“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb into riotous gladness!” – Helen Keller
Crater Lake National Park, established in 1902, protects the deepest lake in the U.S. As we headed for Crater Lake from Mount Rainier leaving Washington for Oregon, we weren’t sure what to expect from a visit to this park.
Having settled into Mazama campground at $29.00 a night for a campsite with no hookups – ouch! – we were eager to reach the Rim Village Visitor Center to find out how Crater Lake was formed. While watching the park film we learned that a massive volcanic eruption left a deep basin where a mountain peak once stood. Crater lake is 1,943 deep at its deepest point and holds 4.9 trillion gallons of water. Wow, that’s a lot of water and all of it derived from rain or snow!
The following day we headed out on the Rim Drive, a 33-mile road that encircles Crater Lake, and immediately realized that this place is full of magic. There must be twenty or so turnouts on the rim which all give visitors a little different perspective of the lake. The whole idea that this used to be a 12,000-foot mountain that had a volcanic eruption and collapsed into what we now know as Crater Lake seems incredible.
The water is a stunning shade of blue and we knew we had to touch it. The only legal access to the shore of Crater Lake is a strenuous trail with a steep grade, which we didn’t think twice about including on our “must do” itinerary. Swimming is only permitted at Cleetwood Cove and at Fumarole Bay, located on Wizard Island and reachable by a boat tour from the cove. Unconvinced about the swimming, a visit to Wizard Island rreceived a resounding double yes.
After taking in the Rim Drive we headed off to visit the Pinnacles, volcanic spires which formed during the same eruption that created Crater Lake. As best we can describe they look like hundreds of massive termite nests spread out over a large area. Strange landscape indeed.
The next stop was to see Plaikni Falls, a two-mile easy stroll through an old growth forest with a final short climb to the falls. Making our way along the path we wondered what we would find given the dusty drought conditions of the area. Fortunately, however, the falls were on full display and we later found out that the water for the falls starts from an underground spring.
Cold and rain was predicted the day of our boat trip to Wizard Island. Not to be deterred we purchased our tickets along with other hopeful passengers. Soon we would be standing at the top of a caldera within a caldera and our excitement was palatable. Luckily the weather was holding as we hiked down the steep trail to the boat dock at Cleetwood Cove.
But as we traveled across the lake we could see the weather starting to roll in and we silently wondered if we would make it to the top in time. Fellow hikers know full well that being on top of a mountain during a storm is not the smartest of ideas.
When we docked the captain told us that everyone should return immediately if we heard a horn indicating that lightning was imminent. Without a minute to spare we took off on the trail and made our way up 2.2 miles and 760 feet of elevation as fast as we could to the summit determined to beat the weather. The trail was very steep and rocky, but, we kid you not, we reached the top at least ten minutes before the rest of the people on that boat (some were half our age!).
The summit didn’t disappoint and gave us a remarkable view of Crater Lake from the inside out.
Quickly we scrambled to the bottom of the caldera to take it all in and appreciate the moment.
Fists bumping we returned to the summit and walked the slim path that leads around the 90-foot deep crater.
Our ranger tagged along with us for our descent. As we arrived at the boat dock he proceeded to fill his water bottle in the lake and said to no one in particular, “I’m going to fill up on some of the purest water available; officially I can’t tell you it’s okay to drink but its been tested, a lot, and never detected giardia.” Not missing a beat we filled up our Nalgene and enjoyed the water as well. The boat trip back was quite enjoyable, weather holding throughout, and our outing ended as we took our time to make the 700 foot climb back up to the top of the trail and back to the campground to prepare for moving day. Again.
Up Next: Redwood National Park