Amtrak to Joshua Tree and Crater Lake
My wife went to LA some years back and has lamented that she did not visit Joshua Tree while she was there. We have also discussed, quite a few times, trying to visit all the national parks, at least as many of them as we can, while we can. We also discussed going to Crater Lake and were actually supposed to go last year on our 2016 Amtrak trip, but some changes to that trip meant we were unable to make that happen. Luckily, will my constant desire to do train trips, I realized we could squeeze in both of these parks easily on Amtrak. I was able to convince Carmen that this was a good plan and we went ahead with the plan. The train trip was amazing, you can read about it here.
Joshua Tree was our first official stop on the trip, it is easily accessible from a few stops along both the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle as well as the Southwest Chief. We opted for LA as the stop we would leave from, as it would mean we wouldn't have to rent and return a car to multiple places. LA Union Station has two car rental places in the station, which was awesome, as the airport is about an hour away. We picked up our car and hit the road. The drive is about three hours and very straightforward. When we got to the park, we showed them our parks pass; the parks pass is $80 per year and gets you in to each and every park, well worth every penny.
Joshua Tree is named after the Yucca brevifolia or "Joshua Tree" as they are commonly called. When I was told about the park, this is all I thought was there, a huge swath of land sparsely dotted with these trees. While that is not untrue, there are also amazing rock formations, desert landscape, and even a cactus garden.
We spent most of the day driving around to various places in the park, doing short hikes, some that were really amazing, such as the Hidden Valley, and some less exciting, such as Cottonwood Spring. We also decided to take some less charted roads (dirt roads), just to see what we could find. While Joshua Tree was not high on my list of places to visit, I have to say that it very pleasantly surprised me with what it had to offer.
We drove back to LA, stopped for some food along the way at Native Foods, which was amazing. I also picked up some It's-it at the grocery store next door. Man, those really are amazing. If you're anywhere they are available, pick them up. Just do it.
We dropped the car off at Union Station, as we really had no need for it; we were staying right next to Union Station and parking at our hotel was expensive. We also had nowhere to go, our train was early the next morning and I just wanted to hang out in a nice bed.
Unlike Joshua Tree, which neither of us had been to, I had visited Crater Lake in 2001 with my family, on our sweet Millenium Tour (we even had shirts). It was then, and still is, absolutely beautiful. The wife always wanted to visit, and our plan was to make it there in 2016, which we did not do. After 22 hours on the Coast Starlight, we got off our train at the station, took a cab, the only cab I might add, over to the airport to pick up our rental car from Hertz. The guy at Hertz was the best rental car agent I've ever dealt with, by the way.
Straight from picking up our rental car, we hit the road for the hour and change drive to Crater Lake. The north entrance to the park was closed due to fires, we didn't mind as we were coming in from the south. We stopped at the entrance for a map and to show them our parks pass, and up the road we went.
Crater Lake is beautiful, the surrounding area is full of hikes and pullouts for scenic views, but our limited time here was enough, in my opinion. We spent around four to five hours doing various hikes. Unless you're standing at the rim, the surrounding area looks just like anywhere else in the western forests.
We did get to see a handful of birds and little chipmunks while we were hiking about. There is also a boat ride that one can take while in the park, we opted to skip that, though. Maybe next time. Going to Crater Lake might be better in the summer, or the dead of winter to see it covered in snow. Either way, it was well worth the visit.
We headed back to Klamath Falls after our time here, where I might add we had some really good talking time in the car. Our hotel, Cimarron Inn, was really nice. They had a pool, probably better in the summer months, as well as a shuttle, which picked us up after dropping our car off. Also, in the morning they took us to the Amtrak station free of charge. I'd suggest them to anyone visiting Crater Lake and staying in Klamath Falls. I would also highly suggest this as a stopover on a trip on the Coast Starlight.