Really, only one word is required to describe our all too short stopover at Crater Lake NP en route to Portland. Wow!
We drove into the night from our last stop at Redwoods National Park, resting our heads at a caravan park in nearby Prospect (with lovely staff who were keen to trade with us for some Australian coins, show us the live webcam of the lake and to recommend some nearby sightseeing before we made the ascent to the park itself).
Close to Prospect (a good stop the night before entering the park), there are plenty of cool spots to check out simply by following the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. The white waters of the Rogue River line the drive, and there are some spectacular lookouts, waterfalls and short walks along the way.
Our drive up to the National Park was to be broken up with a stopover at the not to be missed Beckie’s Cafe. The log cabin cafe has been serving since 1926, its long term success no surprise at all once you dig into one of their famous pies. We opted for an apple and very-berry pie and some free flowing coffee, fuelling our day’s activities nicely.
The drive up to the lake itself was increasingly windy, snowy and ice-covered. So as to avoid flipping our trusty steed the surf wagon, we took our time on the drive.
After parking and watching the introductory video at the visitor centre, we made our way to the south rim. Our first glimpse of the lake left us utterly gobsmacked. The lake and its surrounds is a place of immeasurable beauty, and no amount of pictures or descriptions can do it justice. The first thing that struck me was the absolute silence of the area, the only sound being the crunching of snow beneath our boots. The water below the staggering cliffs is so incredibly still, clear and pure, while the crisp snow and perfectly blue sky contrasted spectacularly with the landscape.
From what I could gather from the video and other material provided, this idyllic environment came about quite serendipitously, with a number of geological features combining to give the lake its meditative qualities. The lake formed after the collapse of a huge volcano (Mount Mazama) around 7,700 years ago. The Caldera (the depression formed after this) was then filled with water from snow, precipitation and seepage. The reason the lake is so clear (Secchi disk readings often above 30m) is due to the absence of tributaries into the lake and a lack of pollutants/organic material allowing light to penetrate deeper. For more information on the formation of the lake check out this site.
In terms of walks that can be attempted over winter, one option is to rent some snow shoes from the Rim Village Gift Shop. Due to lack of time however we made do with our hiking boots and took the short walk (1.9km) to Discovery Point, which offers good views of the lake along the way and culminates at a viewpoint overlooking Wizard Island.
We left Crater Lake totally inspired and wishing we could build a little cabin on the rim and wake up to the view every morning. It is definitely not to be missed should you be lucky enough to have the time and to strike a clear blue day.
- The Park is open year round, 24 hours a day, however during winter the North Entrance Road and Rim Drive are closed and therefore you will need to enter from the south. The Road is plowed daily however the park advises carrying chains (we carried them but didn’t need to use them on the day of our trip in late February).
- The lake is completely invisible around 50% of the time in winter and early spring (we were lucky but you can also check ahead with the parks webcam to avoid disappointment).