Who would have thought that a wild volcanic event many thousands of years ago in a remote section of what is now the Pacific Northwest would create Crater Lake, one of the most breathtaking natural wonders of the world. Starting this summer, Oregon Skyway will let you spend a perfect day sampling many of Oregon’s beautiful outdoor sights, including Crater Lake, Salt Creek Falls, Willamette Pass Resort and Shelter Cove Resort on Odell Lake.

The inaugural tours take place each Friday through August 28th 2009 departing from Eugene, at a cost of sixty nine dollars per person. The cost includes the bus ride, a deli box lunch and a memorable ride aboard a gondola. The starting point is Eugene, located in Lane County. That’s where the Willamette Pass Express motorcoach will depart Friday mornings and you will arrive back in Eugene at the dinner hour.

If you choose to stay in Eugene the night before, try the cozy Campus Inn, located downtown. Visit one of Eugene’s finest restaurants: Ambrosia Restaurant and Bar. Featuring Italian cuisine, it is located a few short blocks from the Campus Inn. Browse the pizza menu and order “Pizza Diavola,” a sweet and tangy pie featuring Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, red onions, hot red pepper flakes, provolone and fontina cheeses. The crust is perfect and the onions are savory and thinly sliced. The outdoor seating has a European feel.

Before heading out in the morning, take advantage of the hotel veranda. Read your newspaper or novel. Enjoy the Jacuzzi or the Nautilus Fitness Center and enjoy the continental breakfast serving up sample bagels, English muffins, fruit and orange juice, served each morning from 6:30 to 9:30.

On Friday morning, leave the Campus Inn and walk a few short blocks to 7th and Willamette. The motorcoach will be waiting for you just a few steps from the Hult Center and Eugene Hilton. Start boarding at 8:30. The bus leaves at 9 a.m. Shortly after your journey begins, as you are navigating Highway 58, notice Lookout Point Reservoir.

Then, admire the rippling stream of the middle fork of the Willamette River and the Lowell Covered Bridge. Just when you thought you’ve escaped civilization, you’ll approach the charming, but tiny, town of Oakridge. The Oakridge area is a popular destination for mountain biking. If you’re from out of state, and not familiar with the lay of Oregon’s land, don’t worry. A friendly guide will be on the bus to point out key sites and answer your questions.

Get ready for your first stop on the tour. You’ll need your camera and binoculars to view the magnificent Salt Creek Falls, the second-highest waterfall in Oregon. Hike the nature trail, read an interpretive plaque and discover that Salt Creek Falls is one of a handful of nesting sites in Oregon for the Black Swift, an insect-hunting bird that flies high in the sky.

After leaving the Falls, start looking for Diamond Peak, in Oregon’s magnificent Cascades. The next stop is Willamette Pass Resort. Stroll through the beautiful lodge before taking the Oregon Skyway gondola ride. As the gondola heads up Eagle Peak, in the Willamette National Forest, you’ll witness a breathtaking view of Odell Lake and Diamond Peak. Take some time for a delicious deli box lunch before heading back to the motorcoach. After leaving Willamette Pass, you gradually notice a drier climate with Lodgepole and Ponderosa pine trees dotting the terrain.

After a jaunt on Highway 97, your Willamette Pass Express heads to Highway 138 in the direction of Crater Lake. Be on the lookout for Mt. Thielsen, a mountain with a peak that seems as sharp as the tip of a needle. After entering Crater Lake National Park, the first stop will be a lookout point. Find out that Crater Lake resulted from the eruption of Mt. Mazama.

A caldera (basin) formed after the ancient mountain collapsed, eventually producing the deepest lake in the United States; it’s depth is nearly 2 thousand feet. After seeing the lake’s stunning blue color, roam through the Crater Lake Lodge and Village. Inside the lodge, notice a charming fireplace and a dining room.

An exhibit room details the early history of the lodge, including a historic time line and an old video of historic park scenes. Walk the path from the lodge to the visitor center, where you’ll find t-shirts, Junior Ranger hats for kids and a model of Crater Lake. At the nearby Rim Village Café and Gifts, buy a sandwich and soda pop and shop for gifts, including clothing and handcrafted wood products. Camera supplies are available.

It’s time to head back up Highway 97 and a return visit to scenic Highway 58. Your last stop will be Shelter Cove Resort on Odell Lake. This a great area for campers. Head to the docks and take pictures. Notice baby ducks and, if you’re lucky, some bald eagles. A community campfire is available. Enjoy the “General” store, complete with soft and hot drinks, espresso and non-perishable groceries.

After witnessing some of the greatest natural attractions in the world, you’ll head back to Eugene to catch your breath. At the conclusion of this perfect day, grab your camera, get your photos printed quickly and share them with friends and family. They’ll be amazed at Oregon’s unsurpassed beauty.

What and Where:
Campus Inn-Eugene
(390 E. Broadway; 800-888-6313)
Ambrosia Restaurant and Bar (174 E. Broadway; 541-342-4141)
Oregon Skyway-Crater Lake Scenic Tours (www.oregonskyway.com)
Lane County, Oregon (www.travellanecounty.org; 800-547-5445)
Oregon Tourism (www.traveloregon.com; 800-547-7842)

Uselful Information: The tour cost is 69 dollars per person, which includes the bus ride, a deli box lunch and a memorable ride aboard a gondola. Expect to arrive back in Eugene at the dinner hour.


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