A Crater Lake National Park Adventure
We've wanted to visit Crater Lake for a few years now, but every time we made a plan, something just didn't work out. Finally, we made a plan and things fell into place, and we made the journey happen! Our fourth wedding anniversary was a good reason to book the flights, rent the car, and find some places to sleep. We had a long list of things to see and do, and we executed most of the list. Here are just a few of the things we enjoyed around Crater Lake National Park:
Mazama Village Campground
We used the campground on this trip as a very utilitarian place to sleep. We didn't plan or pack for cozy nights around a campfire or for hanging out at our site. Rather, we planned to just sleep and eat there, and spend our time in the park exploring. We got lucky at the airport and were given a rental car upgrade, so we landed a sweet Dodge Caravan minivan that became our home on wheels. We packed REI Trekking pads, which we also use for sleeping in the Crosstrek, and some blankets to make a bed. On the way from Sacramento to Crater Lake, we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on supplies for the trip, and grabbed a stack of cardboard boxes. Those boxes made a great leveling and softening pad under our camp pads.
Mazama Campground is a little different from what we're used to. We reserved a site online, but a site is not assigned until arrival. At that point, we checked in at a little kiosk and were told to go pick a site with a yellow post. We drove through a couple of loops and everything was full, so the nervous energy increased a bit. On the fourth loop, we found a couple of options - one of which would allow the van to be in a drive with trees on both sides. This ended up being a prime spot for sleeping in the van - it was quiet and private.
The campground was full and busy during our visit, but with a fairly private site, we slept well and found ourselves a bit obsessed with the option of a van for sleeping and camping and #vanlife!
We arrived at Crater Lake National Park to find it mostly covered in smoke. A couple of nearby forest fires were encompassing the area and had actually caused some evacuation notices not long before we arrived. Thankfully, some rain fell and helped to fight the fires, so we were able to continue our trip, but we were certainly nervous that the views would be sad due to smoke.
Our first approach to the Lake itself was at the Watchman overlook. As we were afraid of, the smoke was just thick and covering the view. It allowed for some unique photos of Crater Lake - we were trying to put a positive spin on the situation! Due to the fire, and crews stationed nearby, Watchman Peak was closed for hiking. While we were unable to climb that awesome sunset spot that we had read all about, we enjoyed the views from the Watchman Overlook. A close up view of Wizard Island is the prize at this viewpoint.
We drove up the west side of Rim Drive after Watchman, and stopped at a couple of unnamed pull-outs with some views. One in particular allowed us to climb a hill and be right at the cliff edge overlooking the lake. This was a great spot for just pausing and enjoying the smoky view!
The Rim Drive
We feel extremely lucky that the wind shifted overnight, and we were able to wake up on our first morning with a blue sky and clear views of the lake. The smoke was definitely lingering in the distance, making the long range views seem dramatic. But, we had a blue Crater Lake and views of the entire area. We headed out early for a quick start on Garfield Peak - view that hike blog here. That hike was the highlight of our time in the park, and we'd definitely recommend it for any visitors. An early start got us a ton of time on the trail mostly by ourselves, and the early morning views from that area are just outstanding.
After finishing that hike, we had lunch and went to the Visitor Center to get our Passport Stamp... then on to continue the drive around the lake. We were hoping to drive the entirety of Rim Drive, and managed to do so over the two days we had there. So many places to stop and view this gorgeous place!
This is an easy pull-out from Rim Drive. Vidae Falls is right off the road, just steps from where cars park. The falls were flowing steadily on our visit, and seemed to be a popular stopping point. We got a few photos from the trail, but the areas all around the falls were closed for restoration, so we couldn't wander far. Still, an excellent viewpoint of a beautiful waterfall and lots of wildflowers in bloom!
Another popular viewpoint, with a short hike! From the Sun Notch parking area, we headed to the left and started on this short and clearly marked trail. The trail is an easy loop, which takes you to a few viewpoints of the "Phantom Ship" and other areas of the Lake. If you want an easy hike with some great views, definitely take a moment to walk this loop!
We continued on the drive around the Lake after Sun Notch, but the early afternoon sun was giving us some shady views from the east side. Our drive ended at the Cleetwood Cove parking area, where we headed off on our final hike. Kim wrote that hike up separately (you can read it here), as well, because it was a "bucket list" experience for her. In summary, it is a steep, steep trek down, with an opportunity to touch the water and even swim in it if you want to brave the cold water. The climb back up is a lung and leg buster, but this hike isn't about the climb - it's about the water at the bottom. Definitely do this!
We loved our time, although very brief, at Crater Lake National Park. We're likely to visit again in the future, hopefully when Oregon and California aren't experiencing huge fires!