At the north end of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is a lake with water so blue it will quite literally take your breath away. The first glimpse of its cerulean hue is surreal, and you’ll gasp in wonder.
It was June and Crater Lake National Park still wasn’t fully open. Although we had our National Park pass ready, nobody guarded the entrance and we sailed in without stopping, passing rows of fire-stripped trees. Like the woods at the base of Devils Tower, fire was a regular and necessary occurrence in this forest.
Soon piles of snow dotted the hill, and as we drove higher, the piles grew bigger and closer until they merged into one and the tell-tale trails of skiers snaked in graceful curves.
I’d seen photos of Crater Lake National Park. The water in those images was a blue so saturated I doubted it could be real.
We stepped onto the rim of an ancient volcano and looked at the deepest lake in the United States and the second deepest in North America. That depth, and the fact that the water comes solely from rain and snow, is why it’s so blue. Crater Lake is considered one of the cleanest lakes in the world, and looking at it makes you feel like you’re witnessing purity.
It’s so blue, in fact, that its second name was Deep Blue Lake (1853) and its third name was Blue Lake (1862), and it’s so majestic its fourth name was Lake Majesty (1865).
It wasn’t called Crater Lake until 1869 when Jim Sutton, a Jacksonville newspaper editor, decided to explore it by boat and then wrote about it.
Why so many names? It seems various explorers encountered the lake, named it, and then forgot about it. I have a feeling it was like Yellowstone’s geothermal wonders; nobody believed it was real. It took a journalist to make a name stick.
The first name had a bit more longevity. About 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama blew its top. It had been a much taller volcano, but then it exploded and the top crumbled, leaving a shell of its former self that filled with water. The Klamath tribe witnessed this event. In their lore, the Llao, who lived below the earth, fought the above-earth Skell. Skell won, the mountain collapsed, and the lake was born. They called the lake Giiwas and considered it a place of power.
We stood on the rim with a lone man wearing a photographer’s vest adorned with pockets covering every available space. Tourists roamed and took their selfies and climbed over gnarled roots. The three of us – Jim, the photographer, and I – made our way towards a neon green tree shooting out over the bluest of blue waters.
I carefully picked my way down a gentle slope and framed my photos. I exchanged places with the lone man, and we made some commiserating comments about the intensity of the colors. Jim followed after him. We (Jim and I) took our own selfie. It was a moment to be marked. To say: “We were Here.”
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from my book, “Two Lane Gems, Vol. 2.”
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Visiting Crater Lake National Park
There are several viewing points around the rim of the caldera, as well as hiking trails. Swimming is allowed in the lake, but the water level is only accessible via a steep trail. Fishing is also allowed. Although there are no indigenous species, several fish were introduced in the late 19th century until 1941, when the fish stocking ended.
Because of its elevation, activities are very seasonal. The campgrounds are open around June through September, but it’s always best to check in advance if you’re near the beginning or end of that time period. Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village are also open seasonally. They’re both located in Rim Village, a complex of accommodations, gift shops, and dining.
Admission to Crater Lake National Park is $25 in the summer and $15 in the winter for passenger cars, or free with an America the Beautiful Annual Interagency Pass.
Because of its elevation, Crater Lake is frequently invisible due to clouds. The National Park Service has a webcam so you can see what the conditions are before you visit.
Where to stay near Crater Lake National Park
There are two lodges within the park as well as two campgrounds. You can also camp at nearby Diamond Lake State Park or get a room at Diamond Lake Resort.
Bend, Oregon, is about an hour and forty minutes from Crater Lake National Park and has several options for places to stay.