Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Crater Lake National Park

This post is part of my series on the National Park System. One of my goals while the kids are still at home is to visit as many of the National Parks and Monuments in the Western United States as we can.

Crater Lake National Park is located in southern Oregon, in the Cascade Range. Believe it or not, I had never visited it until last summer. My grandparents lived for a few years in the Eugene area, and we used to drive up there. While we went up through the Redwoods one year, we never did manage to get to Crater Lake for some reason.

Crater Lake itself is a relatively new feature, geologically speaking. A volcano, Mount Mazama, blew its top off completely about 7,700 years ago. That’s during recorded history - a mere blink of an eye in geological time. In fact, the Native Americans in the area have stories about the eruption that go beyond the mythical origin story genre into details that indicate that there were eyewitnesses to the devastation.

This youth is in contrast to many of our favorite National Park and Monument destinations, which were formed millions - or even billions of years ago.

Anyway, the top of Mount Mazama blew off, transforming a typical cone shaped volcano into a caldera. The bottom fell in when the magma retreated, leaving a crater. And what a crater it is. The lake itself is 2000 feet deep. And the walls are literally nearly straight down. The walls then extend an additional 2000 feet up from there. Pictures cannot do this justice - it is an epic place and truly larger than life.

Crater lake has no outlet - and no inlet. All the water that comes in is from direct snow and rain. And there is a lot of it. As in 43 feet of snow in an average winter, plus a good bit of summer rain. All the water that leaves does so from evaporation and seepage. That mountain isn’t exactly watertight, so there are springs all around the outer slopes.

We took two hikes for lake views. The first was Mt. Garfield, which towers over the lake. This is a great hike in the moderate to difficult range, depending on your conditioning. It is worth the trouble for the spectacular views. The other is the hike down to the water’s edge. We did this after a storm blew in, so the lake itself was fogged in.

In addition to these, there are several other view trails, some of which were inaccessible because the south rim drive was closed. There are also a few short hikes on the outer rim, which are quite nice. (Although there were a lot of mosquitoes, something we Southern Californians are not used to.)

We camped inside the park - the campground is quite nice. There are other options, however, including the lodge right on the rim.


  Composite picture from the rim.

The kids and me on top of Garfield Peak. Yes, there was still snow there in July.

This is a good perspective on how steep the terrain is, and how clear the lake is.

Clark’s Nutcracker

The meadow by Annie Creek. This short loop is right by the campground.

Striped coralroot, a parasitic relative of the orchid. 
These are very ephemeral, so I was fortunate to catch one before it faded.

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel 

Down by the shore on a rainy day.


  1. Do you use a pedometer? You can virtually hike trails, as well- https://www.walking4fun.com/
    Might be fun to hike various long trails (like the AT) with the kids. You get a photo every .2 miles or so.

    1. I used either posted mileage or - if I can - mileage off a reliable map. (such as Tom Harrison) I own a GPS that I got as a gift, but probably should have one of the kids figure out how to use it. I am kind of old school in that I navigate with a topo and compass better than with technology.

    2. If you have a smart phone, you can download a free app to count steps. Or you can buy a simple pedometer at a drugstore for about $10-20. The virtual trail thing is fun, only because the chances of ever doing a two thousand mile hike may be slim. It's fun to see the maps and the photos of the trail, as if you're hiking that instead of walking around at work, or buying groceries, or cleaning the house. It's fun to see the progress each night, even if it's only a couple miles a day.

    3. I am smart phone resistant (my wife has one) She also does the pedometer thing, which is useful for (to use an example) tracking miles at Disneyland (we average 9 miles a day). I'm just old school, I'm afraid. We do hike 120-150 miles a year, so we are doing pretty well. :)

  2. Wow, the blueness of the lake reminds me of the Blue Lake in Mount Gambier in South Australia. That is also a lake that was formed by a volcano.

  3. Thank you so much for your Parks' series. I live in fly-over country with few national parks. You really give us some stunning pics of the scenes and fauna and your family enjoying our wonderful, beautiful country. We are lucky and blessed to have a country that has such beauty, such majesty. Whether someone looks out and sees the hand of God or the beauty of natural forces when left to their own desires, the US has some amazingly beautiful land. I hope we can continue to preserve, protect, and enjoy these lands. The natural world, these eco-systems are so important in many ways. And of course, the experience cannot be measured.

    1. The National Park System truly is one of our great national accomplishments - one that has been imitated around the world. I too hope that we can continue to preserve these treasures. It has been distressing to see the so-called "conservative" wing abandon conservation - the two used to go together, and did until less than a decade ago.

      I really enjoy my time in the wilderness, and love writing about it and sharing pictures. If you find yourself out here in California, I'd be happy to suggest some hikes and drives to get the full experience. :)