Crater Lake National Park

Sometime before or early on in our adventure, another of our unofficial tour guides, Scott’s uncle Pat, told us to check out Crater Lake National Park when we made it to Oregon. Since we’re always game to check out more of the National Park system, we headed eastward from the Pacific Coast for a few days to check out this interesting and beautiful lake.

What Makes Crater Lake Unique?

Crater Lake is really interesting. For starters, by maximum depth, it’s the deepest lake in the United States, the second deepest in North America, and the ninth deepest lake in the world at 1,949 feet deep. Based on average depth, Crater Lake is the deepest in the Western Hemisphere and third deepest in the world with an average depth of 1,148 feet. Regardless of which way you look at it, this lake is DEEP!

The water in Crater Lake is some of the purest in North America due to two other unique characteristics: it has no inlets and it has no tributaries. Water enters Crater Lake solely through precipitation and exits Crater Lake solely through evaporation. With modern day levels of rainfall and evaporation, the water level is stable to within a few feet per year.

The formation of the lake is an interesting geological event. Crater Lake was formed by the collapse of Mount Mazama some 7,700 years ago. After a series of intense eruptions that emptied out the lava chamber below the volcano, the dome collapsed on itself, forming the 3,000 foot deep caldera that the lake partially fills.

Things To See At Crater Lake

There are numerous things to see in and around Crater Lake National Park. Obviously, there’s the lake itself, with its amazing blue color. Within the lake are several features that you can see from overlooks on Rim Drive, the road circling the lake. The road runs around the rim of the caldera, at an elevation of 7,000-8,000 feet above sea level.

There’s the Phantom Ship, a rock rising 16 stories above the lake surface. This is another cool feature of the lake because the rock in the Phantom Ship is the oldest on the lake, over 1.5 million years old. This volcanic formation came before and was surrounded by Mount Mazama, but was left standing when Mazama collapsed.

Wizard Island is the very prominent island on the western side of the lake. It rises nearly 800 feet above the surface of the lake and was formed after the eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama. You can take a ferry from the boat docks to Wizard Island for around $30 per adult.

Away from the lake on a spur road from Rim Drive, you’ll find The Pinnacles. These hollow volcanic formations jutting from the walls of Wheeler Creek canyon can reach up to 200 feet tall.

Mount Scott is the tallest mountain in the park, at an elevation of 8,929 feet. Mount Scott was a volcano fed by the same magma chamber as Mount Mazama.

Outside of Crater Lake National Park is the Umpqua National Forest, through which the Rogue River flows. There are several overlooks on the way to Crater Lake where you can watch the Rogue River plummet over rapids and falls and through underground caves. Heed the signs…you do not want to fall into this frigid, swift water.

Recreation

Hiking

Most of the hiking in Crater Lake National Park is in the backcountry, though there are trails around the rim area. Notably, the Cleetwood Trail is the only way to access the lake surface. This is a steep trail, gaining 720 feet in 1.1 miles.

Another major trail leads to the top of Mount Scott. This 2.5-mile long trail leads from Rim Drive to the peak of Mount Scott, with an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet.

Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed on trails here and it was too warm to leave Knox alone in the truck, so we had to forgo hiking.

Camping

There are two campgrounds in Crater Lake National Park: Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground. We ended up staying just south of the Park, however.

Getting Here

Crater Lake is located in southwest Oregon. Eugene is the nearest big city with the towns of Klamath and Medford within an hour or two of the Park.

Pictures

Of course, we took plenty of pictures of this beautiful lake. One thing you’ll be able to easily notice is the pictures that were taken on the first day when the wildfire smoke had the lake obscured versus the pictures taken on the following clear days. It’s quite a contrast!