Crater Lake National Park
|Crater Lake National Park at sunset (Joe Sohm/Digital Vision/Getty)|
Crater Lake National Park averages approximately 500,000 visitors per year who marvel at the impossibly blue waters of Crater Lake from lookouts along the park's Rim Drive. It's the deepest lake in the United Statesthe seventh deepest in the world, and its reputation as a spot of overwhelming, sublime natural beautythe "Gem of the Cascades"extends around the globe.
Crater Lake's peaceful appearance belies its violent creation. Approximately 7,700 years ago, 12,000 foot Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed on itself, forming a large, bowl-shape caldera. Remaining lava flows sealed the bottom and, after a long period of cooling, the caldera filled with rain and snow, creating the sapphire-blue lake.
For too many people, a glimpse of the lake is all they take away from a visit to this national park. Their loss is your gain, for there's much more to do in the park, and there are few crowds away from the Rim Drive. The High Cascades of southern Oregon is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. A mountain wonderland raised by volcanism and carved by glaciers, the southern Oregon Cascades offer some of the best biking, hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing in the country.
Journey along the Rim
With more than 20 scenic overlooks along the way, the 33-mile Rim Drive around Crater Lake provides a multitude of spectacular views. Open only during the summer (closed to the public from late-June to mid-October due to snow and ice buildup), this two-lane road offers access to many wonderful hikes. Trailheads leading to Garfield Peak in Rim Village, Lightning Springs on the west side, Mount Scott on the east side, and Crater Peak on the south side are all easily attainable from Rim Drive. On the north side, visitors find Cleetwood Cove Trail, the only trail with direct access to the lake. Kerr Notch and Sun Notch Viewpoint are wonderful places to marvel at the sights of Phantom Rock and Wizard Island. On average, allow two hours to travel completely around Crater Lake. While taking in the spectacular sights, be on the lookout for deer and other Crater Lake residents crossing the road.
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Visit the Volcano within a Volcano
To gain access to the lake, hike a mile or so down the steep trail to Cleetwood Cove. Tour boats make regular trips from Cleetwood Cove to Wizard Island, a small, volcanic cone rising from the crystal-blue water. For those who make the effort to get there, the views from Wizard Island offer an entirely different perspective of Crater Lake than those from the rim. Climb the 800-foot summit and gaze at the deep blue waters, look up at the beautiful rim encircling you, and explore the 90-foot crater of this volcano within a volcano. Also on the island is a trail to Fumarole Bay, a favorite spot for fishing and swimming for those able to withstand the near-freezing waters.
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Hike the Highest Peak
The views from the rim are stunning, but the secret's out: Rim Drive overlooks can get awfully crowded. Do yourself a favor and leave the car-and-camper set behind. The five-mile round-trip journey up to 8,929-foot Mount Scott, the highest point within the park, can be a strenuous one. The trail is longer, steeper, and has a greater elevation gain than the popular trail to Garfield Peak. Your reward comes in fewer people cluttering the trails as you ascend to the summit, named for 19th-century pioneer Levi Scott. From the top you will see the best views of the lake, as well as the peaks of surrounding mountains such as Mount Thielsen, California's Mount Shasta, and Mount Jefferson. The best time to view the lake is early morning; be sure to bring plenty of water.
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Nordic Ski along Rim Drive
Winter comes early and stays late at Crater Lake. The National Park Service warns of extreme weather conditions from October to Junethe kind of weather conditions that provide miles of ungroomed trails to explore on skis. The rim of the lake offers some of the best cross-country skiing in the country. The granddaddy of all tours is the multi-day, 33-mile circuit of the lake. For those not interested in snow camping, the Wizard Island Overlook Trail offers spectacular views over gently rolling terrain. This five-mile round-trip from the Crater Lake Lodge is the most popular trail to ski and snowshoe in the park.
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Step into a Pair of Snowshoes
An average of 529 inches of snow falls on Crater Lake each year. Volunteers and park rangers lead ecology walks on snowshoes on weekends throughout the winter. Strap on a pair of snowshoes, take a walk, and learn what it takes to survive a nine-month winter. Many stops are made during the hour-and-a-half tour where the leader explains how park plants and animals adapt to this winter wonderland. Check Park Headquarters or Rim Village for regularly scheduled walks. No experience is necessary, but participants should be in good physical condition. Make sure you layer your clothing, bring your camera, and wear waterproof boots, gloves, and a hat.
Fish for Kokanee Salmon and Rainbow Trout
There were no fish in Crater Lake until the 19th century. Without inlets or outlets, the lake was cut off from naturally acquiring a fish population. But from 1888 to 1941, the human hand intervened and stocked the lake with 1.8 million rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, steelhead trout, coho salmon, and kokanee salmon. Today, only a couple species survive: kokanee salmon, the landlocked form of sockeye salmon, and rainbow trout. The best places to fish are the shores of Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island. (See above for the details about Wizard Island.) No fishing license is necessary and there is no limit to how many fish you can catch; however, no live or organic bait may be used, and the cleaning of fish in the lake is prohibited.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication