Swim, Fish, Hike, Bike or Take a Trolley
Story and photos by Lee Juillerat

High on Adventure, July 2019


Seeing Crater Lake from Wizard Island
Seeing Crater Lake from Wizard Island

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon's only national park, is a great place to visit in any season. But because of routinely heavy snowfall - the yearly average is 524 inches - most months the lake can only be seen from Rim Village. Weather permitting, snowplow crews try to keep the road from park headquarters in Munson Valley to the rim open year-round. Except for cross country skiers and snowshoers, who make day outings to viewpoints away from Rim Village or, less often, make day or multi-day circuits around the lake, summer is the season for full 360-degree lake circling viewing.

Crater Lake from the Mount Scott trail
Crater Lake from the Mount Scott trail

During the park's extended winters I've skied around the lake or, more often, skied or snowshoed to lake vantages or backcountry delights. But it's during the park's brief summers when friends, family and I have experienced the park's many pleasures. Summer's the season when the park is mostly snow-free, a time to see and appreciate of the park's surprisingly variable offerings.

  Crater Lake spring opening on Rim Drive   Crater Lake early season biking  
Spring opening on Rim Drive
Early season biking

Driving around Rim Drive, the 33-mile road that loops around the lake, and gawking from some of the many lake overlooks, is the way most people experience the park. Even with slightly below average snowfall this past winter, Rim Drive wasn't fully open for travel in late June. That's not unusual. Many years Rim Drive isn't totally cleared of snow until July and, in years with early snowstorms, it sometimes closes in September or early October.

"No one," says park superintendent Craig Ackerman, "understands the snow amounts until they come up here and see it.

Even in the summer it's not uncommon to "see it." Like others, my family and I have posed for photos while standing in front of 10-foot tall snow walls. One year, the annual Crater Lake Rim Runs-Marathon, which is always held the second Saturday of August, was almost cancelled because snow still blocked portions of Rim Drive.

Crater Lake Trolley by Vidae Falls
The Crater Lake Trolley by Vidae Falls

But July through September are the months when, most often, Crater Lake and hidden pockets away from Rim Drive can be seen and experienced. While most visitors see the lake only out of car windows and at lake overlooks, there are better ways.

Click here for three park webcams and warnings about trail or road closure.

Increasingly, many leave the driving to others on two-hour park ranger-narrated tours in trolleys that look like old-fashioned streetcars. Others take to the streets by other means. Up to 500 people run 6.7, 13.1 or 26.2 miles along Rim Drive during the annual Crater Lake Rim Runs-Marathon, something I enjoyed for more than 20 years. Along with bicycling around the lake during summer months, in recent years I've joined with other bicyclists for the now annual car-free, care-free Ride the Rim days. On the second and third Saturdays of September, the 26-mile section of Rim Drive from the North Junction to park headquarters at Munson Valley is closed to motorized vehicles. It's a challenging run, or ride, with long uphills. The total elevation gain is 3,800 feet over Rim Drive's entire 33 miles.

  Crater Lake cruising   Crater Lake cruising  
Loading the boat
Cruising the lake

Ranger-narrated boat tours off up close Crater Lake views
Ranger-narrated boat tours offer up close lake views

Summer is also the season to truly experience the lake. While the views from Rim Drive are dazzling, being on the water is the only way to genuinely appreciate the lake and its surroundings. It's 1.1 downhill miles from the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead/Parking Area to the lake. Because of the park's elevation, about 7,000 feet above sea level along most of the rim, the 700-foot climb back up can be literally breath-taking. But don't just go down to the lake. I always recommend that visitors break out the credit card to buy tickets for the concession boat tours, which feature informative talks about Crater Lake's geology and human history by ranger naturalists. The basic two-hour tours circle the lake but bypass Wizard Island.

I usually opt for boat tours that include three-hour layovers on the island, so named because William Gladstone Steel, who led efforts to have Crater Lake preserved as a national park, thought it looked like a Wizard's hat. The layover allows time for the 1.1-mile hike to the Wizard's summit for inside-out views of the lake and the caldera. (Tickets for the various tours, including shuttles that allow visitors five hours on Wizard Island, should be bought in advance.) From the island, or from areas near the Cleetwood Cove boat dock, one of my annual got-to-dos is at least a quick swim in the lake. With water temperatures reaching only about 55 to 60 degrees, it's sometimes a fast in-and-out.

Crater Lake diving from rocks near Cleetwood Cove
Crater Lake diving from rocks near Cleetwood Cove

  Lee Juillerat swan dives into Crater Lake  
A graceful swan dive

Fisher-folks often fish for - and catch - rainbow trout or kokanee salmon from spots near Cleetwood Cove's shoreline or fishing holes at Wizard Island. Because the lake originally had no fish - planting was done between 1888 and 1941 - anglers are asked to keep what they catch. And because fish are non-native, fishing licenses are not required and there are no restrictions on the size or numbers.

  Hiking on Crater Lake's Wizard Island   Tattered whitebark pine on Crater Lake  
Hiking on Wizard Island
Tattered whitebark pine

Whether fishing, taking quick dips, riding tour boats, bicycling or traveling by trolley, more and more people are discovering the park. Crater Lake experienced its most-ever visits, 805,000, in 2016 while 2017 had 761,000 and, despite neighboring forest fires that sometimes obscured lake views, 770,000 visits were counted in 2018.

Crater Lake Phantom Ship
Crater Lake Phantom Ship
Phantom Ship from the water
... and from the overlook
  Crater Lake Mount Scott Trail sign   Crater Lake Mount Scott Trail view  
The Mount Scott Trail
... and a view along the way

For drive-it-yourselfers, Rim Drive offers several viewpoints, some marked on park maps, others not. Among my favorites are, clockwise from Rim Village, Discovery Point, the North Junction, Cloudcap, Pumice Castle and the gotta-stop Phantom Ship Overlook. For people willing to take walks with views, the 0.8-mile Sun Notch loop trail is an easy-to-reach overlook peering down on the lake and Phantom Ship. Other hikes with lake views include (the distances roundtrip) recommended from easiest to most difficult are the 1.5-mile walk to The Watchman, 3.6-mile climb to Garfield Peak and 4.4-mile hilly trek to Mount Scott. Rangers lead day hikes up Garfield and, evening walks up The Watchman for night sky vistas. Details on ranger-led hikes are provided in Reflections or at the visitor contact stations.

  Crater Lake evening ranger talk on Garfield Peak   Crater Lake cascading Plaikni Falls  
Evening ranger talk on Garfield
Cascading Plaikni Falls

Most people only stop and gawk, then drive on. They're missing out. There's more to see than just the lake by taking one or more of the several scenic short hikes. In mid-summer, the half-mile Castle Crest Wildflower Garden loop trail offers a textbook variety of colorful wildflowers. The park's second-most visited trail - Cleetwood Cove Trail is No. 1 - the two-mile out-and-back to Plaikni Falls - an easy walk through an old-growth forest to the waterfall. Most of the trail is usable to wheelchairs with assistance, although the last section has a short steep climb. Slightly more challenging is the 1.75-mile Annie Creek Trail, a loop route that winds through a deep stream-cut canyon. For history buffs, the 0.7-mile Lady of the Woods loop trail is the stuff of fascination. A self-guided trail brochure explains the history of the trail's namesake Lady, a sculpture of a woman carved into a boulder alongside the trail.





Crater Lake Lodge

  Crater Lake Lodge dinner  




Crater Lake Lodge deck

Crater Lake Lodge
Dinner at the Lodge
The view from the deck

Rim Village is always worth visiting. The historic Crater Lake Lodge, which overlooks the lake, is always worth a visit. Rooms are usually sold out months in advance, but it's always a treat to visit the Great Hall or view the lake with a beverage from deck chairs on the outside patio. The dining room provides three meals a day, with reservations necessary for dinner. Many times friends and I have found tables in the Great Hall and ordered and shared appetizers. And, whether staying overnight or just enjoying the afternoon, take in a ranger-narrated lodge talk.

Crater Lake view from Sinnot Memorial overlook
Looking from the Sinnot

Another Rim Village treat is the Sinnot Memorial, the park's most informative overlook. It's perched 900 feet above the lake on a rock ledge behind the Rim Village visitor contact station. The not-to-be overlooked overlook features spectacular views of the lake from an open parapet and an indoor exhibit room. Most helpfully, the relief model and extremely instructional exhibits provide the best explanation of the park’s volcanic history - the lake was created about 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama, then a 12,000-foot tall peak, erupted and collapsed, creating the giant teacup-like caldera that eventually filled with water to a depth of the nearly 2,000 deep Crater Lake. Ranger talks are presented daily during the summer.

Crater Lake view from The Watchman overlook
Watching from The Watchman

What else. Visit the Pinnacles. Have young people participate in Junior Ranger programs. Buy souvenirs at the Rim Village Gift Shop-Cafeteria, Annie Creek Store or, better, the Steel Visitor Center in Munson Valley or Rim Village visitor contact station. Camp at the developed Mazama Campground or the more basic Lost Creek Campground. Take a hike on the easy Godfrey Glen or more challenging Crater Peak and Union Peak trails.

Crater Lake trail to Garfield Peak
The trail to Garfield Peak

See and enjoy Crater Lake National Park, including its delightful lesser-seen sights. But most of all, see the lake and, whether you hike down to it or not, be touched by it.


When You Go

Information on park programs and current road conditions are available from the park website at www.nps.gov/crla, by calling 541-594-3000, reading the park newspaper Reflections, or stopping at the Rim Village Visitor Center or the Steel Visitor Center in Munson Valley. Along with the Crater Lake Lodge, overnight possibilities include The Cabins at Mazama Village and the 214-site developed Mazama Campground near the park's south entrance and the 16-unit, less developed Lost Creek Campground on The Pinnacles Road. Food and dining is also offered at the Rim Village Cafe-Gift Shop and the Annie Creek Restaurant. Groceries, camping supplies and gasoline are available at the Mazama Village Store.

  Reflections on Crater Lake  
Reflections on Crater Lake

Three park webcams and trail or road closure warnings: https://www.nps.gov/crla/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm

  Lee Juilleratdives into Crater Lake   Lee Juillerat swims in Crater Lake  
The author dives in
... and treads water

About the Author

Lee Juillerat is a semi-retired writer/photographer who lives in Southern Oregon, His travel, outdoor and other stories appear in newspapers and magazines, including Alaska Beyond, Range, and the AG Mag. He is the author of books about Crater Lake National Park, Lava Beds National Monument and, most recently, Ranchers and Ranching: Cowboy Country Yesterday and Today. He can be reached at 337lee337@charter.net.


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