Crater Lake's Wow-Factor Is So Worth the Trip

The 58 parks in the National Parks Services are the jewels of the American landscape. Natural beauty, ranging from glaciers and mountain ranges to deserts, canyons, swampland, and forests represent just some of the diversity in this spacious nation. Give your kids a vacation worth remembering by exploring one of these national treasures.

One of the world’s deepest lakes is all that remains of a crumbled volcano, sunken by tectonic activity ages ago. Now, Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake, provides serene natural beauty in a stunning, otherworldly setting in which the tip of Mount Mazama is all that remains visible in the middle of a watery grave. It’s time for an adventure.

Looking into the Abyss

The cacophony of movement inspired by an earthquake-prone zone covered in volcanoes created what we know today as the Cascade Range in southern Oregon. Once upon a time, super-heated volcanic activity along the range resulted in the towering Mount Mazama, which grew higher after every eruption, until it was well over 11,000 feet. Finally, the constant eruptions caused the mountain to collapse into itself, leaving the giant caldera that is now Crater Lake.

Today, a tiny island in the middle of the lake, Wizard Island, is the only trace of the flowing underwater lava. Below, the sheer drop of almost 2,000 feet makes Crater Lake the deepest lake in the United States. The pristine blue waters seem to stretch away from you forever – at least when you can see them. The humid conditions under the earth often create a layer of fog that hides the lake from its would-be human observers.

Beyond the lake, visitors to the park can explore other extinct volcanoes, old growth forests, a pumice desert, and strangely-shaped pinnacles peeking up from the ground. The high elevation means that the park is often under a cover of snow, but the lake generally does not freeze.

The Pacific Crest Trail, which runs all the way across the United States’ west coast, passes directly through the park as well. Altogether, there are plenty of Crater Lake experiences to keep a family busy on this beautiful park adventure.

Lake and Forest Vacation Plans

Summer at Crater Lake is the perfect time to visit tiny Wizard Island, the tree-lined lava flow floating in the middle of the lake. Boats from the north side of the lake shuttle visitors onto the island for a day trip. Your kids will love hiking the “lava tongue” or climbing to the vent, called the “Witches Cauldron”.

You can swim at the island or at Cleetwood Cove, where boats from the mainland take off, but the crystal clean mountain water also happens to be freezing, so the novelty could wear off pretty quickly.

Hiking trails are pretty spectacular around the lake too. Explore the Pinnacles trail to see the oddly-shaped volcanic spires and to get a glimpse of the Phantom Ship, a small island that offers an intense optical illusion from the shore. The Plaikni Falls hike is another easy route that leads to a serene waterfall – perfect for dipping your toes in to cool down.

Ranger-led programs and trolley tours around the rim are also great ways for kids to learn about the lake and its environs as they visit. With a little help, your kids can even become Junior Park Rangers

Wintertime at Crater Lake can be the most magical time of year. An average of 43 feet of snow per winter keeps the park under a powdery blanket of freshness most of the time. That’s perfect for skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers who want to take advantage of the ungroomed loops and trails around the park; fresh powder is the best for carving your way through. And don’t worry – there are trails suitable for all experience levels.

Kick Back and Relax

Crater Lake’s south entrance is off of Route 62, north of Klamath Falls. There is another entrance at the north end from Diamond Lake, which is only open from June until November. From either entrance, the lake itself will be a bit of a drive. From the south side, you’ll hit Mazama Village and the park headquarters before you arrive at the lake.

Two summertime campgrounds, both located in the forested area south of the lake, are available by reservation only. Mazama Campground has tent and RV spaces with electric and water hook-ups. Showers, restrooms, laundry facilities, and a general store for groceries and firewood are all on-site. The 16-space Lost Creek Campground is for tents only, but still offers toilet facilities as well as drinking water.

Unlike a lot of national parks, there is indeed some infrastructure at Crater Lake. The 71-room Crater Lake Lodge and 40 cabins at Mazama Village provide some indoor amenities for families weary of camping or looking for some wintertime warmth. You can even get something to eat at a restaurant or grocery store in Rim Village or Mazama Village – what luxury!

For those who simply cannot abide the ease of amenities, backcountry camping is also possible anywhere in the park, as long as you obtain a free permit from park rangers.

Ever been to Crater Lake? What are some of your favorite national parks you’ve visited with the family? Share your travel stories with us!

Tags : travel   national parks   oregon   

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