From where I currently live in Northern Idaho, Crater Lake is eight hours away by car, but the drive is easily done in good weather, and includes some surprisingly beautiful scenery. Being on the Eastern side of the Cascades as one is when they travel through Bend, OR, you have amazingly clear views of Mt. Hood, the Three Sisters, and other spectacular peaks. Since the Eastern side of these mountains is drier than the Western side, the skies have a tendency to be clearer and the weather can often be warmer. The approach to Crater lake is relatively easy to drive, as the more difficult mountain roads are not traveled until one actually enters the Park boundaries. It is interesting to note that the vicinity of Bend is where the terrain changes from drier, arid high desert to more forested foothills, and then the slopes of the cascades themselves. The area surrounding Crater Lake has been distinctively marked by volcanic activity, and indeed, the Lake itself occupies the remnants of an ancient Volcanic site. An ancient volcano called Mt. Mazama used to occupy the vicinity of the lake and its surrounding slopes, until a collapse led to the formation of a water filled crater, 1,949 feet deep.
This depth makes Crater Lake the seventh deepest lake in the world, and the resulting clarity and brilliant blue color of the water is something that I found absolutely mesmerizing. Having seen images in the past of Crater Lake from many viewpoints, I was still surprised by the size of the lake. Upon first approach, I realized it was not the small, pond like body of water I had imagined, but was a sizable lake of impressive symmetry, ringed on all sides by steep, rocky slopes. Due to this inherent instability, there is only one designated trail that reaches the lake surface itself. On the third day of our stay, one of my companions and I decided to explore a little bit on foot. We started by ascending Mt. Scott, due to its status as the highest mountain in the park. I am a fan of ascending high points where I am if possible, due to the physical challenge and the potential views offered. True to form, Mt. Scott offered full views in all directions of the surrounding area, although the lake itself seemed a bit less majestic due to distance. The trail, while a gradual ascent, did provide an altitude challenge, as the summit was just under 9,000 feet high. The next challenge we undertook was to hike the trail down to Crater Lake itself. While situated at lower altitude than Mt. Scott, the return trip back to our car proved a bit more exhausting, perhaps due to being already fatigued. It is worth noting that if one runs into ‘fitness’ trouble going down, than going back up will be a rather difficult journey. Crater Lake is not, by any means, a warm lake, and one may last roughly two minutes or so in the water before the cold would begin affecting you (In mid-Summer). That being said, the lake water is refreshing on a warm Summer day, and the clear water that gives way to a brilliant blue several yards from shore is best appreciated close up. There is a tour boat that gives rides around the perimeter of the lake, and to the small conic island situated in the lakes’ Western half. We passed on the boat tour due to what we felt was an excessive ticket price, but for those willing to spend, it is the only way to see the lake by boat, as private vessels are not allowed, nor would it be feasible to launch them, so leave your kayaks and canoes at home. One of the advantages to having Crater Lake as a focal point to a National Park is that the road access to many very worthy viewpoints is easy and convenient. This makes this park an ideal visitation spot for families with young children or elderly members. It is worth noting that quite a few stretches of road in this park are narrow and windy, so one should be prepared to drive cautiously. As visually beautiful as Crater Lake NP is, the park still caters best to those planning to stay in one of the three permanent Lodging options. RV and Tent campers, like my group was, need to do a bit more planning ahead to make the trip work. Campsites fill up very quickly in Summer months, and although sites become available each day, you may find yourself having to camp outside the park if you arrive too late in the day. Another thing to consider is that there is gas inside the park , but the nearest stations outside the park are an hour or so away. Other than this, the main logistical issues are standard with any camping trip. Just be smart and come prepared, and you will have a wonderful time. All in all I highly recommend that people visit this park at least once in your life, as you will not be disappointed.