The eight of us drove south from Newberry National Volcanic Monument bound for our next destination, Crater Lake National Park. The day was incredibly smoky as we drove. Winds began rocking the suburban as a weak cold front began moving through, bringing the promise of much needed rain to this year’s intense fire season.
We arrived at the Mazama Village Campground late in the afternoon. Few of the campsites were occupied and we had our pick of quality sites. Camp was rigged for the expected rain and we fixed a dinner of walking tacos as night fell.
Thursday morning brought what was reputed to be the first smoke free day in more than a month. Wyatt and I woke up early and drove up on the east rim to catch a clear view of the lake before winds could shift and bring back the smoke. We stopped at a few different vistas before heading back to camp and enjoying breakfast with the crew.
We cleaned up and the eight of us drove up first to Steel Visitor Center where we caught the park movie and picked up a copy of the visitor guide. From there it was on up to Rim Village where we hiked along the ridge and enjoyed the lobby of the historic Crater Lake Lodge.
Our big goal for the day was to take a swim in the lake’s cold, deep, azure waters. We grabbed swim suits and goggles and drove north to the Cleetwood Cove trailhead. Cleetwood Cove offers the only point in the lake where you can actually get down to the water and involves a 2.2 mile round trip walk with about 700 ft of elevation change. As we drove north to trailhead winds began to shift from the south again, bringing in a plume of smoke.
Crater Lake is unique for several reasons. First is its immense depth, at 1,943 ft deep it is the deepest in the United States. Second is its astonishing clarity, rumored to be perhaps the clearest in the world (in June of 1997 the clarity was recorded at 139 ft). Finally, it’s just plain cold. Average surface temperature in September is in the mid-50’s.
It’s really hard to appreciate these aspects of the lake without jumping in. Swimming out into the lake and watching the lake bottom drop off into the most incredible electric blue color while wondering how far beneath the bottom of the lake rests is truly incredible. The eight of us enjoyed the cold clear waters for about an hour before hiking back up to the car and heading back to our campsite.
Friday was our day to hike. We had been eying the 4.4 mile round trip hike up to Mount Scott, the park’s high point at 8,929′. The walk up is beautiful, giving great views to the south. However, these don’t prepare you for the spectacular overlook of the lake itself and the surrounding terrain that the summit offers. Best of all, the trail was virtually deserted on our trip. We enjoyed the summit before coming down and eating lunch at a picnic spot just north of the trailhead.
We stopped by the Pinnacles on our way back to the campsite. These interesting formations were formed by steam vents solidifying columns of ash, making them more erosion resistant than surrounding areas. A flat 0.8 mile round trip walk provides access to these features.
Our last hike of the day was the 1.7 mile Annie Creek hike. This is a pretty loop that starts and ends in the Mazama Village Campground and parallels pretty Annie Creek for part of its course.
Saturday we transitioned to bikes. Our stay in the park happened to coincide with the 5th annual “Ride the Rim” event. On this day as well as the next Saturday the 25 mile East Rim Drive was closed to motor vehicles, allowing cyclists to enjoy the narrow road with it spectacular views.
The eight of us started out together from the Steel Visitor Center, slowly making our way counter clockwise. Wyatt had indicated that he wanted to ride the entire 33 mile loop, and it did not take him long to leave us behind. Colter, Zane, and I then pulled away from Jen, Sabrina, and the “Littles”. In the end, Wyatt, Colter, Zane, and I all road the entire 33 mile loop. Jen managed to coax the “Littles” into riding all the way to Vidae Falls where they played for a while before turning back.
Sunday brought a conclusion to the Crater Lake portion of our trip. We pack up camp, loaded the trailed and set off. We did one more drive around the rim before heading out, spending time talking about all the things we want to do on our next visit.
See it Yourself: Crater Lake National Park encompasses 183,000 acres of the remnants of the 12,000 ft high Mount Mazama. It’s last eruption, about 7,700 years ago left the large caldera that has now been filled by Crater Lake, the deepest in the United States. The park offers scenic drives, hiking, camping, and backpacking in a spectacular family friendly setting.