Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Part Five
The Adventure Concludes
Story and Photo by Kerri Regan
You’ve circumnavigated Lassen Park and its volcanic wonders, meandered through the Fall River valley, marveled at majestic Mt. Shasta from all sides and explored the wildlife reserves near Klamath.
And now that you’ve reached the end of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, you’ve earned your greatest reward: the wondrous Crater Lake National Park.
Mount Mazama’s eruption about 7,700 years ago shot out 12 cubic miles of magma, shrinking the mountain from 12,000 feet to 7,100 feet tall in about 24 hours. (That’s enough to cover the entire state of Oregon with eight inches of ash.) After the mountain collapsed like a soufflé, it left behind an empty basin, called a caldera, which filled with 4.9 trillion gallons of rain and snow.
At its deepest point, Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep – making it the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. It stretches 6.1 miles from east to west, and 4.7 miles north to south. The water is chilly – temperatures range from 32 to 66 degrees, and the bottom is 38 degrees year-round. Because it’s completely fed by precipitation, the water’s purity makes Crater Lake one of the clearest and bluest in the world.
Unlike 100-degree days on the beaches of Brandy Creek, you’ll find traces of snow even in the summertime at Crater Lake, which sits at 6,173 feet above sea level. The park gets about 500 inches of snow each year, so between October and May, it’s usually a snow-covered wilderness area (the information center is open year-round).
As you drive into the park, Rim Village is the first place you’ll find an overlook. This is also home to Crater Lake Lodge, the only lodging on the rim itself. Lodging and camping are also available in Mazama Village.
The Rim Village Visitor Center also offers a vista point, and it’s the starting line for hikes that lead to Discovery Point and to Garfield Peak. Don’t miss the quick walk to Sinnott Memorial, where a museum and ranger presentations are offered during the summer months. An array of panels are rich with educational information, and interpreters share engaging stories about the lake and its history. The mountain and lake were considered to be a place of great power by the Klamath Indians, who lived in the area for thousands of years and watched the mountain collapse. Three gold prospectors came upon the lake and mountain in 1853, and it was designated as a national park by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.
North State residents who are accustomed to walking right up to a lakeshore and taking a swim may be surprised to discover that the only access to Crater Lake’s shoreline is via a steep trail to Cleetwood Cove.
But make no mistake, there are plenty of ways to enjoy this pristine lake. If you traverse the trail to Cleetwood Cove, you can enjoy a nearly two-hour ranger-narrated boat tour between late June and mid-September. Crater Lake Trolley offers a two-hour tour through the park, complete with interpreters’ tales and stops to get out and explore. You can also drive the 33 miles around the lake on Rim Drive during the summer, and picnic areas and vista points pepper the road.
The park also offers ranger-led afternoon hikes, sunset hikes, 45-minute evening programs and Junior Ranger activities. Casual dining is available at the Rim Village Café.
Bonus: If you have an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, you’ll get in free. The pass is $80 a year for anyone, $10 for a lifetime pass if you’re 62 and older and free to people with permanent disabilities or who have acquired 250 service hours with certain federal agencies. The pass covers entrance and standard amenity fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges (go to www.recreation.gov and search for “America the Beautiful pass”).
When you arrive home, don’t keep all those photos trapped on your phone – consider uploading them to your favorite photo site and building a coffee table book, so you can relive your journey any time the spirit of adventure moves you.