Home » 2013 Cross Country Road Trip

Crater Lake National Park, OR

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 4:00pm by Lolo
123 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Sunset Wine and Cheese at Crater Lake OverlookSunset Wine and Cheese at Crater Lake OverlookCrater Lake has been on our radar for a long time. We’ve been to most of the national parks in the West, but this one has always evaded us, mostly because it was just too far to get to when traveling back and forth across the country from NJ in under 4 weeks. But now that we have a son living in Seattle, and an RV living in Northern California, the time had finally arrived to visit this spectacular park.

After saying goodbye (for now) to Tommy, we drove the 3 hours south to Crater Lake National Park, entered the park through the North Entrance, and drove along the scenic western portion of the Rim Drive.

Our first views of Crater Lake definitely did not disappoint. I have never seen a lake so deep blue. We tried not to get hyper about pulling into every viewpoint, because we knew that tomorrow we would drive the entire 33-mile Rim Drive around the lake. Going clockwise was the recommended direction anyway, as all the viewpoints are on the lake side of the road.

Our first stop was the Visitor Center in Rim Village, where we purchased tickets at the kiosk for a boat tour the following day. The current day tours were already sold out.

View from Crater Lake Inn PorchView from Crater Lake Inn PorchThere are two types of boat cruises offered, but the Wizard Island Tour was the one we wanted. Anyone that has been to or seen pictures of Crater Lake has seen this little island rising 755 feet above the lake. In fact, it would be hard to find a photo of Crater Lake without it.

To better appreciate Wizard Island, you first have to know a little bit about the geological history of Crater Lake. Herb and I have been watching TTC (The Teaching Company) videos of various college courses, including two on Geology. I wish we had watched these years ago, because it is so much more interesting to visit a place where you understand how it came to be.

The first thing to realize is that Crater Lake is a misnomer, as it more accurately should be called Caldera Lake. For millions of years, there was a huge mountain here called. Then, around 7,500 years ago, the mountain erupted, spewing out so much pumice and ash that the summit collapsed, creating a giant caldera, measuring 4,000 feet deep and 6 miles across. That giant caldera was eventually filled in with rainwater and snowmelt, creating the lake, which is somewhat incorrectly called Crater Lake.

Herb at Crater Lake OverlookHerb at Crater Lake OverlookThe reason the lake is so clear and has such a deep blue hue is because of its depth and purity. It is the deepest lake in the U.S., measuring 1,943 feet at its deepest point. Because it is so deep, when sunlight hits the lake, the longer red waves are absorbed and the deeper violet and blue waves are reflected, causing its deep blue intensity.

Wizard Island is one of several cinder cones formed from a series of smaller eruptions that occurred after Mount Mazama blew. However, Wizard Island is the only one tall enough to be exposed. Today you can visit that island, or cinder cone, by boat and climb into the crater at the summit, which is 100 feet deep and 500 miles across.

But I digress. Wizard Island is tomorrow’s adventure.

We continued on to our reserved campsite in the Mazama Campground, located in Mazama Village, about 5 miles south of the lake. Even though we had a reservation, it wasn’t site specific, so we drove around the loops a bit and found a really nice one in the outermost loop with a great view out over Annie Creek Canyon—a perfect place to plant our beach chairs.

Cleetwood CoveCleetwood CoveIt was still relatively early in the day, so we detached the Subaru from the RV and drove back up to the lake to check out some of the viewpoints on the West Rim Drive. I must say, it was really nice having a tow vehicle for the first time. There is no way we would have come back up here again so quickly if we had to drive the motorhome. The only downside with not using the motorhome is that since you are not lugging your entire home along with you, you actually have to think about what you want to pack for on an outing. For now, this meant cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine.

At around mile 4 of the West Rim Drive, we parked in a pullout with an excellent view of Wizard Island. In fact, I think this is probably the place where the iconic photos of Crater Lake are taken, because Wizard Island stands out in such a way that you can see the lake all around it. From many of the other angles, the island blends into with the background, and you can’t really even tell that it is an island.

We planted ourselves on the stone wall at the edge of the parking lot and sipped a glass of wine while gazing out over the lake. It was really very beautiful.

Lolo enjoying the frigid waters of Cleetwood CoveLolo enjoying the frigid waters of Cleetwood CoveThe wine and scenery must have gotten to Herb, because he suggested going to dinner at the Crater Lake Lodge rather than cooking back at the RV. I was definitely into not cooking in the RV.

It was such a beautiful evening, that rather than eating inside in the dining room (which was very lovely), we chose to eat out on the lakeside porch. Although it was very nice, and the food was actually quite good, we did have a few problems with it. First, the rocking chair that I sat in was so broken that I almost flipped over backwards every time I leaned back. Fortunately, the couple next to us finished before us and offered me their less aggressive rocker. Secondly, the stone wall in front of us had a wrought iron railing on top of it, with no possible functional purpose except to block what would have been a spectacular view of the lake. You had to stand up to take a photo. It would have really been so nice to just be able to sit back and look out over the lake. Thirdly, just as dusk approached, the mosquitoes arrived in droves and made it practically impossible to remain outside. Still, all that being said, it was a very pleasant evening, and much, much better than cooking in the RV. Maybe we should have eaten inside in the dining room after all.

We arrived back at the Mazama Campground, just as the Ranger Talk in the amphitheater was concluding. Too bad, because these national park ranger talks are usually very good.

Lolo hiking down the Wizard Island Summit CraterLolo hiking down the Wizard Island Summit CraterThe next morning, we set out for our boat tour to Wizard Island. Since the lake is situated in a deep caldera, it is only accessible from one point -- the very steep Cleetwood Cove Trail on the north side of the lake. Those not in good shape should think carefully before hiking down this 1 mile trail, as the way back up is quite strenuous.

Although our boat tour wasn’t until 12:30, I wanted to get down to the lake early enough to swim and watch people jump off the rock into the lake. Friends of ours had visited Crater Lake the previous year and shown us pictures of people jumping off a high rock into the chilly, crystal clear waters of the lake. It looked very cool (in more ways than one).

In person, the rock looked a lot higher than it had in the pictures, so I chickened out of jumping off of it. Herb hates cold water, so he never had any intention of doing it in the first place. I still felt compelled to do something daring, so I climbed down the rocks to water level, slid in, screeched, swam for 2 minutes, and quickly climbed back out again. It certainly was very, very cold.

Lolo and Herb at Summit of Wizard IslandLolo and Herb at Summit of Wizard IslandIt was fun to watch other people approach the edge of the high rock and decide whether or not to jump. One couple was particularly entertaining. The boyfriend jumped in first and then waited patiently in the water for his girlfriend to follow. She stood on top of that rock for about 10 minutes, taking a step forward to jump, then hesitating and stepping back, on and on again until her boyfriend was turning blue. She never did make the leap, but her boyfriend never got mad. Chivalry is not dead, although a little longer and it might have been hypothermic.

Right on time, we boarded the boat for Wizard Island, and spent the next 20 minutes or so cruising to the island while an interpretive ranger from the National Park Service explained the geological history of the lake.

When we were dropped off on the island, I was surprised to learn that no park ranger would be staying with us. We would be left to explore on our own. That is one thing I love about the National Park Service. Everyone always says that the national government has too much regulation, but not the park service. They let you stand at the edge of the rim of the Grand Canyon with no fences, climb El Capitan in Yosemite, swim in Crater Lake without a lifeguard, and on and on. It’s great!

The island is not that large, so there are really only two things to do: hike to the crater on the summit and hike to Fumarole Bay. Hopefully, if we were quick, we could do them both.

Herb catching a Trout at Fumarole BayHerb catching a Trout at Fumarole BayThe summit was definitely what we thought would be the more interesting thing to do, so we headed up the 0.9 mile (each way) Summit Trail, enjoying the views of the lake along the way. Herb and I were the first to reach the top, and I was the first to run madly down into and across the crater, which was about 100 feet deep and 500 feet across. To think that I was standing where hot lava had once spewed out was pretty exciting. Now, it was pretty much just an ordinary looking bowl-shaped hole.

We got back to the dock with plenty of time left to explore Fumarole Bay. The 0.7-mile hike to Fumarole Bay, although not steep like the Summit Trail was actually more difficult in that much of it is over rough volcanic rock.

Herb had brought his fishing rod along, because he had been told by a ranger that the lake is filled with rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, just ready for the taking. These fish are not indigenous to the lake. In fact, since the lake has no streams flowing in or out of it, there were no fish at all until 1888, when it was first stocked with these two species of fish. This practice was stopped in 1941, and now the park service wants to rid the lake of these non-indigenous species. As a result, unlike most parks, no fishing license is required, and there is no limitation of size, species, or number that you can take. In fact, the park encourages visitors to remove as many fish as they can from the lake.

"Phantom Ship" view from Boat Tour"Phantom Ship" view from Boat TourIt wasn’t long before Herb caught three of them. Although we were supposed to do our part and remove them from the lake, we really didn’t feel like carrying them around for the rest of the day, so we quietly gave them a reprieve and slipped them back into the lake.

The boat ride back to Cleetwood Cove continued our natural history tour along the eastern shore of the lake, past Phantom Ship, the other noteworthy feature, besides Wizard Island, on the surface of the lake. It’s named for the fact that it resembles a two-masted sailing ship, and tends to emerge and disappear from visibility depending on the weather and lighting conditions. Like everything else at Crater Lake, this rock formation is the result of volcanic eruptions.

Once back onshore, we hiked up the fairly strenuous Cleetwood Cove Trail to our car and then continued our drive around the eastern shore of the lake, stopping at various viewpoints along the way.

That evening, rather than drive back up to the lake from the campground, we sat in our beach chairs on our very own campsite looking out over Annie Creek Canyon, sipping a glass of wine. We even managed to catch the Ranger Talk that evening on the impact of climate change on Crater Lake.

One more phenomenal national park of the West completed. Now on to Redwood.


Lolo the VideographerLolo the VideographerCrater Lake is the only national park that is located within a dormant volcano. More than 7,500 years ago, Mount Mazama erupted, spewing out so much pumice and ash that the summit collapsed, creating a giant caldera, measuring 4,000 feet deep and 6 miles across. A series of smaller eruptions afterwards formed several cinder cones on the caldera floor, the largest of which is 2,700-foot high Wizard Island.

Over the next 700 years or so, rain and snowmelt filled the caldera creating what is now the deepest lake in the United States. It is 1,943 feet deep at its deepest point.

Wizard Island is the only cinder cone tall enough to be exposed, rising 755 feet above the current lake level. The top of the Wizard Island cone is capped by a crater about 100 feet deep and 500 feet wide. In fact, this is the only crater in Crater Lake National Park. The lake itself should more accurately be named Caldera Lake.

Lolo relaxing at Mazama CampgroundLolo relaxing at Mazama CampgroundIt is Crater Lake’s extreme depth and purity that gives it its clarity and magnificent deep blue color. As sunlight penetrates the lake, the water molecules absorb the longer red waves in the spectrum and reflect the shorter violet and blue waves, giving its intense deep blue hue.

Crater Lake has no streams flowing into or out of it. It is refilled entirely from rain and snowmelt and is lost through evaporation and subsurface seepage. As a result, the lake had no fish in it until rainbow trout and kokanee salmon were introduced by humans from 1888 to 1941.

If you only have a day to visit the park, the best way to see it is to drive the 33-mile Rim Drive, which encircles the entire lake, stopping at its many overlooks. Because of heavy snowfalls, the Drive is generally open from July to October, and partially open in May, June, and November.

A good place to start the drive is at the Rim Village Visitor Center at the southern end of the lake, where you can stroll out to the Sinnott Memorial Overlook for a spectacular view of the lake and Wizard Island.

Wizard Island from Overlook in the MorningWizard Island from Overlook in the MorningThe best way to do the Rim Drive is clockwise, so that you can most easily pull into the scenic viewpoints on the lake side of the road. There are 25 of them, so it is very easy to spend a half-day enjoying the drive. My favorites are the overlook at mile 4, which offers an excellent view of Wizard Island, rising 755 above the lake’s surface, and the Phantom Rock Overlook at mile 23.2.

If you have more time, a boat trip out on the lake is definitely worthwhile. Tours are offered from late July to mid-September and in 2013. There are two types of cruises offered. The Standard Tour leaves 6 times a day and costs $35 for an adult. It does not stop at Wizard Island. The Wizard Island Tour only leaves twice a day (9:30 and 12:30) and costs $45 for an adult. This tour drops people off and allows them to hike and explore the island for 3 hours before the boat returns to bring you back. Each tour has a park ranger aboard to discuss the geology and natural history of Crater Lake. Tickets sell out quickly, so be sure to buy them in advance at the kiosk in the Crater Lake Lodge. I definitely recommend the Wizard Lake Tour.

To get to the boat, park at the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead on the north side of the lake, and hike the steep 1 mile trail down to the lakeshore. This trail provides the only access to the lake. Before committing to the trek down, make sure you feel comfortable with the strenuous climb back up.

Grey FoxGrey FoxOnce you reach the lakeshore, you are sure to see dozens of people jumping from a high rock into the chilly waters of the lake.

Once on Wizard Island, there are two hiking options. The most popular is the relatively steep 0.9 mile trek (each way) up the steep Wizard Island Summit Trail. Besides the wonderful views of the lake along the way, once on top of the cinder cone, you can descend into 100-feet deep crater.

The other option is to hike along the rough volcanic rock along the shore to Fumarole Bay – about 0.7 miles each way. There is an excellent view from here of Watchman Peak, straight across the lake. The shallow, clear water in the bay is good for swimming (chilly) and fishing for rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Unlicensed fishing is allowed in the park without any limitation of size, species, or number. In fact, the park encourages fishing to try to rid the lake of these non-indigenous fish.

In addition to the Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island trails, there are several other hiking options in the park. These include:

  • 3.5 mile (round trip) steep hike to Garfield Peak, with tremendous views after ½ mile of hiking. The trail starts from the parking lot of Crater Lake Lodge
  • 1.7 mile (round trip) Annie Creek Canyon Trail, which begins behind the amphitheater at the Mazama Campground and loops down to the bottom of a deep, stream-cut canyon and back.
  • 3.9 mile (round trip) hike to the summit of Mt. Scott, the highest point in the park, with panoramic views of the lake and Klamatch Basin.
  • 0.7 mile (round trip) Pinnacles hike through dramatic tall pinnacles and spires. The trailhead is located on the Pinnacles Spur Road, 7 miles southeast of the Phantom Ship Overlook in the southeast corner of the park.

The park has two campgrounds:

  • The Lost Creek campground is tent only and is open from mid-July to late September. This campground is located on the Pinnacles Spur Road in the southeast corner of the park.
  • The Mazama Campground has 213 tent and RV sites (and some hookups) and is open from late June to mid October. This campground is located in Mazama Village, about 3 miles south of the Steel Visitor Center

Crater Lake National Park location map in "high definition"

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