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Alright, alright, alright…we are nearly the end of our National Park Road Trip mini-series. Welcome to Part 4, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon!
If you have followed since Part 1, hello and welcome back! Hopefully, you have enjoyed the journey so far, although this obviously doesn’t even come close to actually going yourself.
So do your inner wanderer a favor and add these destinations to your must see list, I wouldn’t write about them if I didn’t think everyone and their mother should go.
For those of you just joining us, where have you been?
Kidding! Be sure to catch up on what you missed in parts 1-3 at the end of this post.
A Mountain With a Lake?
Perhaps you have seen pictures, or maybe you haven’t, Crater Lake is something of a geological wonder. How does a mountain end up with a lake at the top anyway?
Well, it’s not just any plain old mountain. Mount Mazama is actually a volcano, and not an extinct one either. While it’s not expected to erupt any time soon, it’s best to keep to that phrase,” never say never.”
Mt. Mazama had its most violent eruption roughly 7,000 years ago, because the mountain peak is so massive, its collapsed under the pressure and weight creating the crater. Add a few centuries of rain and snowmelt and BOOM Crater Lake.
Deepest Lake in the US
Crazy right? The deepest lake is one on a freaking mountain! Crater Lake is 1,943 ft deep and is 6 miles wide? Anyone up for a swim? (yes you can actually swim in the lake, just only at one location)
It is also the bluest lake in the U.S., I took so many pictures to no avail to try and capture what the human eye sees. It is pretty blue in my pictures, but this is a must go and see for yourself deal to comprehend what I mean.
Just Passing Through
So because we have never been, we were not sure what to expect from this national park other than a giant lake. So we actually decided not to stay the night here and camp. Instead, we spent about half the day then continued into California.
However, now that we have been and seen what all it has to offer, I can easily say spending 1-2 nights camping here would be well worth it! They have 2 campgrounds as well as 4 backcountry campsite. (I would opt to get a permit for Lightning Spring, it’s the closest to the lake.)
Rim Drive and Crater Lake Lodge
Before we got out to hike around, we drove the entire Rim Drive. The road goes all the way around the lake, and no it doesn’t all look the same. I had the chance to see the crater from different vantage points and it also gave me an idea of where I did want to get out and hike.
We first got out at Rim Village/ Lodge to hit up the gift shop. (I collect patches to put inside my 4Runner on the headliner)
The Lodge is pretty neat to take a peak in. It has that old rustic wilderness vibe inside and out. We are talking plaid curtains, stone work, and wood furniture everywhere. I almost felt guilty I wasn’t wearing my flannel shirt at the time.
We walked around through the lobby to the back patio which offers rocking chairs and a grand view of the lake. Would’ve been that perfect scene to rock in the chairs drinking hot chocolate, talking about the good ol’ days.
The visitor center just outside the Lodge is where we read up on some Crater Lake fun facts. They have a diorama model of the lake, detailing how deep it is, the islands forming in it, and surrounding wildlife. You can also pick up maps of trails throughout the national park.
Unfortunately, the only wildlife we came across that day was birds. Which hey, is still cool, but I am always waiting for the day I come across something cool like a mountain lion, lynx, bobcat. You know something I haven’t seen in the wild yet.
Time to Hit The Trail
So, I have mentioned this before, but I have a method when it comes to choosing trails to hike. Especially at places I know that tends to get crowded. I always choose trails that are rated difficult/ strenuous or even intermediate.
Why? Because chances are very few people will hike those trails. I’m talking about people who like to go to national parks to see the landscape but don’t necessaryily like hiking difficult trails.
To me, this method works because 99% of the time we end up getting the trails to ourselves and or we come across another hiker here and there. This allows me to fully immerse myself into the sights and sounds of nature without tons of foot traffic.
The trail we took at Crater Lake is conveniently located near the lodge, it is called Garfield Peak Trail. With an elevation climb of 1.115 ft, the first portion of the trail can be fun on the legs. But soon you are taken on somewhat of a switchback on the slop of the mountiain where you have amazing views of Union Peak and Mt. McLoughlin.
Further in on these switchbacks you will come across a small meadow, which when we went was a mix of flowers and snow still. As I walked along the ridge of the trail, it was really neat to see the variety of flowers growing straight out of the rock formations.
The total distance of this out and back trail was only 3.5 miles, which typically is not problem, but elvation gains can make you walk a bit slower. Especially if you’re not used to altitude. The high point of the peak is 8,054 ft, but no worries you don’t hike that entire elevation gain.
Once we made it to the highest viewing point…boy o boy it was georgeous! The weather was a perfect bluebird day, so we sat just taking it all in for about an hour.
Although we did not have the chance, with a view like that, I would recommend waking up early and making it to the peak to watch the sunrise. I bet it would be pure magic!
The average weather in July for Crater Lake is around the low 70’s for the high and the 40’s for the lows at night. Our trip started off cool, but as you hike that trail you end up peeling off layers. The work you put in gets you nice and toasty real quick!
So remember dress in light layers or take a light jacket. The trail may be short but it is ideal to still carry a pack with your day hike essentials.
Other Things Worth Checking Out
So if you coming down from Washington into Crater Lake, there is two things I suggest you do.
The first is to buy Rainier cherries! You will see signs all down the side of the highway of farmers selling them. Stop and get some, they are super yummy AND you will be supporting local business! #winning
The second is to pop into a really old school A&W restaurant in Oakridge, OR. I know this is not within the park, but we were coming down that route and saw it.
I FREAKING LOVE rootbeer, so of course I told the hubs, “we gotta stop!”
This little fast food place had the old burger and soda shop vibe. Glass mugs, jukebox, really nice workers. So if you are going through Oakridge, you seriously need to grab at least a rootbeer float. You won’t be sorry.
Even though it was an extremely fast trip through Oregon, it made a lasting memory for me to miss it and want to go back. I have my eye on new trails and places to see. If you are from there please give me some of your favorite places to hike below in the comments!
Those of you lovely readers that just joined my road trip journey, check out parts 1-3 at the bottom of the page or under the Travel section of the site.
Stay tuned for the final installment of this particular trip! And fear not, I have plenty of other adventures to write about and share!