On the volcano's rim
Hidden in the caldera of an ancient volcano, a pristine blue lake reflects the surrounding cliffs. The water's glassy surface is undisturbed. It's a sight that has captivated onlookers for more than a century and continues to draw visitors to Cra...
Hidden in the caldera of an ancient volcano, a pristine blue lake reflects the surrounding cliffs. The water's glassy surface is undisturbed. It's a sight that has captivated onlookers for more than a century and continues to draw visitors to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Crater Lake formed about 7,700 years ago when the ancient volcano Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed into itself, according to the National Parks Service. Rain and melted snow eventually filled the resulting crater and the lake was formed.
With a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. Because of its closed system -- no streams or rivers run into or out of the lake -- it is also one of the cleanest and clearest lakes.
Unlike most national parks, Crater Lake is small enough to cover in one day if you don't plan any longer hikes. A number of short trails and overlooks give a beautiful view of the deep blue lake inside the crater.
Entering the park
The first task is choosing a route into the park. To reach the trails and overlooks, visitors must drive along the west or east rim of the crater. If you're afraid of heights, make sure you're not behind the wheel and keep your eyes away from the edge of the road.
The 33-mile Rim Drive circles Crater Lake with numerous overlooks along the way. Some visitors choose to follow the entire road around the caldera, but I recommend keeping to the eastern half of Rim Drive.
One stretch of the west rim is called Devils Backbone. It is aptly named. On this side of the rim, steep drops appear on both sides of the road, with no guardrails. Erosion and falling rocks have also claimed sections of pavement, and at points the white line marking the edge of the road has fallen off the cliff.
Where to stay
Where to stay in the park depends upon the level of luxury you desire and how much money you are willing to spend. The Lost Creek Campground is the cheapest option at $10 a day. It has 16 sites (all for tents only) and is more remote than the 213-site Mazama Campground, which costs from $19-25 per day. Both campgrounds have flush toilets and running water.
At the high end of the price scale is the Crater Lake Lodge in Rim Village. The lodge has 71 rooms and overlooks Crater Lake, but be prepared for high costs. Reservations must be made well in advance.
- One very easy trail that offers great views of the lake is the short jaunt up the Sun Notch Trail. The hike is only a half mile round trip with a very gradual climb. From lookout points, Crater Lake can be seen with open vistas of Wizard Island, a small cinder cone covered with trees, and a rock formation call the Phantom Ship.
- The slightly longer hike to Garfield Peak (3.4 miles total) provides closer views of Wizard Island and more panoramic overlooks of the lake. The trail is also much busier, however, and the final climb to the peak may be closed into late July because of snow. Picturesque views of the lake are seen even without reaching the top, and bright pink, yellow and orange flowers sprout from rocks along the length of the trail.
- A worthwhile hike away from the caldera is Crater Peak. Many visitors flock to Mount Scott, the highest point in the park. To avoid the crowds and still climb for some impressive vistas, Crater Peak is a good option.
The 6.4-mile trail begins with a short climb up a rocky incline and then plunges into the forest. For the hike through the forest, you will need bug spray. Lots of it. The cool wind around Crater Lake keeps the mosquitoes at bay when you hike on the rim, but once you venture away from the water it's a feeding frenzy.
After the trek through the forest, the trail begins a more than 700-foot climb to the summit of Crater Peak, which is actually a small, dormant volcano. Ascending to the top, you walk through a meadow that fills the small caldera. A few piles of snow, dotted with elk tracks, could still be found in the crater in mid-July.
- The only route in the park that takes you to the water's edge is the Cleetwood Trail. About two miles round trip, the path is comprised entirely of switchbacks and descends 700 feet to Crater Lake. A boat launch at the water's edge provides tours of the lake for a fee, and a swimming area is available for those who care to test the frigid water. The return climb can be tiring, but plenty of benches are placed along the trail for those who need to rest.
- If you have time, also check out the Annie Creek trail that begins in Loop E of the Mazama Campground. The less than two-mile loop trail climbs down into a valley and crosses over the creek numerous times before the return climb. When in season, wildflowers are found on both creek banks.