Crater Lake National Park

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There are just a few months out of the year when it’s ideal to visit Crater Lake National Park.  April is not one of those months.  Now, I knew this long before I headed up to the lake, and given the weather I had experienced on Day 7, my expectations were quite low.  I wasn’t even sure if I’d get to see the lake.  But taking a chance paid off.

During the warmest months of the year, you can drive the entire 32 mile loop around Crater Lake.  If there’s still a lot of snow on the ground, you’ll probably be limited to a view at Rim Village, on the southern side of the lake.  From Medford, take OR Rte. 62 to the southern entrance road.

This is the awesome, incredible view from Rim Village (above).  In winter (unless you have cross-country skis), this is the only view of Crater Lake you’ll get.  About all you can do is walk through the snow from the parking lot to the rim, and then just stand there.

You never know what the weather will be like at Crater Lake.  It didn’t matter that it rained, sleeted, and snowed on my way up and over the rim.  Once I reached the lake, luckily, the clouds parted, and a giant blue window opened up directly over the middle of the lake.  In the distance I could see Wizard Island, the cinder cone that built up long ago, after the top of the mountain was blown away in a volcanic eruption.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and 7th deepest in the world.  At its deepest, it’s 1,943 feet (or more than 1/3 mile) to the bottom.

The clouds around the edge still obscured the mountains surrounding Crater Lake.  Also, from this viewpoint, I wasn’t able to see Phantom Ship, another often-photographed island near the southeast shore.

That “blue window” lasted just long enough for me to take some pictures.  Within about 15 minutes, the sky was cloudy again, and the lake nearly disappeared.  On my way out of the park, I stopped at Steele Information Center (the only building that remains open during the winter months, even though it’s nearly buried in snow).  A ranger asked me if I was able to see the lake, and I was happy to say yes.  I guess some people come all this way, only to gaze out at some very scenic fog, and nothing more.

No surprise, Crater Lake Lodge is closed for the snowy months of the year.  The windows are shuttered, and the parking lot is unrecognizable, thanks to snow drifts that approach the building’s second story.

Perhaps the least photographed thing at Crater Lake is the, um, facilities.  But I thought this was a good illustration of just how high the snow reaches.

And for even more perspective, check out this giant snow blowing machine, used to clear the roads.  This thing is at least 15 feet high, yet it would be easy to lose it in a drift.  Keep an eye out for these machines on the road in and out of the park.

If you doubt that Crater Lake is seriously snowy, consider these statistics from the NPS website:
– Snowfall averages 533 inches annually
– in 1950, Crater Lake set a snowfall record, with 903 inches in one calendar year
– On April 3, 1983, park officials measured 21 feet of snow on the ground at park headquarters.

The steam rising from the pavement in April is a good sign that the snow will be melting sometime soon.

There’s a good chance that the Rim Drive will be closed from October through May, and possibly into June.  You can use cross-country skis to circle the lake, but snowmobiles are forbidden on the Rim Drive.  You can, however, ride a snowmobile into the park, using the north entrance road, but you must stop once you reach the rim.  Rental facilities are available just outside the park’s north entrance.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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