“I expected something remarkable but was not prepared for a scene of such wonder and beauty … How exquisite, rare, unreal.”—Zane Grey, 1919
Some of America’s greatest authors have waxed rhapsodic over the sight of Crater Lake’s blue waters. It’s the same view that compels people from all over the world to visit Oregon’s most popular national park site each year.
And for some, the picture-perfect view of the calm azure waters is the final payoff for the trek to Southern Oregon and the winding road to the top of the collapsed volcano.
As I rub my aching feet, I envy these people. They sit on comfy deck chairs planted on the wide front porch of rustic Crater Lake Lodge, chatting or reading books. Every once in a while they look up, as if to make sure that, yes, one of the world’s most stunning views is still within sight.
Those people didn’t bring their kids. I did, and while the sight of the rugged caldera walls rated a heartfelt “Sweet!” from my 13-year-old, it didn’t hold his attention for too long. After dumping our gear in our suite at the 71-room lodge, we found ourselves in the visitor information cabin checking out more active pursuits.
With two hours to go before our dinner reservation at the lodge’s restaurant, we decide to take one of several hikes that begin within walking distance of the lodge. Crater Lake has 90 miles of hiking trails; the newest one, Plaikni Falls, leads to a hidden, lush waterfall. We choose the 1.3-mile trek to aptly named Discovery Point, which rewards us with bird’s-eye views of the lodge, the lake and the Klamath Basin to the southeast.
Upon our return, we are greeted by the enticing smell of appetizers in the timbered Great Hall. Built in 1915, Crater Lake Lodge was extensively remodeled in 1995 after a six-year closure, during which park officials debated whether to rebuild or demolish the crumbling structure.
Although very little of the original structure could be saved, the Great Hall wing was carefully dismantled and rebuilt. Today even the decades-old soot on the river-rock fireplace remains, although the heat comes from more modern propane.
After dinner, my husband opts to settle in front of that fireplace and read a book while my son and I walk down the hill to Mazama Village at the south entrance to the park. We pick our way with a flashlight to the campground amphitheater, where we listen to a park ranger extol the virtues of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thirty-three miles of the Mexico-to-Canada route run through the park.
Maybe that’s why, the next morning, we decide to tackle Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only access down to the waters of the lake. The trail drops 700 feet during its mile-long descent. Tour boats leave here during the summer months for trips around the lake and out to Wizard Island.
My husband and son break out their fishing rods — no license required here — while I stretch out in the sunshine and dip my feet into the achingly cold water. A couple of tranquil hours later, we’re fishless but happy.
As we trudge up the trail’s relentless switchbacks, I cast a wistful look down at the pristine lake. This afternoon I plan to be one of those camped out in a deck chair, dining on appetizers and drinking in the view.
Crater Lake National Park Info
The park is open year-round, although snow is common from October to June. Check out current fees in advance here. National park packages are also available. Visit www.NPS.gov/crla to learn more and plan your trip.
Crater Lake Lodge
The 71-room lodge and fine dining room offer stunning views of Crater Lake. Open late May through mid-October. Reservations are recommended well in advance.
The Cabins at Mazama Village
Situated in a peaceful ponderosa pine forest, the complex’s 40 guest rooms are located seven miles south of Rim Village. Open late-May through mid-October. Reservations are recommended well in advance.
Mazama Village Campground
Located at the south entrance to the park, this campground is open mid-June through early October with 212 tent and RV sites, some of them wheelchair accessible.
Crater Lake Trolley
Three brightly colored trolleys offer a two-hour guided tour around Rim Drive. The trolleys are ADA-compliant and powered by environmentally friendly compressed natural gas. Trolley season runs from late June through early October, but may go later or end earlier depending on snowfall.
Volcano Boat Tours
Up to seven tours a day leave from the boat docks during summer months from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, weather permitting, July to mid-September. Drop-off at Wizard Island is available for an extra fee. Access to the dock is via the very steep and strenuous Cleetwood Cove Trail, 2.2 miles round-trip. Tickets are sold only at the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead parking area.
Can’t wait to go? You can satisfy your Crater Lake longing with a virtual visit via the park’s webcams.
Historic Prospect Hotel
Once a stage coach stop, this historic property is now a charming bed and breakfast only 28 miles from Crater Lake.
Written by Megan Monson for Travel Oregon.
Featured image provided by Susan Seubert