 61 campsites abutting the river and providing the sound of rushing water. It’s just an hour away from the north side of Crater Lake.  

If luxury is more your speed, drive a bit further south (about an hour and 45 minutes) to Running Y Resort near Klamath Falls. Massive guest rooms with plush beds and balconies overlook the handsome grounds and 18-hole golf course, plus there's the option of massages and body treatments, a nail and brow salon, and dry sauna.