A gem of Oregon’s natural landscapes, the waters of Crater Lake reside within the remains of a collapsed volcano, where the crystal clear waters also act as a mirror for the skies above. With various of hiking trails throughout the lake area, whether you want to go up and close with the waters or hike up the highest point for a panoramic view, there is no mistaking that Crater Lake always delivers with stunning views and memorable experiences.
- Date visited: July 31-August 1, 2016
- Trail name(s):the Watchman, Cleetwood Cove, and Garfield Peak.
- Weather conditions: Clear skies both days
- Length: varies
- Difficulty: moderate; Garfield Peak is hard
*You can read an extensive description of how the lake (and the park) came about here: https://www.nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/upload/2010-history.pdf
By far, in my personal opinion, Crater Lake has been the most memorable place we have visited this past year in the West Coast. There are clean waters in California, however the size and clarity of the waters in Crater Lake were nothing I have ever seen in my life. And beyond the waters, the forestry is massive; the entire park spans at least 180,000 acres as you get to drive around the perimeter of the lake; each trail has its unique sights and traits that make it worth going to; the hamburgers there are amazing. We absolutely did not go throughout the entire park, as we have only spent two days and one night at the park, but the spots we did go to are highly suggested by many travelers and hikers, and these following locations do give you a satisfactory look of Crater Lake.
The drive up towards the national park is a long one; if you start from Sacramento and go up I-5, then it would take as long as going to SoCal in the other direction. However, even the sights along the drive are nothing to brush off. The Shasta region looks gorgeous and you get to pass by the Sierra Mts. You cross a very small town right before the state border, and then its another 2 or so hours to get to Crater Lake.
After receiving a $10 day pass at the entrance of the park, you enter Crater Lake. There is no best first place to start looking, the best advice is to start from where you want to start (at the entrance or a certain lookout or trail you want to see first) and go clockwise/counterclockwise from there. Each trail has their own unique traits so no place is worth not venturing. There are always places to park in each trail, so rest assured you are almost guaranteed a parking spot, unless for some reason there are that many people crowding the trail entrance. Some noteworthy places that we visited were the Watchman, Cleetwood Cove, and Garfield Peak.
The Watchman is an observatory on top of a hill that takes about 30-45 minutes to traverse. There you can view the entire lake, as well as parts of the Oregon plains and hills. The best time to visit there is during the twlight hours as the sun is setting. One of the most phenomenal views that we saw up at the Watchman was the setting sun in the west, while simultaneously, the moon began its ascent in the east. Having both vibrant and cool colors juxtaposed with each other in the sky was something you rarely see in cities and towns. It does get chilly up there though and lots of mosquitos like to hover around you, so be sure to wear layers to ensure warmth and protection.
Cleetwood Cove is an hour descent down towards the waters, and also a place where you can take a boat tour around the lake! The cove is also a popular place for many people to go take a swim, so if you want to experience swimming in crystal clear waters like Crater Lake, head down to the cove. However, as the descent is pretty doable, the steepness is a bit crazy, so the way back up is going to be a strenuous one, so be prepared by getting some energy before your return upwards.
Lastly, the Garfield Peak is one of the larger hiking trails in Crater Lake, as it takes around 2 hours one way to walk up one of the largest mountains in the area. Bring lots and lots of water and snacks, as there are lots of resting spots that you can use to catch your breath and recover. One interesting aspect of the trail is the variation of the scenery as you make your way up: it becomes foresty in the beginning, then open landscapes and next thing you know you have a good drop on your right side and the mountain wall to your left. There are lots of burned trees, collapsed buildings and fallen rocks as well, so be sure to keep your head safe from any potential rocks that may fall. Other than that, the scenery was enjoyable to see as we hiked, and the feeling of nearly reaching the top of the peak was one of exhilaration. Sadly we did not go to the top of the peak, as we were super exhausted and the last stretch of the trail was really steep, but we felt accomplished regardless.
The visitor centers and buildings in Crater Lake offer restaurants and souvenir stores near the south entrance of the park, and if you ever need something substantial to eat, the restaurant at Rim Village makes decent quality American cuisine.
If you want to make the most of your trip, be ready to spend a night or two there either camping or sleeping in your car (as we had done). Because the park is so vast and there are so many trails to go to, one day is definitely not enough to enjoy the different aspects of Crater Lake to its fullest. Additionally, if you come during the winter time, you can see Crater Lake covered in a blanket of white throughout, although most trails and roads will be blocked because of the snow. If you take pictures of Crater Lake in the snow, be sure to tag us @jtnaturescape on instagram, and share how Crater Lake in the winter looks like!