From Portland to Crater Lake: 4 Best Ways to Get There

Written by Brad Lane
May 22, 2020

One of the world's great natural attractions, Crater Lake is a four-hour drive from Portland. The main route follows Interstate 5 South for over a hundred miles to Eugene. It's another hundred plus miles through national forests of Oregon from here.

The drive is possible in a straight shot or over many days. Alternative road trips to Crater Lake follow the coast or pass by Mount Hood on the Mount Hood Scenic Byway.

A train ride also delivers passengers from Portland to Crater Lake National Park during the summer. The Coast Starlight Train from Amtrak spans the length of the U.S., from Seattle to Los Angeles and beyond. Both Portland and Klamath Falls land on this year-round train route. Between July 1st and Labor Day, the Klamath Shuttle takes passengers from Klamath Falls to the Rim Village Visitor Center.

Other options to get to Crater Lake from Portland include bus or plane. It's approximately a six-hour bus ride from Portland to Medford, where visitors catch a connection to Klamath Falls. The two nearest airports to Crater Lake are in Medford and Klamath Falls. Direct flights are available to both cities from Portland, and both airports offer a wide range of rental cars.

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1. From Portland to Crater Lake by Car

Crater Lake
Crater Lake

It takes approximately 230 miles to reach Crater Lake by car. A straight shot to the national park takes around four hours to drive. The route begins with driving over 100 miles southbound on Interstate 5. Cutting east through the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests of Central Oregon, drivers then head 90 miles on Oregon 58. After merging onto US 97, Crater Lake is less than 30 minutes away.

An alternative route to Crater Lake from Portland includes cutting across the Cascade Mountains via Highway 26. Part of the Mount Hood Scenic Byway, Highway 26 offers excellent views of Mount Hood, and optional side trips at places like Timberline Lodge. From Highway 26, drivers head south on US 97 for over 100 miles to reach the park. This route takes an extra hour to traverse for a total five-hour trip.

For those with a few days to spend traveling, the road trip possibilities are endless from Portland to Crater Lake. A scenic diversion from the traditional route includes heading south on the Oregon Coast to reach Crater Lake. Eugene and Bend are both on the way to Crater Lake from Portland and make for great stopover destinations.

2. From Portland to Crater Lake by Train

Union Train Station in Portland
Union Train Station in Portland

Another option to get to Crater Lake from Portland is by train. The Coast Starlight train extends the entire length of the country between Seattle and Los Angeles. This Amtrak route includes stops in Portland and Klamath Falls. From Klamath Falls, passengers take the Klamath Shuttle to the Rim Village.

This cross-country train features a dining car and a Sightseer Lounge. Sleeper cars are also available. The train ride takes over seven hours to reach Klamath Falls from Portland. The entire journey to Crater Lake takes over 20 hours, however, with an overnight layover in Klamath Falls to catch the shuttle the next morning. One-way tickets between Portland and Klamath Falls are approximately $60.

Crater Lake by train is a popular choice on a more extended train vacation. It's also a popular route for people from Portland who don't want to rent or drive a car. The Coast Starlight train operates year-round, but the Klamath Shuttle is only available between July 1st and Labor Day. Outside of this summer season, visitors need to rent a car in Klamath Falls to get to the park.

3. From Portland to Crater Lake by Bus

Winter sunset at Crater Lake
Winter sunset at Crater Lake

It's possible to take public buses from Portland to Crater Lake. Buses are available year-round that travel from Portland to Medford, and from Medford to Klamath Falls. From Klamath Falls, the Klamath Shuttle delivers passengers to the Rim Village Visitor Center in the park. The Klamath Shuttle operates seasonally between July 1st and Labor Day.

Outside of Klamath Shuttle's operating season, public transportation users will need to rent a car to make it to the park. Car rentals are available in both Klamath Falls and Medford. If the Klamath Shuttle isn't running, renting a car in Medford makes the most sense, as it avoids two bus transfers to Klamath Falls.

Greyhound operates the only long-distance route between Portland and Medford. It's an approximately six-hour trip between the two cities. The route typically runs three times a day, and tickets can be less than $50 (one-way). The Greyhound makes five stops along the way.

To reach Klamath Falls and the national park from Medford, users catch the Route 60 bus from Rogue Valley Transportation to Crater Lake Avenue. The Southwest Route from the POINT takes passengers to Klamath Falls from here. Depending on connections and transfers, an entire ride on public transportation to the park could take upwards of 20 hours.

4. From Portland to Crater Lake by Plane

Aerial view of Crater Lake, Oregon
Aerial view of Crater Lake, Oregon

The two closest airports to Crater Lake National Park are in Klamath Falls and Medford. Car rentals are available at both airports. It's approximately a 75-minute drive from Klamath Falls to the Rim Village Visitor Center and nearly two hours from Medford. During the summer, Klamath Falls operates the Klamath Shuttle, which provides a round-trip to the visitor center.

Flights to Medford or Klamath Falls are similarly priced, with one-way tickets available for under $100. Some trips include a transfer at Sea-Tac International Airport in Washington. Direct flights are also available, which make the journey in under an hour. Expect three to four hours for non-direct flights - or roughly the same amount of time it takes to drive to Crater Lake.

The decision to fly into Medford or Klamath Falls comes down to preference. Medford is well over twice the size of Klamath Falls and offers a wider variety of restaurants and places to stay. Klamath Falls is closer to the park and provides a shuttle in the summer. Klamath Falls also has a unique cultural charm of its own. Portland visitors can experience the best of both cities with a long weekend in southern Oregon.

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