Did you know that Crater Lake is the deepest and clearest lake in the United States? It was formed when a volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted and then collapsed onto itself. Over time, the remaining crater filled with rain and snow and became a lake with a depth of over 1,900 feet.
Crater Lake was the second stop on our ten day trip. We drove from Redwood National Park and made our way north about 2 or 3 hours. As we neared our campsite at Diamond Lake, just north of Crater Lake, we could see a gray haze on the horizon. The Umpqua Mountain Range, along with many other forests in Oregon and California, had some pretty nasty forest fires. It was a big deal as many were burning at the same time putting a huge strain on firefighters around the West.
We’ll first share our experience with the campground at Diamond Lake. We had a reserved site right on the lake and had an incredible view of Mt. Thielsen. What was fortunate for us was that we arrived and had a clear view of the lake and Mt. Thielsen. We started chatting with our camp neighbors and they had been there all week and had not been able to see across the lake because of the smoke.
What we also learned during that exchange was that we had one of the two things necessary to start a conversation with a fellow camper: kids or dogs. We got many compliments about how pretty or funny our girls were and we were grateful for that. Quincy and Leona would often be playing and wave at any car or person going by our site often eliciting a smile and return wave from passersby. The other factor, dogs, was what we used to help calm our girls down when they were mad or sad or kind of cranky. We would go on a “hunt” to find a dog. Usually, we didn’t need to venture very far and the owners were often willing to let us stop by and pet their dog.
Thielsen View Campground was actually the longest stay we had on our trip and we are glad it was. It was a very relaxing spot. There were some mosquitoes in the evening as the sun went down, but otherwise a top notch campground for a great price of only $15/night.
Ok, now onto the big kahuna- Crater Lake. So it’s touted as one of the deepest, the clearest, and one of the bluest lakes in the world. Welp….it absolutely is. We arrived on a day where smoke blanketed the lake with a haze, but it was still a magnificent view. Even more amazing was that along the lakeshore were snowbanks, still melting from the 44’ of snow they got last winter. In fact, they have an icy road warning year-round there because of the potential shift in weather.
So when we mapped out our plan to explore Crater Lake, we did our best to stick to it. On our first day there, we hiked down to Cleetwood Cove and got right down next to the lake. For how strenuous it was described as, we were surprised how many people were on the nice, wide trail. As we kept getting closer to the lake, we could see how blue the water really was and how clear the rocks and logs were visible along the shoreline. There is one ferry that shuttles people to Wizard Island for a tour, but because the girls were too young (needed to be three), we didn’t take the shuttle boat. Instead, we hung around some rocks and splashed around. As usual, the girls started picking up rocks and pebbles and relocating them along the shore. We simply hung out and chatted with some other people cooling off their feet. What was amazing was that in the 30 feet or so of area we could hear, we were the only Americans. We were surrounded by Germans and Brits and had a few folks from Asia as well. It was great to hear about their own journeys and where they had already explored. It was also slightly sad because we hope more Americans are taking advantage of our beautiful national parks.
The hike back up Cleetwood Cove was where the “strenuous” came into play. It was a steep, continuous incline for just under a mile. We took a few breaks in the shade, but made our way back up to the top and headed to our next stop at Plaikni Falls. Plaikni Falls is a relatively new trail that was flat and terminated at a really nice waterfall and wildflower bloom. The girls were getting tired by that point, so morale was a bit low, but it gave them the time to run around on their own and expel some energy. We capped off the night with a sunset dinner in the RV at the Cloudcap overlook. See the photo below, for an idea of how smoky it was. In normal conditions, we’d be seeing the lake and the surrounding mountains.
The next morning started early. We had our sights on Crater Lake’s tallest peak – Mt. Scott. Mt. Scott is 8,929 feet tall and is 5 miles roundtrip. It’s also considered strenuous by many. In our Fodor’s Guide to the Western National Parks, it was listed that an average hiker would take 90 minutes to hit the summit and about 60 minutes on the return hike. With those estimates in mind, we were prepared for a 90-120 minute hike on the way up, hoping to be at the top by 10am before the sun really warmed up the mountain. Well, to our surprise, it took us just over an hour to hit the summit. We were pretty stoked to cruise up there quickly. We celebrated with some snacks and bananas before heading over to a small snowfield to play. It was also confirmed that Leona was born to live in Southern California. She had no interest in the snow. Actually, she was tired and took a nap shortly after we put her back in the pack.
In case you’re wondering – how heavy are the packs? The packs with nothing in them weigh about five pounds. When you add a kid (Quincy was about 20 pounds and Leona was 22 pounds) plus a camelbak with water, snacks, sunscreen, diapers, and in this case, jackets and hats in case it was cool up top, we are carrying about 30-35 pounds per pack. Overall, Kelty makes them very comfortable with a lot of adjustments you can make to the support straps.
Okay, back to Crater Lake. After descending Mt. Scott, we checked out the Phantom Ship, a rock outcropping that contains some of the oldest remaining rocks from the original volcano, Mount Mazama. Tests have dated the Phantom Ship rocks at 400,000 years old.
Our final day at Crater Lake had us take an early departure from our campsite and head to the southern visitors center, Mazama Village. Heading out early on a Saturday was one of the smarter things we did all trip. We got into the park early and took some time to watch the sun hit the lake from Watchman’s Overlook while the girls were still in their pajamas. After that we continued south to the Village where there was a well-stocked general store, gas station, restaurant and gift shop. We encountered many men and women who were through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail making their way from the Mexican border to the Canadian border – a 2,600 mile, multi-month journey. After breakfast, we picked up a few items and piled back into the RV for the drive to Lava Beds National Monument. As we left the park, it was around 10:30am on a Saturday, i.e. prime time to arrive at a national park, and we drove past a huge line, about a half mile long, of cars waiting to come into the park.
The quintessence according to…
Mary: I loved the hike down to Cleetwood Cove, it was definitely tough coming back up but it was worth it. Getting down to the water, really seeing how clear and blue it is, putting your feet in our country’s deepest lake, and watching your babies’ faces light up because they get to splash around – it’s just good for the soul.
Sean: I was slightly nervous about hiking Mt. Scott. I had read in multiple places that it would take at least 90 minutes to get to the top. I was mentally preparing for a bit longer because of our heavier than average packs. So when we hit the top in just over 60 minutes, I was shocked, but really excited that we did it so quickly. It was a healthy reminder that we stay in shape and try and work out as much as we can for times like that. And the views from Mt. Scott were absolutely awesome. Looking east we saw some mountains from the Cascade Range peaking out through the morning fog and smoke. It was a really incredible view to take in.
Pleasant and unpleasant surprises
It was nice to be able to visit almost all the places we planned to visit. Typically, we really pack in our trips and have to make some concessions. In this case, we saw almost everything we wanted to see.
Another great surprise was Thielsen View campground. It was so tranquil and it had an eleven mile bike/running trail around the entire lake. It also had lots of access to the lake with a few sandy shorelines for the girls to splash around in a safe spot.
Unpleasant surprises included smoke from the wild fires. They created some hazy views, but we can’t complain too much. We weren’t affected by the fires and hope those that were fighting them weren’t harmed either.
Crater Lake did not disappoint. It’s a must see if you’re in the Pacific Northwest.