A sapphire gem among the scenic jewels of the National Parks System, Crater Lake remains a remarkable experience for all who find their way to its location high in the Cascade Range in Southwestern Oregon. Because of the parks heavy snows, the season of full visitation spans brief weeks between mid-June and late September. Some years, major viewpoints, high trails and a major campground reopen in July or even in August. Expect to pay a $10 entrance fee or use one of the park passes available to U.S. citizens.
Crater Lake formed after the collapse of a 10,000- to 12,000-foot volcanic peak called Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago. After the collapse, rainwater and snowmelt began to fill the caldera left behind. No streams run into or out of the caldera. The extraordinarily pure water results in Crater Lakes gorgeous deep blue color. Continuing volcanic activity created little Wizard Island, now a much-photographed featured of Crater Lake.
No fish lived in the lake until stocking began more than a century ago, a practice no longer continued. Anglers today try for two species with populations now naturalized in the lake. No limits are imposed. Fishermen must not use live bait such as worms or other organic baits to avoid contamination of the water.
Parts of the park stay open all year, but winter visitors navigate a few roads channeling through deep drifts. Winter sports enthusiasts rejoice, for the long-lasting snow extends excursions on snowmobiles and cross-country skis. Trails and campgrounds lie buried beneath 45 feet of snow in an average winter. Personnel at park headquarters and concession employees at the nearby cafe and gift shop at Rim Village reach their job sites using snow tunnels.
A glance at an Oregon map reveals a network of scenic roads near Crater Lake National Park. Travelers reach it from Klamath Falls on U.S. 97 and Oregon Highway 62, a drive of 60 miles. From Medford on Interstate 5, access the park using Oregon Highways 140 and 62, a distance of 80 miles. Some travelers prefer to get to an Oregon city by plane, then rent a car for the road trip to the park.
Visitors who want to spend more than a day in the park may use lodgings inside the park or stay in one of the parks campgrounds. Stately Crater Lake Lodge, with 71 rooms, overlooks the lake at Rim Village. The Cabins at Mazama Village offer 40 rooms about seven miles from the rim. Make room reservations through Xanterra Parks and Resorts online at www.craterlakelodges.com or by phone at (888) 774-2728.
For visitors who like to hike, July, August and September offer the widest range of activities. Park personnel suggest half a dozen easy to moderate walks or short hikes. Experienced hikers find challenges using the steep trail down to the waters edge nearly 2,000 feet below the rim or trails to nearby promonteries or neighboring peaks in the Cascades.
Two campgrounds serve visitors to Crater Lake. Mazama Campground lies along Highway 62 seven miles from Rim Village. Half of its 213 sites are available on a first-come basis, while the others may be reserved anytime through Xanterra Parks and Resorts or, during summer, call the campground at (541) 594-2255, ext. 3705. Camping fees are $21 per night for tent sites, $25 for RV sites and $27 for RV sites with hookups.
The park service operates the second campground with 16 sites available without reservations. Overnight use of Lost Creek Campgrounds tent sites costs $10. Park pass holders pay only half that amount.
Two-hour boat tours of Crater Lake are scheduled five times each day. Despite the fact that boaters must descend the steep Cleetwood Cove Trail to get to the water and climb back to the rim, the ranger-narrated trips are so popular that they often sell out early in the day. Tickets cost $21 for adults and $17 for children. Boaters may opt for extra time to explore Wizard Island for a larger fee.
Open only in summer, the 33-mile scenic Rim Drive provides stunning scenery and picture postcard views at every curve. Allow two or three hours for this driving adventure with its many points of interest and scenic pullouts.
Margo Bartlett Peseks column appears on Sundays.