Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

In early July of this year, Peter and I went on a 1,336 km / 830 mi road trip around the Pacific Northwest. It took roughly 14 hours. I drove 1,336 km / 830 mi. Peter drove 0 km / 0 mi. No surprise there.

The drive from Seattle to the Washington-Oregon state border was painful as always but shortly after crossing the Columbia River and into Oregon, the scenery got majestic.

There was so much to look at and Peter missed it all! There was Mount St. Helens with her missing top and Mount Rainier off to our left and Mount Hood directly in front of us.

It felt like I was driving directly toward Mount Hood for hours on end and then suddenly he disappeared out of view and could then only be seen via the side/wing mirror.

Our first stop was to Bendistillery, makers of Crater Lake Spirits. My absolute favorite vodka and hangover maker. We tasted a few of their spirits, bought not as many bottles as we should have (no sales tax in Oregon!), and then drove the remaining 20 minutes or so to Bend, Oregon.

It was our first trip to Bend, Oregon and visiting Bend was a last-minute decision. The goal of our trip to Oregon was to visit Crater Lake National Park because, well, just look at it:

Our original plan was to visit Crater Lake National Park as a day trip from Portland but after I drilled into the drive time a bit more, it was obvious that a day trip from Portland was not feasible (eight hours round trip drive time). And coming off a very long road trip (24 hours) from Minneapolis to Seattle three days before departing for Oregon, I was trying to minimize the number of hours in the car.

We revised our plan and decided to spend our first night in Bend, drive to Crater Lake early the following morning and then drive to Portland thereafter. This revised plan was still five-and-a-half hours of driving that day but still far less than what would have been required as a day trip from Portland.

Bend is lovely. So lovely. It’s a small town of about 90,000 residents and is growing rapidly. Our only mistake with this trip to Oregon is that we did not stay in Bend the whole time. There is so much to do in Bend. Hiking. Cycling. Kayaking. Beer drinking.

Protip: One of the last remaining Blockbuster Video stores is in Bend, OR.

Due to our late arrival and early departure the following morning, we only had about 14 hours in Bend but we made the most of it. After dinner, we went to an outdoor beer garden. It was not one of those stupid beer gardens and beer patios that Seattle touts as being “cool” and/or “a good patio.”

It was a real beer garden with grass and food trucks and a live band and people of all shapes, ages, and sizes dancing barefooted and getting loopy on hops (and maybe weed?). It was great!

We departed Bend at 7am for Crater Lake National Park, stopping only for a coffee and pastry. Even though it was July, there was still a lot of snow on the rim of the crater and the East Rim Drive was still closed due to snow. In fact, snow blankets the park eight months of the year.

E is for Elephant, y’all!

Currently, the south side of the lake is under an evacuation notice which means residents must be ready to evacuate if the nearby Blanket Creek Fire spreads. It feels like British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon have been on fire all summer.

Below is a photo that I took last week of the smoke haze in Seattle. Collectively this summer, Seattle has spent three weeks in a smoky haze.

The weather on the day of our Crater Lake visit was perfect. It was in the mid-60’s and not a cloud in the sky.

We entered Crater Lake National Park through the North Entrance around 9am and stopped at every lookout stop along the way to Rim Village at the south side. It is imperative to arrive as early as possible to avoid crowds. The number of cars and people on the rim road when we departed around noon was crazy.

Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902 and is the fifth oldest national park in the United States. The lake resides inside the caldera of the destroyed volcano Mount Mazama, hence its name Crater Lake.

Mount Mazama fun facts:

  • Type of volcano: stratovolcano with caldera
  • Eruption date: about 7,700 years ago
  • Scale: biggest eruption in the Cascade Mountains; biggest eruption in North America during the last 600,000 years following a major event in Yellowstone
  • Height before collapse: about 3,658 m / 12,000 ft
  • Height after collapse: 2,164 m / 7,100 at the village on the rim
  • Eruption volume: 50 cubic km / 12 cubic mi of magma; in today’s terms, that volume of material would be enough to cover the state of Oregon 20 cm / 8 in deep in ash

Crater Lake fun facts:

  • Diameter: 9.76 km / 6.1 mi east to west and 7.52 km / 4.7 mi north to south
  • Area: 20.42 sq km / 20.42 sq mi
  • Greatest depth: 592 m / 1,943 ft; it is the deepest lake in the US and the 7th deepest in the world
  • Average depth: 350 m / 1,148 ft
  • Volume: 18.6 trillion litres / 4.9 trillion gallons
  • Surface elevation: 1,882 m / 6,173 ft above sea level
  • Water gain: by precipitation and runoff only; 128 billion litres / 34 billion gallons annually
  • Water loss: 60 billion litres / 16 billion gallons by evaporation and 68 billion litres / 18 billion gallons by seepage annually
  • Surface temperature: 0°C / 23°F to 19°C / 66°F
  • Bottom temperature: 4°C / 38°F year-round
  • Transparency: extremely high; visibility measurements to 43.89 m /144 ft
  • Introduced fish species: kokanee salmon and rainbow trout
  • Other species: aquatic insects and plants, crayfish, salamanders, snails, sponges, nematodes, colonies of moss, bacterial mats, worms, zooplankton, phytoplankton, and the Crater Lake mite

Eventually, we arrived at Rim Village on the south side of the lake. There was a massive gift shop, toilets, multiple large parking lots, and a lookout tower (“Sinnott Memorial Observation Station”) built into the side of the crater. Here’s the view looking north from the lookout tower:

The color of the water directly below the lookout tower was impressive.

There were gold flakes floating in the lake that shimmered in the sun. I wanted to see these gold flakes up close and the only way to do that was to hike down to the lake via the Cleetwood Cove trail on the north side of the lake.

We arrived at the Cleetwood Cove trailhead in high on life and were met by a park guide sitting in a lawn chair. He told us we needed to bring more water than the one bottle per person we were carrying. We did not have any more water to bring so we carried on to the trail.

The hike is about 3.5 km / 2.2 mi round trip and is very steep, strenuous, and hot. It is bizarre because you start at the top standing next to snow and want to be in a swimsuit when you reach the bottom.

Protip: Bring at least 1 liter of water per person on this hike, more if possible. Also, bring sunscreen. The sun is intense.

Down at lake level, we found people jumping off boulders into the water. It was warm and the sun was blazing but the water had to be freezing. I also found those mysterious gold flakes I was looking for but sadly, I still have no idea what they are or why they are there.

After Crater Lake, we began our four-hour drive to Portland. We planned on stopping for a bite to eat in a small town along the way but there were no towns until we reached Interstate 5. Not even one. The drive through Willamette Forest was beautiful though!

Next up, Portland.

2 comments on “Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

  1. What is the yellow stuff floating in the lake?
    Through the month of June and into July, yellow swirls of “stuff” can be seen on the surface of the lake and will always prompt great concern from the visitors. It’s not pollution or oil or some sort of chemical foamy stuff, it’s merely pine pollen – the same stuff that most people find coating their cars in the spring. It’s harmless to the lake and will eventually settle out to the bottom.

  2. Awesome photos!

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