A Visit to Crater Lake

Klamath Falls, OR

We left Bend mid-morning on Wednesday and headed south on US 97.  The trip is probably very beautiful on a normal day, but heavy smoke from all the nearby fires limited visibility and made breathing unpleasant.

Our destination was the fairgrounds in Klamath Falls, about 135 miles south of Bend where we planned to stay two nights, allowing a day to drive up and visit Crater Lake.  But with all the smoke we decided to just pay for one night and, if the air did not clear, continue heading south the next morning.  But Thursday dawned with fairly clear skies, so we paid for another night at the fairgrounds and headed northwest to Crater Lake National Park.

During the 60 mile drive we were unsure if we made the right decision as the smoke began to increase.  A few miles from the park we passed a camp for firefighters and a field that served as a staging area for about six helicopters use in fighting the nearby fires.

But as we approached Crater Lake the wind must have shifted and the sky became clear, giving us fantastic views of the lake.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake

Crater Lake is a caldera lake famous for its deep blue color and water clarity.  The lake partly fills a nearly 2,148 foot deep caldera that was formed around 7,700 years ago by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama.

The deep blue water

There are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake.  Evaporation is compensated for by rain and snowfall at a rate such that the total amount of water is replaced every 250 years.  With a depth of 1,949 feet, the lake is the deepest in the United States.  In the world, it ranks ninth for maximum depth and third for average depth.

The lake is so beautiful that the background in most photos looks to be fake.  So why is the water so blue?  Water molecules, just plain water with no sediments, algae, pesticides or pollution, will absorb all the colors of the spectrum except the blues. Those wavelengths will bounce back and make the water appear blue. The key is to have relatively pure water and lots of it.  There has to be enough molecules to absorb all the other colors.  There are 4.6 trillion gallons of water in the lake, so it works really well.

There are two islands in the lake.  The largest is Wizard Island,  formed from a cinder cone that erupted after Crater Lake began to fill with water.  The other is a small one called the Phantom Ship.  Though it resembles a small sailboat, the island is as tall as a 16 story building.  It was made of erosion resistant lava about 400,000 years old, the oldest exposed rock within the caldera.

Phantom Ship

Phantom Ship

Wizard Island

Rim Drive is a 33 mile road that encircles Crater Lake.  It takes about an hour to drive the road without stopping, but there are many overlooks along the route that increase the average time to about three hours.  Unfortunately, the road (and hiking) around the west side of the lake is currently closed due to paving work and wildfires.  But we were able to enjoy the drive around the east side of the lake.  One of our stops was a six mile detour from Rim Drive to visit the Pinnacles Overlook.  There colorful spires 100 feet tall are being eroded from the canyon wall.  A short trail (.4 of a mile) along the edge of the canyon provided great views of the pinnacles below us.

Right along Rim Drive between the Phantom Ship Overlook and the park headquarters is Vidae Falls.  A spring fed creek drops 100 feet over a series of ledges.  Even in early September the water flow was strong.

Vidae Falls

We felt very fortunate to be able to see Crater Lake on a clear, sunny morning.  The day before it was obscured by smoke and just before we left the lake a thunderstorm blew in and it rained quit heavily.  Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in the country, but you really need the sunshine to see the full effect of the deep blue water.

We will now continue heading south into California.  Next up is a week-end stay in Susanville.  More on that later . . .

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30 Responses to A Visit to Crater Lake

  1. Sally says:

    Does anybody ever swim in the lake?

    • Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

      A friend and I snuck around to a cove and went skinny dipping in Crater Lake in 1967 on a dare. We got out about a hundred yards out and a F’ing tour boat motors around the bend. Out came the cameras…that water is crystal clear :(. And yes, It was COLD.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Sally, you can swim in Cleetwood Cove where they do the boat tours on the north side of the lake. That is the only place you can get close enough to the water. It is a mile trail down with a 700 ft drop. The water in the summer may reach 60 degrees.

    • TravelBug-Susan says:

      Yes, although it is super cold! One time, my friends and I ran down the cinder cone on Wizard Island instead of taking the trail (not recommended). Our hiking boots filled up with little lava rocks (ouch!).When we got down to the water, we took off our shoes and washed off our feet. My feet swelled up and I got hives and itching. (I’m allergic to cold.) Brrrr!

  2. It is such a beautiful spot–I saw it for the first time when I was 17 years old and still remember the blue, blue color of the water–there was still snow around the lake in July that year.

  3. YAY, you got a lucky break! Fantastic shots of this beautiful place! I’ve only spent a tiny bit of time there, right near the lodge so I’ve never seen those cool pinnacles. I’d like the opportunity to really explore it some day…thanks for giving me a preview!

    • placestheygo says:

      We did hit the jackpot with our visit, Lisa, especially since the day before there was no view on the webcam. There are a variety of nice trail but the main area to the west was all closed. There is also what looked like a great trail up to the top of Garfield Peak for a nice view down on the lake. But there were thunderstorms brewing so we didn’t think was the place to be.

  4. Definitely the most beautiful lake we’ve ever seen. You were really fortunate to get a clear day to visit.

  5. Jeff Pierce says:

    Despite the smoke in the area you have captured some beautiful pictures!

  6. pmbweaver says:

    Outstanding photos of Crater Lake. I actually didn’t know it was that deep.
    It does look like Pam is sitting in front of a movie backdrop. Gorgeous.
    Pinnacles Overlook is beautiful. I wish we could have seen the Lake up close. Only a mile of the road was open when we were close enough to visit. So glad you were able to see it personally. What an awesome adventure.

  7. Sherry says:

    So sorry you are there or anywhere in the beautiful PNW this summer with so many fires all around. Breathing troubles are the worst. I have minor respiratory problems anyway so I’m really glad I’m not there. So wonderful that it cleared for you to take that fantastic header picture and all the rest. The background does almost look fake it is so amazing. Really great pictures pinnacles too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen pictures of them before. Thanks! Safe travels south – hope you get out of the smoke.

  8. You had enough smoke and drove 60 miles that the gods smiled at you and said lets clear the smoke for John and Pam so they can revisit one of the most beautiful lake in the US! And yes that 33 mile rim is what Steve biked on our wedding anniversary sometime in 2009. I chickened out so he did it alone and I was her lovely support during his water stops.
    And I am learning more about that lake, thanks John.

  9. paul weaver says:

    Beautiful. Carrie told me she read 2 trillion gallons of water fell on Houston….nearly half of that lake!

  10. Gay says:

    WOW! I would say it was your lucky day! Love the pinnacles and that gorgeous blue water! Thanks John for all the interesting information!

  11. Jodee Gravel says:

    You got some really amazing pics!! We weren’t able to see the ship or the pinnacles due to the snow, so getting to see them here is wonderful. So special to catch a singular clear day in between covered skies – it always feels like winning a prize :-)) I wonder how many days the whole Rim Road will end up being open this year. I’m guessing not very many!

    • placestheygo says:

      While you missed the ship and Pinnacles, you did have snow which I loved on our first visit to Crater Lake. The West Rim Trail is closed during the week til Oct for road work. And then just a couple days before we got there, the West Rim was closed everyday because the fire moved closer. Crater Lake sure had a tough season.

  12. geogypsy2u says:

    Sure glad you got a clear day for Crater Lake. I’ve seen it both clear and smokey, but not in a very long time. Was thinking of a fall PNW road trip after the season is over but maybe not after all the fires this year. Now thinking SW Utah instead.

  13. Laurel says:

    We finally have internet so that I can see your AMAZING photos of Crater Lake! Wow, you guys really are living right to have such a gorgeous day in the midst of such smoky conditions all around. The blues of Crater Lake are surreal. I can vouch for that water being cold — I went swimming in it (many years ago). If jumping in counts as swimming. :-))

  14. TravelBug-Susan says:

    Seeing Crater Lake on a clear day is such a treat. In our 30 years living in Oregon, Crater Lake was a favored vacation stop. We usually camped along Hwy 138 to the west of Crater Lake and spent time hiking to and swimming in waterfalls, but we always made time to visit Crater Lake for a few hours. It’s really awesome to take the tour boat around the lake. You learn so much!

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