Crater Lake, Oregon - When Mt. Mazama went "BLAMMO"!
Updated: Feb 25, 2019
Crater Lake is situated in a remote area in southwest Oregon. A volcano called Mount Mazama blew its top off about 7700 years ago in an explosion that made Mt. St. Helens look like a firecracker. Over time, the resulting 6-mile wide caldera filled with rain and melted snow. At its deepest point, Crater Lake is 1943 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the U.S. and one of the deepest in the world. The lake’s depth combined with the water’s clarity lends to Crater Lake’s signature intense blue color. Dramatic cliffs nearly a half-mile tall extend from the water’s surface to the crater’s rim. Wizard Island, Crater Lake’s only significant island, is actually a volcano within a volcano. The conical island is visible from all vantage points along the rim. Forgive me for employing a tired cliche, but photographs and video do not do Crater Lake the justice it deserves. The scene must be experienced. My daughters (11 & 13) and I were very fortunate to have visited on a clear sunny late-June morning.
Arriving from Grants Pass, Oregon, we entered Crater Lake National Park through the east entrance (Oregon State Route 62). We drove about 10-15 miles of scenic, but relatively unspectacular paved roadway to get to the crater’s rim. We saw a few deer on the way. Although we visited in late-June , there were huge snowbanks that had to be sculpted away to allow traffic to pass near the rim. A 33-mile long roadway (Rim Drive) with plentiful parking areas and scenic viewpoints circles the crater. I was disappointed to discover that Rim Drive was closed along the east side of the lake due to deep snow. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the numerous vantage points on east Rim Drive between the Crater Lake Lodge and North Junction. Our first stop was the Rim Village area where we witnessed our first spectacular view at about 6:00 AM. The Rim Village Visitor Center was closed, but we walked a bit down a paved trail behind the Visitor Center to the Sinnott Memorial Overlook. Although there aren’t any bad places to view the lake, this trail offers a somewhat more panoramic view than other overlooks. The early morning sun cast dramatic shadows upon the rim’s rocky cliffs. The lake’s calm water provided a stunning mirror reflection of the blue sky and Wizard Island. Since it was so early, we encountered very few other people. There was no extraneous noise from chatter or vehicles. Our view of the lake was enhanced by singing birds and a gentle breeze. The only negative... We were relentlessly attacked by very persistent mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. They took enough blood to supply a trauma ward for a week and left welts the size of Hershey kisses. If you visit early in the day, an effective insect repellant is advised. A more serious caution... Most of the scenic overlooks are located right on the crater’s rim. The volcanic rock can be unstable. Heed the warnings and stay behind the walls and fences where they exist and keep an eye on the young’uns. This park has had its share of tragedies.
The park has two visitor centers. The aforementioned Rim Village Visitor Center is located about 1/10 of a mile from the Crater Lake Lodge. It is small, but is actually located on the rim and thus, the lake is visible from there. This visitor center is located near the cafeteria (only dining facilities in the park) and gift shop. The Rim Village Visitor Center is only open during the summer (June - Sept.). The Steel Visitor Center is located down the mountain about three miles south of Rim Village. It is larger, is open year-round and serves as the park headquarters, but is in a far less scenic location.
Crater Lake Lodge:
This beautiful, rustic stone and wood building was constructed in 1915 and fits in nicely with the scenery. It has 71 guest rooms on 4 floors. We stopped in to use their facilities, so I took a quick look around. The floors, ceilings and walls are natural wood. There are several huge stone fireplaces. The lobby is gorgeous, with rustic, yet elegant decor. The north side of the lobby has gigantic picture windows providing lake views. The rates actually appear quite reasonable for this type of lodging... from $129 to $248 per night, depending on room type and view.
Crater Lake National Park has only two campgrounds. The Mazama Campground os open June through October. It has 200 spaces with no hookups. The small Lost Creek Campground is tents-only. Neither campground has a view of the lake.
Hiking and Boat Tours:
The park has about 90 miles of hiking trails from mild to strenuous, but again, most don’t provide a lake view. One exception is the Cleetwood Trail. Located on the lake’s north side, the Cleetwood Trail is the only trail located on the inside of the rim and provides the only access to the lakeshore. It is a mile long (one-way) and has a 700-foot change in elevation, so it is quite strenuous. There is a boat dock at the bottom of the trail. 2-hour narrated tours depart hourly from 10 to 4 from late June - September. Fare is $19.25 for adults and $11.50 for kids 12 and under. The tour stops at Wizard Island, which has a trail to its summit. We arrived too early and didn’t budget enough time to take the boat tour, but it seems it would be very enjoyable for those who are willing and able to hike back up the trail.
Crater Lake National Park receives an incredible amount of snowfall... an average of 44 feet per year. Consequently, there is a very narrow window of time when all of the park’s roads and facilities are open and accessible... usually early July through early September (or the first heavy snowfall). To see the lake, it is crucial to access Rim Drive. Part of Rim Drive was closed during our late-June visit. Sometimes none of it is open until early July. If you want to know if Rim Drive is open or have any other questions about the park, you may call the park information phone number... (541) 594-3100.
The Pumice Desert is a weird little area located on the park’s north road. It’s an unusual bare area bordered by a pine forest. By definition, it’s not an actual "desert"... since it gets several feet of snow each year. The sharp volcanic rock in this area permits only sparse vegetation. We didn’t stop, but the stark change in scenery was striking as we passed through this mile or so of unusual terrain.
At this National Park, the lake view is definitely the "star of the show". The thing is... there’s not much more to do in the park other than look at the lake. And due to the unusual topography, most of the other things to see and do are not within view of the lake. Nevertheless, Crater Lake is overwhelmingly and indescribably beautiful. As I’m sure others will corroborate, Crater Lake must be seen and experienced to be fully appreciated. It is certainly worth driving out of your way just to take in this astonishing sight.
About an hour and a half north of Crater Lake N.P. is the Bend, Oregon area. There are no single views as amazing as Crater Lake, but the scenery is still spectacular... and the activities extend beyond scenery and are much more family-friendly. Oh... one more thing... I may have exaggerated a little about the size of the Crater Lake mosquitoes... Maybe the slight nuisance seemed more profound in the presence of this natural splendor.
Crater Lake National Park Website: