Crater Lake National Park – West Coast Spring Roadtrip

After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast at the Holiday Inn, it was time to continue the roadtrip to see Crater Lake, a natural landmark of Oregon which was in the Oregon state commemorative quarter. It was also a point of interest that a photographer friend have mentioned I should visit if in Oregon. And since it was along the way, I took this chance to visit. The peak time to visit Crater Lake is usually in the summer season when the lodging options on the lakeside itself opens for business. However I checked the Crater Lake website and found it was open and being a relatively mild winter, I thought it was still a good idea to head there from Medford, Oregon.

Spring in Crater Lake
Spring in Crater Lake

First, a little bit of background about the lake. Crater Lake is not actually a real lake to begin with, but rather it used to be a volcano. A huge eruption created a deep caldera and thousands of years (7,700 to be exact) resulted in the filling of this caldera with some of the purest H2O in the world. No river or glacier actually fed this inland lake, which today is one of the deepest in the world and the deepest in the United States. With the lake being at the top of a volcano, it has a high altitude that makes it colder than usual and thus the park is actually closed during deep winter due to the extreme snowfall that they receive. It took me about an hour and a half to get to the Park HQ which also houses the Steel Visitor Centre and probably another 10 minutes drive to the rim village where the cafe and gift shop are located at.

Driving to Crater Lake
Driving to Crater Lake

The drive up to Crater Lake is one of the nicest drives in Oregon as we first passed some majestic pine trees on the road before a series of switchbacks appeared. Naturally as we gained elevation, we started to see snow on the roadside. It was the shift in scenery over such a short distance that made this drive interesting!

Hiking along the rim
Views during the hike along the rim

While we passed by the Steel Visitor Centre, we proceeded immediately to the Rim Village and due to the snow, I actually changed to my snowboarding boots which I had brought along so that I could walk on the snow easily. Otherwise snowshoes could be rented from the store in the building that also houses the gift shop and cafe.

Barren tree along the rim
Barren tree along the rim

Being still covered in the snow, there was a bunch of snowshoers tour group that was walking around the rim village. The trails were already open though it was only to a certain extent as conditions were not the most ideal. I know that in the summer it is possible for visitors to travel around the whole rim on car though it was not possible the day I visited as some of the roads were covered in thick snow.

Hiking in the snow
Hiking along the West Rim drive

With that being said, we did walk slowly and cautiously along the West Rim drive past Discovery Point for a better look at the Wizard Island in the middle of the lake. As the sun was shining directly overhead and the walking became tougher, we headed back to the cafe for some lunch.

Caldera of Crater Lake
Caldera of Crater Lake from Discovery Point
Blue hue of the lake
Blue hue of the lake

The major sights in the lake are probably the Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship. The former is a volcanic cinder cone that juts out on the western end of the lake, while the latter is a rock formation that could be mistaken as a ghost shop during foggy and misty conditions. The view anywhere around the rim is as spectacular this it was very easy to enjoy the spectacle without even walking far from the gift shop. The short walk to Discovery Point is also worth it to get better shots without being disturbed since the main observation point from the gift shop can be quite crowded even in spring time.

Rim around the crater
View of the rim around the crater

Lunch at the Rim Village was a simple affair and it was the only place serving food for miles so there was not much choice. Visitors might want to pack sandwiches, snacks and other food if they have dietary restrictions or children as not much is open during spring. Summer would mean more choices as the lodges open at that time. The main Crater Lake Lodge is located east of the village for those looking to stay overnight during the summer season. I figured sunrise and sunset from the lake must be pretty spectacular!

Model of the lake
Model of the lake in the Steel Visitor Centre

After the rest and some shopping for souvenirs from Crater Lake, we made our way back to the Steel Visitor Centre where we got to watch a short documentary on the formation of the lake in the mini cinema. There is also a bookstore and a park ranger in the centre who would answer any queries.

Empty highway
Empty highway to Klamath Falls

With that, we wrapped up our visit to the National Park and I would really recommend a visit to Crater Lake when driving between Oregon and California as it is truly an amazing natural wonder to behold! For the continuing journey, I chose to drive towards Klamath Falls so that we would not repeat the same route, and Klamath Falls is actually nearer to Crater Lake so visitors could also use that town as a base to visit Crater Lake. The scenery on the drive back is somewhat rural but still enjoyable as it was slightly different. What made it special was this particular stretch of the highway that was really empty and we were the only ones along the highway for about 15 minutes when I stopped and take some nice photos of the valley during the afternoon sun.

Valley plains along the highway
Valley plains along the highway to Klamath Falls

A pleasant spring breeze, that warm sun throughout our visit and the spectacular scenery of Crater Lake made this day really one of the highlights during this roadtrip. This day also made me showed me more of the state of Oregon than just Portland and solidifies the state as one of the Pacific Northwest!

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