For a long time, I’d known that I wanted to spend my 40th birthday at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. So I’d always be able to answer the question, “Which Parks are you going to do next?” with a nod to a distant trip to Guadalupe Mountains. Then it became the next Park, and then that trip came and went. Afterward, we weren’t sure where exactly we would focus for the next big trip, but a grand trip that had been percolating in my mind soon became the clear frontrunner. In early 2019 we began planning a trip with great bookend cities and some iconic Parks: flying into Portland, doing the three Parks that surround northern California’s Mount Shasta, and flying home from San Francisco. Redwood National Park just sounded magical. Crater Lake National Park is one of the iconic early Parks. And Lassen Volcanic has long been one of the Parks in the system I’ve been most excited about.
As Sean’s and my journey to the National Parks has evolved and matured over its first eight years, our approach to visiting the Parks has allowed for some of the trips to take different shapes than I’d necessarily have expected earlier on. Generally, our time spent in each Park has, on the whole, grown longer. Quick trips of a day or less, tied to other travel, have been the exception rather than the rule. Early on, we tacked on Olympic and Joshua Tree to other travel. Now we tend to give lesser known Parks plenty of breathing room with extended stays at Great Basin or Guadalupe Mountains, for instance. We’ve also become more and more attracted to bookend cities. Right from the beginning, we liked the idea of finishing up a backpacking trek with a night in a cabin or lodge (see Isle Royale or Big Bend), but even better was a bit of urban life somewhere other than our city. We love both Portland and San Francisco, so we were as excited for the cities as we were for the Parks.
We decided on September for the trip. We like going to the Parks in late summer because the kids are back in school and the crowds are less. The Dakotas and the Grand Staircase were both big multi-Park September trips.
As we began planning, it turned out that flights were better if we started in San Francisco. From there, the trip took shape: four nights in San Francisco, then three nights each in Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, and Crater Lake before a conclusion with three nights in Portland. I had reserved campsites and booked hotels by early June and we were all set!
In terms of length and ambition, it was a trip second only to our Alaska honeymoon. Here is the final itinerary:
Friday, September 6
AA2798 ORD-SFO: 5:00-7:39
Tuesday, September 10
Drive along the California Coast to Redwood National Park, maybe stopping for lunch in Mendocino
Friday, September 13
Drive from the coast into the southern reaches of the Cascades to Lassen Volcanic National Park
Monday, September 16
Drive past imposing Mount Shasta into Oregon to Crater Lake National Park
Wednesday, September 18
Day trip from Crater Lake to Lava Beds National Monument
Thursday, September 19
Drive up the Oregon coast to Portland, maybe stopping for lunch in Coos Bay and dinner and sunset at Cannon Beach
Thursday, September 19 – Sunday, September 22
Sleep: The Society Hotel
Sunday, September 22
AA1442 PDX-ORD: 1:35-7:39