Crater Lake is one of North America’s natural wonders, the deepest and clearest lake in the United States. It was created in a monumental volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama almost 7,700 years ago with a discharge nearly 150 times that of Mount St. Helens in 1980—14 cubic miles of debris that was deposited as far away as Wyoming.
Things are a bit more peaceful now. Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902. It celebrates a lake whose waters are fed by snowmelt—a pure water with clarity to depths of 130 feet and deep blue color that absorbs all other light on the spectrum. It’s a beautiful place. Here are eight things you have to experience while you’re there.
Almost as old as the park itself, Crater Lake Lodge is the most comfortable accommodation you can find within the park proper. Built in 1915, its 71 rooms offer creature comforts on Oregon’s most dramatic geological landmark.
For the widest views, there are a couple of options along the rim. Garfield Peak is the highest accessible point above Crater Lake at 8,054 feet. While Hillman Peak, Applegate Peak, and Dutton Cliff are all higher, none of them have access trails. Nonetheless, the views from Garfield Peak are panoramic, encompassing the lake, of course, Diamond Peak and the Three Sisters, the Klamath Basin, Mount McLoughlin, and Mount Shasta.
While it is accessible during the summer, the Watchman Snowshoe is the best way to see the lake in the winter. The second-highest accessible point on the rim, the views are panoramic, and access to automobiles is closed during the winter, extending the summer hike by several miles along the seasonally closed West Rim Road. Visitation plummets in the winter—which is funny, because the views get so much better under a coat of snow.
Of course, Rim Road itself is a great way to spend a day ogling the caldera, the deep blue hue of the lake, and the ochre and umber of the crater rim. There are several turnouts to view the lake and its features, and many of them have hikes less than a mile or so. One such overlook, Sun Notch, offers a beautiful view of Phantom Ship, the oldest rock formation in Crater Lake.
Crater Lake is, after all, an ancient volcano, and the geology of the park is as fascinating as the deep blue waters of the lake. The Pinnacles is an overlook on Pinnacles Road on the approach to the lake, and the hike features fossilized fumaroles. Near Mazama Village, Annie Creek Canyon features more fossilized fumaroles and the opportunity to view them up close. Not to be outdone, fossilized fumaroles can be found among old-growth red fir on Godfrey Glen Loop.
The Crater Lake Boat Tour is the only way to experience the water away from the crater walls. Tours last two hours and leave every half-hour, and each is accompanied by a park ranger to discuss the park’s geology and answer questions. There’s no way to get closer to some of Crater Lake’s most stunning features, like the Phantom Ship and Wizard Island.
The boat tour is also the only way you’ll be able to hike the volcano within a volcano. Wizard Island features a surprising array of wildlife, like lichen, wildflowers, and bird species, and those who book the boat tour can hike to the top. Another perk: the lake was once stocked with kokanee and rainbow trout, and you can fish for them—and technically, they’re invasive. While the direct boat journey is cost-prohibitive to some, but it’s also one of the most unique vantages of the deepest lake in the United States.
If you can’t stomach the cost of the boat journey, there is one access trail to the lake’s waters. Hiking inside the rim is prohibited everywhere except the Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 1.1-mile trail that descends a staggering 700 feet to the lake. It’s the only place to cliff dive, and the cost is free. With a lakeside dock, you can also fish here, and there are no requirements other than that you clean your fish away from the lake.