A Day in Crater Lake

Mileage today: 105 miles Total 2,474

A brilliant day today touring the park. The weather was quite warm – 28C – and cloudless. We set off quite early, just after 915. Our plan was to drive the circle road around the top of the caldera, have lunch and then start down the Cleetwood Cove trail about 2pm for our 330 boat tour. The trail down has a bit of a reputation for being challenging, or rather the trail back up again does…. anyway, we wanted to leave ourselves plenty of time. We are at over 7000 feet here. You do feel the altitude when you exert yourself.

We went around the caldera in an anti-clockwise direction from the lodge which meant our first stops were on the southern end. There are lots of pull-ins all the way along the route – it’s 33 miles btw – and some of them are purely viewpoints, some of them are also trailheads.

The first one we stopped at was a trail head for the Sun Notch. It was a nice little hike up through some trees and a meadow to the crater edge. We saw quite a few small creatures as we walked, a marmot, lots of squirrels and 2 different sorts of chipmunk. The trail follows along the crater edge and you get a great view of the walls and of the rock formation below called the Phantom Ship below. It is the remains of an old peak from an ancient eruption. It certainly is a striking and notable sight surrounded by the blue water. The loop was short only .8 mile.

After that we detoured slightly away from the caldera edge to visit a place called The Pinnacles. These are weird fumeroles caused by hot gas emissions after the last massive eruption. They point upwards like huge fingers from the side of a ravine. The trail ran along the top of the ravine with overlooks to look down the sheer walls to see the fumeroles. Again it was about .8 mile out and back.

We continued on, calling in at many of the overlooks and just looking down in wonder at the blueness of the water and the steep walls of the caldera. This is such a beautiful and amazing place. And not too busy at the moment. No traffic jams or hold ups like you can get in some parks.

We had lunch looking down at the water. A picnic as usual. Then completed our circle, getting back to the lodge about 1. Just time enough to pick up more water before heading off to Cleetwood Cove. It was very busy on the trail. Quite apart from the passengers for the boat trips, a lot of people go down there to swim. I have to be honest, I would not do that. I dont mean I wouldnt want to swim. I did. But I wouldn’t make that trek just to swim. Anyway, the trail is very steep: 700 feet drop in about a mile. The trail switchbacks down the sheer wall of the caldera but even so, the switchback legs are quite steep. I was dreading the return. Going down was ok but your knees start telling you about it by the last few switchbacks.

We did the descent in 30 minutes so we found some shade under a tree and watched people jumping off a cliff into a deep bit of the lake. Looked like fun, although one chap lost his watch and someone else lost a shoe. We would have swum in our shorts such was the heat of the day by then, but you either had to jump off the cliff or clamber over massive boulders to get to the waters edge and that felt a bridge too far.

The boat was an open topped launch so we loaded up with strong sun cream. There was no shade at all. We had a captain who was a jolly fellow and a female Park Ranger who gave us info at all the stops. The boat tour was 2 hours and cost about $44 each. It was definitely worth it. We circled the lake and it was great to see some of the features that we’d seen from the top…… from the bottom!! The water is really clear. Normal is to be able to see 100 feet down vertical. It has been measured at 140 feet on occasion. You can easily see boulders in relatively shallow water and the sheer dropoffs where the bottom just drops away. We were very lucky today, the water was still and the reflections in the water were just lovely.

The ranger told us lots about the different volcanic features visible around the crater walls. It was a really good trip and we were very glad we did it.

Towards the end, the captain stopped the boat and ranger opened the side door and filled everyone’s water bottles with water from the lake. It’s that clean. We drank it on our way up the trail.

Got back to the dock at 530 and started back up. It was pretty brutal but we made reasonable progress. Quite surprised to find we did it in 45 minutes. Such a haul up……

Went back to the lodge and showered off – our feet, shoes and socks were thick with dust. Got changed and went out about 8 to Annie’s Cafe for a quick burger dinner. Nice enough.

Then we drove around to the east side of the lake where it is even darker than the lodge side. No light at all for as far as you can see. We pulled up in one of the pull offs and turned the car lights off and after a couple of minutes when our eyes had adjusted we stepped out. Wow. Just wow. Thousands and thousands of stars dotting the sky above us not to mention the wonderfully veil like misty flow of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. We just stood and marvelled for about 10 minutes. It was much warmer tonight. About 60F even at 930. We drove carefully back to the lodge. The view of the stars from the car park was pretty good to be honest. Definitely do this if you go to Crater Lake. Unfortunately I don’t have the photographic equipment to capture photos of the stars successfully so you will have to take my word for it. But it is truly an extraordinary sight.