Crater Lake by Train, from San Francisco
Crater Lake, OR, can be done from San Francisco without a car and by public transportation and bicycles… if you’re up for an adventure.
Suggested trip length: 3 day weekend
SF -Oakland: SF Bay Ferry
Oakland – Klamath Falls, OR: Amtrak Coast Starlight
Klamath Falls, OR – Crater Lake: Bike 60 miles, 3000 vertical (also option to take Crater Lake Trolley in Summer)
There is 1 northbound train per day from Oakland to Klamath Falls and 1 southbound back – the whole reason this trip works is because of the timing of those trains. The northbound the train leaves Oakland at 9:30pm and arrives in Klamath at 7:30am the next day. The return leaves Klamath Falls around 10pm and arrives in Oakland at 8:00am. We left Friday night and arrived back in Oakland Tuesday morning after Labor Day Weekend in time to catch the ferry back to San Francisco for work. You can book your train tickets at amtrak.com – should be about $100 round trip per person if done in advance.
Note: One can take BART or the Amtrak bus from SF to Oakland… personally I recommend the Ferry for the romance.
For the train, boxing up the bikes is a hassle, but very doable – it’s $15 for each bike box and $10 to check each bike – be sure to bring a wrench and know how to rotate the handlebars on your bicycle so your bike will fit in the box. Additionally arrive to the station an hour early to make sure the process goes smoothly – Amtrak isn’t known for their customer service. Tip: If you are nice to the folks at the station in Klamath Falls they might hold onto your bike box for you, saving $15/bike on the return trip.
On the train we brought a bottle of wine with us and went to the Pacific Parlor Car to watch the city lights and the Golden Gate Bridge fade into the distance while sipping wine. With a little red wine and jackets as blankets we slept like rocks in our coach seats-- so well we almost missed out stop in the morning! I highly recommend the Klamath Grill for breakfast before starting to ride to Crater Lake. Additionally there are NO grocery stores beyond Klamath Falls (one very small bodega in Fort Klamath, restaurants in Park) so be sure to go grocery shopping in Klamath Falls!
There are two bike routes – one east of Klamath Lake and one west – and the toss up is length versus traffic. Google map it, but personally I would recommend the slightly longer west side with less traffic. It’s beautiful country and much easier to enjoy not biking on a highway with constant traffic. Be sure you are prepared for the about 3000 foot climb up to the Crater Lake Rim the last 15 miles! Plenty of scenic places to take breaks on the way up.
Once you are at the park the hiking trails aren’t well connected so I recommend either taking the Crater Lake Trolley or hopping back on the bike and locking at whatever trailhead you choose. We tried to walk around the lake and ended up walking on the highway for a lot of the hike. Going down by the boat launch is a must – great cliff to jump off into the lake!
Camping is available by the park entrance, along with a very casual restaurant, and there are also hotel options at the park as well. Be sure to check out the Crater Lake Lodge – a classic hotel right on the Lake Rim.
Monday night when we biked back to Klamath Falls we intended to stop at the Klamath Falls YMCA for a $5 shower before going out to dinner and the train ride home (was closed Labor Day) but would recommend it. No great dinner recommendations, but a couple places to choose from. Don’t forget to drop your bikes off at the train station in plenty of time and enjoy the overnight ride back to the bay!
Before departing make sure you note that the Coast Starlight is is often late and don’t schedule any early meetings the morning you are scheduled to get back.
Let me know if you decide to make the journey! It sure is a fun one!