I will never forget my first glimpse of Crater Lake on a clear and sunny day in August. The water so intensely clear and blue that it looked like someone spilled a bucket of blue paint to create 21 square miles of pristine lake. Situated in the middle of the caldera is Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone at the west end of Crater Lake. The now-dormant volcano called Mount Mazama erupted many years ago and left behind a caldera which we now call Crater Lake and is a place that many visit and admire. It’s the deepest lake in the United States and is only fed by rain and snow. It really does inspire awe from any visitor.
At the beginning of this summer we bought a National Parks Pass that allows us entrance into all the National Parks for a whole year. Taking advantage of this we set out on a four and half hour road trip to Crater Lake N.P. located in Southern Oregon.
Prior to stopping at every view point and exploring the park, we headed to the Information Center to get a map and figure out our lodging for the night. The park has two campgrounds, Mazama Campground (214 sites reservable,$22-35) and Lost Creek Campground (16 sites no reservations,$10) and the park also has cabins and a lodge that you can reserve if you don’t want to camp. The other two options were to go wilderness camping in the park or drive 20 miles south of the park headquarters and stay overnight at a sno-park. For wilderness camping all you had to do was get a free backpacking permit at the rangers station(open 9am-5pm). The rangers station has maps posted on the wall and recommended established wilderness campgrounds are also posted. Wilderness Camping is permitted 1mile away from any park trail or road. The sno-parks are on forest service roads and have big parking lots where you can park your RV or drop your tent. Camping on forest service roads is free.
After we figured everything out and got to know more about the park and all the trails we headed out for a picnic at one of the many picnic areas in the park. We devised a plan for the evening, visited the Vidae Falls, and returned back to Watchman’s Overlook just in time to hike the 1.6 mile loop to a fire lookout above Wizard Island for spectacular views of the setting sun over the mountains. Our eyes were glued to the horizon as it was changing from a blazing orange to a deep pomegranate red and blue. Our faces aglow with the last orange rays of the sun as they were slowly sliding behind the mountains. There is something so serene about watching the sun go down.
For the first night, we decided that we would stay at the sno-park. It was free and we were almost the only ones there. Our location proved to be a large parking lot with forest service roads leading away from it, and since we arrived late we chose to camp on a patch of grass right off the parking lot. The morning revealed our neighbors which had arrived during the night, a group of adventuring nomads. They had packed up all their belongings into a MINI Cooper and were traveling throughout the US. After an animated conversation about the beauty of travel we returned to Crater Lake.
This day we chose to do the rim drive, a scenic highway which is a 33 mile loop that follow the caldera rim around Crater Lake with many viewpoints and hikes along the way. Some of the highlights of the rim drive, starting from the west are Watchman Overlook, Discovery Point, Rim Village (they have a gift shop & cafe), Vidae Falls, Phantom Ship Overlook, The Pinnacles, Pumice Castle Overlook, and Cloudcap Overlook.
There are many hikes that you can enjoy in the park that give you spectacular views of the lake and mountains.
Here are some of our favorite:
Easy- The Pinnacles Trail (0.8miles roundtrip), Plaikni Falls (2.0 miles roundtrip), Sun Notch (0.8 miles roundtrip)
Moderate- Discovery Point (2.0 miles r.t.), Watchman Peak (1.6 miles r.t.)
Strenuous- Wizard Summit (2.2 miles r.t. on Wizard Island), Mount Scott (4.4 miles r.t.), Cleetwood Cove (2.2 miles r.t. this is the only legal access to the shore of Crater Lake), Garfield Peak (3.6 miles r.t.)
The second night we decided to change things up a bit and got a backpacking permit to go wilderness camping. We backpacked out to Grouse Hill (a mile hike out from the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot) and stayed the night there. We woke up at 4:30 AM to hike back to our car and find a viewpoint to watch the sunrise.
The best places to watch the sunrise are at Watchman Overlook( if you can, hike up to the watchtower), Discovery point and any other viewpoints that you think would give you a good view of the sunrise.
After watching the sunrise we ate breakfast and headed out of the park to check out Diamond Lake, Toketee Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs in the Umpqua National Forest just several miles down the road from Crater Lake N.P.
Entrance Fee- $15 per family car, good for 7 days.
Best time to visit- The park is open year-round 24 hours a day. Due to snow some roads, trails and and facilities are closed seasonally. Plowing begins in April but the West Rim Drive tends to open by early Jun and the East Rim Drive typically opens in early July.
Internet, ATMs, Electric Vehicle Charging Station, Post Office, Restrooms, Showers and Laundry are all available at Crater Lake N.P.
Bicycling- You can bike on paved roads although they are physically demanding they are also rewarding. You can bike the most popular 33 mile rim drive and stop along the way to see all the beautiful view of the lake.
Swimming- Swimming is only permitteed at Cleetwood Cove (2.2miles r.t.) or at Wizard Island. The water is very cold and people swim for just a few minutes.
Sky Gazing- It’s a perfect place to see stars and the Milky way!
Fishing- Fishing is allowed at Cleetwood Cove along the rocky shore and at Wizard Island. The only type of fish that you will be able to catch is rainbow trout and kokanee salmon which are the only species that still remain in the lake. Fishing licenses are not required.
Junior Park Ranger and Ranger-Led Activities- If you are bringing along kids there are many activities for them in the park. There is a free activity book at the visitor center which they can explore the park with , complete the activities and then return it to a ranger to earn a Junior Ranger Badge. There are also ranger talks, evening programs , afternoon hikes, and a sunset hike that are all guided by a ranger from the park.
Crater Lake Boat Tour- Take a ranger-narrated boat tour of the lake and or Wizard Island. More info can be found on the parks page.
I hope you can visit this amazing and awe inspiring natural wonder soon!