Crater Lake, located in southwestern Oregon, is the country’s deepest lake. The lake was formed seventy-seven hundred years ago when the volcanic Mt. Mazama collapsed upon itself creating a 1943 foot deep cauldron. Over the next seven thousand years, 500 inches of annual snow and rainfall filled the void. There are no rivers or streams feeding Crater Lake which means very little sediment is deposited into its crystal clear waters. With little sediment to discolor it, Crater Lake reflects an astonishingly intense blue hue. The day we hiked the Sun Notch Trail to view Phantom Ship (pictured at right), the water was so still, I couldn’t tell if the Phantom Ship was sailing in the sky or floating on the surface of the lake. The azure blue water defied reality.
When to visit: Crater Lake is open all year. The mountain roads leading up to the park and many of those inside are subject to closure due to adverse weather conditions. During the winter months, it is wise to check conditions before heading up the mountain. The park’s south entrance is open year round. The north entrance closes each winter and reopens only when road conditions are favorable. The summer season is short with wildflowers peaking in late July and early August.
What to do: If you do only one thing at Crater Lake, take the 33-mile Rim Drive around the lake. There are more than 30 pullouts and overlooks along the route treating you to many invigorating views of this magnificent body of water. At the north end of the lake, take the Cleetwood Cove Trail down to the lake and dip your toes into the refreshing, yet briskly frigid waters. Cleetwood Cove provides the only access to the lake shore.
Hiking Crater. Take the short Sun Notch Trail to view the Phantom Ship. Trek up Watchman Peak and get a glimpse of the stunning and unobstructed view of Wizard Island and the lake. Visit the Pinnacles – the eerily colorful volcanic spires that formed during the same eruption that created the lake. Hike up the 2½ miles Mt. Scott Trail to the historic fire lookout tower and experience the view from the highest peak in the park. The Garfield Peak Trail begins at Crater Lake Lodge and climbs a little over 1000 feet in 1.7 miles. Both of these hikes are well worth the perspiration!
Where to stay: Crater Lake features two campgrounds - the Mazama Campground has 200 forested sites with running water, flush toilets, bear lockers, picnic tables and fire rings. Lost Creek Campground hosts 16 tent-only campsites. Perched upon the cliffs at the southern rim of the lake, Crater Lake Lodge offers visitors 71 rustic rooms. Another one of the classic 16 Great Lodges of the National Parks, the Lodge features amazing views of the lake.
Trivia: The Pinnacles are “fossil fumaroles” formed when volcanic gases rose up through a layer of volcanic ash, cementing the ash into