Exploring Crater Lake National Park, Oregon’s Only National Park

In South-Central Oregon, between Highway 138 and 62, lies Crater Lake National Park, a caldera lake formed when Mount Mazama erupted. The lake was held sacred by local native tribes and not located by white explorers until 1853, when John Hillman found it by accident. He named it “Deep Blue Lake,” but because of the remote location it had few visitors.

The rim of the caldera is between seven and eight thousand feet high, the lake is about two thousand feet deep. Because the rim is so steep access to the lake remains difficult, but the conditions allowed Crater Lake has no inlets. The water, without sediment, is amazingly clear which gives it the rich blue color. Crater Lake holds the world record for clarity at 142ft.

William Gladstone Steel became fascinated with Crater Lake in 1870, and when the National Parks were established he began working to have the area designated as a National Park. With the aid of the USGS he obtained the first measurements of the depth of the lake, after he and other hand carried a survey ship into the crater. The Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902, following extensive lobbying by Steel.

Rising from the lake is Wizard Island, a smaller volcanic cone that formed some time after Mount Mazama erupted. You can reach the island by boat and wander around the island at leisure. You can also take a boar tour of the lake, exploring features with a Park Ranger Guide. To get to the boat dock, you have to hike down the side of the rim, a 1.1 mile very steep hike on a dirt trail. If you want to avoid the hike, there is also a trolley tour around Rim Drive, also with a Ranger Guide. There is also a driving tour, and if you are looking for a walk several hiking trails of various difficulty.

Even with the National Park status, visiting the park wasn’t easy. William Gladstone Steel built the Crater Lake Lodge (which is still standing today) in 1915, and the Rim Drive was completed in 1918. A few years later Rim Drive was connected to local highways to allow motorists access. Before this visitors used the train to reach a motor stage, where they were taken to the lodge.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and second deepest North America. It is the ninth deepest lake in the world, but the deepest lake whose surface is above sea level. The lake is replenished by rain and snow melt, and lowered through evaporation, and several cracks in the sides of the rim that drain the water into an underground cistern, preventing the crater from filling.

The park remains snow covered for much of the year, with the roads opening in late June to early July, and remaining open until early October. The park remains open even in the winter, allowing snowmobile and cross country ski touring. There are two visitor centers, gas is available at one, and several camping. Back Country camping is also available, and the park is on the Pacific Crest hiking trail.

Crater Lake National Park is a surprising find in the middle of the wilderness, and the first view of the lake as you crest the rim is simply stunning (from either direction). As a weekend trip or longer it is a destination that offers a unique experience.

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