Somewhat surprising—considering the wide-sweeping natural beauty the state possesses—Crater Lake is Oregon's only national park. Oregon is known for many things—chief among them the slopes of Mount Hood, the quirkiness of Portland, the rocky Pacific Coast, the winds and brews along Hood River, and the ridiculously rad town of Bend. It is also known for the Goonies, and for being the final destination for Lewis and Clark, and the ending of the Oregon Trail. Yet, the most unique and historical region of the Beaver State is tucked away, down in the southern Oregon Cascades, far below the majestic peaks of The Sisters, Mount Jefferson, and the iconic Mount Hood.
To say Crater Lake is remote is an understatement. It is just a few hours drive from Interstate 5, but the region surrounding the park is a vast forest of nothing, aside from majestic mountains, gorgeous lakes, and tiny communities which provide the most basic of services. There are no fast food restaurants, no major department stores, or even a choice of gas stations near Crater Lake, and that is part of the appeal. Remote, beautiful, and unbelievably scenic, Crater Lake National Park is a one-of-a-kind spot that must be visited.
With a historic lodge, turning 100 years old in 2015 sitting on the crater rim, the glory and splendor of America’s deepest lake expands before you. At 1,943 feet deep, the lake has two islands sticking out of the bluest waters you've ever seen. The larger island, visible from every scenic viewpoint, is named Wizard Island, and is an old volcanic cone. Accessible only by NPS boat trips, hikers can explore this island in the summer months.
Crater Lake is about nature, history, geology and world class views, and it is well deserving of a visit. While there are dozens of possible things to do in and around the park, here are five ways to get to know the park’s most awesome features.
1. Lake Facts
Crater Lake sits in the crater of the ancient volcano of Mount Mazama, which erupted 7,700 years ago. Today, the crater has filled with five trillion gallons of water, slowly filling up with rain and snow melt, allowing it to be clear and blue. The clarity of the lake is a world record 143 feet, the reason being that no streams empty into the lake, so sediment is minimal. Between 1888 and 1941, the lake was stocked with Rainbow Trout and Kokanee Salmon, and fishing isn’t just allowed, it is encouraged. The only legal access to Crater Lake is from the Fleetwood Cove Trail, a steep mile long jaunt of switchbacks and impressive views. From Fleetwood Cove, boat tours are available on Crater Lake during the summer months, taking visitors to Wizard Island for an amazing hike and incredible views.
2. Best Hikes and Views
Crater Lake National Park has hundreds of amazing viewpoints, each offering stunning vantages of the lake, the caldera walls, and the surrounding peaks and valleys in all directions. Waterfalls await those who want to trek away from the lake, as does a section of the Wild -ly popular Pacific Crest Trail, which meanders a mile or so from the crater rim. The park has 90 miles of trails, but the three most popular are 9,060 foot Garfield Peak, 8,929 foot Mount Scott, and Wizard Island—all easily accessible in the non-snowy months thanks to an average starting elevation of 7,250 feet.
Offering unique sights around every bend, these trails are not only fun, they are manageable for nearly all levels of hikers. When not hiking, viewpoints abound around the crater rim, with the best views located at The Watchman forelock out, the Cloud Cap Overlook, and of course, the always impressive view right from Crater Lake Lodge.
3. The Lodge
Crater Lake Lodge turns 100 years old in June of 2015, giving the historic building even more character. The lodge, which sits right along the crater rim, gives guests a one of a kind experience in this serene setting. Crater Lake Lodge is considered an architectural icon in the National Park System. From the comfort of the rocking chairs on the back balcony, Crater Lake sits 1,000 feet below, surrounded by the crater rim and the peaks of the southern Oregon Cascades. The rooms in the lodge are straightforward and simple, with no television or phone in any of the rooms. WIFI is available, but the reality is that you won’t really need those amenities. Perched on the ledge, chairs sit along the back deck, giving guests access to a laid-back view. The lodge houses a bar and a restaurant and is close to the buildings of Rim Village. Even if lodges aren’t your cup of tea, Crater Lake Lodge is a great spot to escape the mosquitoes, admire the architecture, have some lunch, and take in the majestic views of this iconic park.
4. Sunrises, Sunsets, and Stargazing
As stunning as the views of Crater Lake are during the day, the sunrises, sunsets, and night skies are reason enough to visit the park. With most of the rim sitting well above 7,000 feet in elevation, and the nearest big city nearly 100 miles away, the skies here are about as good as it gets.
For sunrises, most visitors prefer to watch it from the Cloud Cap Overlook, which is on the east side of the rim. From here, the first beams of sunlight can be seen, letting early morning explorers watch the first bit of light shoot across the lake and crater rim. Sunsets are best seen on the western edge of the rim, specifically near The Watchman.
With craggy trees posing in the late sun, watching the sun plunge into the lake is a must experience sight. And even though Crater Lake is said to have some of the best sunrises and sunsets around, even these golden hour views are only average compared to the majesty of the night sky. With no light pollution, and limited haze at the high elevation, the entire milky way galaxy expands over Crater Lake. For the best stargazing, visit the park during a new moon to enjoy an unrestricted view into the heavens. Dress warm, avoid looking at any lights and screens, and see how deep you can look into the universe.
5. The Pie
Not every aspect of visiting the Crater Lake region is about natural beauty. Down below the park, just 9.4 miles from the park boundary, Union Creek Resort offers fun cabins to stay in, as well as a cafe that will leave you salivating for more delicious food the minute you leave. Beckie’s Cafe at the Union Creek Resort has some of the best fruit pies in America, and can’t be missed. Using local berries and a time-tested and world-famous recipe, the pies here are incredible, and well worth the cost of $5 a slice, or $20 for a whole pie. Fresh, light, and the perfect blend of berry and crust, eating a pie at Beckie’s should be a required activity for all who visit Crater Lake. The resort also offers advice for fishing, hiking, tubing, swimming, and more, making it a great side trip away from the crater rim.