There are just a few places I rate as “jaw-droppers” for stunning scenery in the west: Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Glacier Park – and Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is close enough for a 3-4 day excursion (just seven hour’s drive from Stockton) and September to early October are some of the best times to visit.
“It is unlike any other natural wonder in the world. It is the Jeweled Sapphire of the Cascades, set in a matrix of peaks and castled walls; we may look upon it but once then wear it in our hearts forever”, said author and poet Stanton C. Lapham in 1931.
We were there a few weeks ago for three days, on a longer trip through the Cascades, Pacific Northwest, Idaho and Montana (Glacier Park) and Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Once again, Crater Lake burned itself into our long-term imagination!
We drove north, with a detour to Lassen National Park and a back route over Mt. Shasta; just past Klamath Falls, OR, is the turnoff to Crater Lake. We arrived a day earlier than expected, found the Mazama Campground full, and were directed to several nearby National Forest campgrounds where we settled our teardrop trailer.
We relocated to the Mazama Village campground which we had reserved for our final two days in the park (it includes a cafeteria, store, showers, ranger talks in evening, fire rings and 200 spacious trailer and tent sites). We do our own meals, though the park has several other places to purchase prepared food like Crater Lake Lodge.
Our first day in the Park, we drove to the Crater Lake Lodge area on Rim Drive’s southside. The old lodge is a treasure in itself (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015); treat yourself to a meal there! Walking to the crater’s nearby rim, that first view remains always inspirational. Crater Lake, which filled the collapsed volcano’s caldera some 7,700 years ago, is the bluest blue you’ll ever see. The lake is 5 miles across, and 6 miles long. Two islands appear from the crystal waters, Wizard Island, the larger, and Phantom Ship, at the lake’s north end.
There are several “must dos” while enjoying the park. Stop at Steel Visitor Center at park headquarters and watch the graphic film that explains the chain of volcanic events that formed Crater Lake, and presage a future eruption! Then tour the 33 mile Rim Drive, by auto, or by bicycle (though, with almost 4,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, one best be in good biking shape; we saw scores of cyclists).
Rim Drive offers 30-some different vantage points around the old volcano, each with incredible perspectives. Most have educational story-boards that tell the tale of the volcano’s thundering eruption and eventual collapse of the once 12,000 foot peak to form the caldera. Take a picnic lunch and drinks and enjoy some of the most dynamic dining scenery in America!
Many of the park’s volcanoes are extinct and can be climbed: Wizard Island, Mount Scott and Union Peak. Cloudcap can be reached by auto, ending on top on the highest paved Oregon road at 7,865 feet! And challenge your young visitors to discover the park’s youngest volcano (tip: it erupted 4,800 years ago, but under the waters of Crater Lake, so you can’t see it!).
Another fun tour takes you to the park’s north end; hike down into the caldera (about 700 vertical feet down – and up). Then wet your feet, fish, swim or take the several hour boat tour; a park ranger does a great job of narrating the dramatic events that formed this national treasure. One can also stop at the larger island, Wizard Island, itself an extinct volcano within the lake’s perimeter, and hike to the top!
If traveling with kids, challenge them to find Phantom Ship, a strange volcanic isle at the lake’s northeast corner – it looms out of the blue waters like a ghost pirate ship. Another stop sure to wow young or old travelers is to visit the Pinnacles, on a spur road off Rim Drive which takes one to multi-hued volcanic formations from the same volcanic eruption that birthed Crater Lake itself.
When to go: The park is open year-round, but the North Entrance and much of the Rim Road is not open after about November 1. Best time to visit is September to early October – though weather can come early at 7,000 feet elevation!
What’s nearby: Klamath Falls is the largest city south, on Hwy. 97, offering provisions and lodging. Diamond Lake and Diamond Lake Resort are just 30 miles north of the park; a very pretty high-altitude lake, with great fishing and fine breakfasts. If you have a few additional days, plan a “ring of fire” trip – taking in Mt. Lassen National Park (just east of Redding) and Mt Shasta. A more extended trip could take in Mt Hood, OR and Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams in Washington, all majestic peaks and part of the volcanic chain of the north Sierra and Cascade ranges.
Dining, lodging, camping options: Mazama Village offers dining, camping and cabin rentals, while Crater Lake Lodge offers 70 rooms and fine dining. Mazama Village Campground offers 200 year-round campsites.
How to get there: To reach Crater Lake, just 400 miles and 7 hours from Stockton, go north on I-5 to Weed, CA, then northeast on Hwy. 97, then take Oregon Hwy. 62 to the park entrance.
To plan your visit: go to http://www.nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/hours.htm, or call the park’s Public Information Officer, (541)594-3091.
Next week, insight on touring north to Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, WA, part of the fiery volcanic legacy of the Pacific Northwest. For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy travels in the West!