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United States> Oregon> Union Creek> Crater Lake National Park

Pacific Northwest - Oregon

Crater Lake National Park

( Nature’s Beauty / Parks )

A Karen Brown Recommendation
Union Creek, OR  USA
Crater Lake
Whether you want only a glimpse or a full day at Crater Lake National Park, you’ll enter from the southern entrance off 62 (follow the signs from Union Creek). At 1,932 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., which accounts for the intensity of its vibrant blue color. Only six other lakes in the entire world are any deeper than this! The lake resides inside the caldera of a collapsed volcano called Mount Mazama. It is encircled by mountains that stay blanketed in snow nearly all year and makes for a truly memorable visit at the right time of year (usually July through September). There is a weekly per-car admission charge. Our first stop is the Steel Information Center, open at all times of the year. It’s a humble setup but a good place to get oriented. Enter the park from Hwy 62 and turn left where the road dead ends to head north, following the signs to the Information Center. An 18-minute video will introduce you to the Crater Lake story. Pick up a detailed area map only if you’re going to spend the day in the park; otherwise we’ll guide you. (Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm; 541-594-2211.) Head north again on Rim Drive. In its entirety, Rim Drive (open July to mid-October) is 33 miles long and steers you along the edge of this awe-inspiring caldera. Without stops it would take you about two hours to complete, but we’re going to recommend some spectacular trails (choosing only the easiest), viewpoints, and branch roads along the way, so that you can really appreciate where you are. And don’t worry: we’ll tell you where to exit if you’re here only for a quick visit. These stopovers appear in order as you take Rim Drive in a clockwise direction from the Steel Information Center: The Sinnott Memorial Overlook (in Rim Village on the south side of the lake and open in summer only) is your first chance to see this beautiful lake. Rangers offer excellent lectures here. A 100-foot paved path leads to unimpeded views in all directions. The Watchman offers one of the most breathtaking views on the entire drive (good news for those moving on soon). It’s also the closest view you’ll get of Wizard Island, which formed after the initial collapse of the volcano more than 7,500 years ago. Consider taking the hike to the site of a former fire tower (almost 1½ miles round trip). The view from there is amazing. For the visitor ready to leave the park now, it’s shortly after The Watchman that you’ll exit in the direction of Diamond Lake on Hwy 138. These travelers should skip now to the final three paragraphs of this itinerary. Otherwise, continue along Rim Drive to linger at these additional spots: Cloudcap (a 1-mile spur road west of Rim Drive) is the highest point accessible by car. You’ll have nearly an aerial view of the lake from this vantage, as well as a 360-degree view of the superb surroundings: dense forests, the Klamath Basin with its own lake, and Mount Scott, which at 8,926 feet is the highest peak in the park. Phantom Ship (you will view it from Kerr Notch where Rim Road meets Pinnacles Road) offers a glimpse at a 300-foot-long island (actually an exposed section of lava dike) rising out of the lake, which may remind you of a sailing ship. Hikers can get a closer look via a half-mile round-trip trail. The Pinnacles (accessed via a 7-mile spur road southeast of Rim Drive at Kerr Notch) takes you a distance away from the lake to witness a piece of volcanic mystery. Here, hundreds of hollow spires, made of pumice and scoria (volcanic ash) and called fumaroles, show the effect of years of erosion. Some fumaroles rise eerily as many as 80 feet above the ground. Signage will describe the fascinating details of their formation. Return to Rim Drive and if you’ve had enough, take 62 back out of the park all the way to I-5 heading south back to Ashland. Otherwise, continue on Rim Drive until you see the next set of signs for exiting the park (just past The Watchman in the direction of Diamond Lake on Hwy 138). Certainly you might consider booking a room at the Crater Lake Lodge in Rim Village. While the lodge is not among our recommendations for best places to stay, it is convenient. Reservations are best made well in advance by calling 541-830-8700 Monday to Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. The lodge is open in summer months only.
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