The second half of August has been all about Oregon for me: last weekend I was down in southern Oregon romping around Crater Lake, and this long weekend I’ll be in the northern coastal city of Seaside enjoying sand and hopefully sun.
Known for the clarity and color of its water, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the ten deepest lakes in the world with a maximum depth of 1,943 feet. I am a sucker for bodies of water in striking colors (alpine lakes are one of the reasons I hike) and love picturesque landscapes so it was an easy decision to pack a weekend bag and go south. With minimal traffic you can get to Portland from Seattle in 3 hours, but the traffic was awful when we left so it took almost twice the time. From Portland to Roseburg, where we stayed, it was another 3 hours.
Roseburg, Oregon is a small but charming little city that is a tourist homebase for the many activities in the area (wine tasting, golfing, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, etc.). Most of the cities around Crater Lake are very small -many don’t even have gas stations- so we chose Roseburg because of its abundance of lodging, gas, and food options. It’s only 2 hours west of Crater Lake National Park, and it’s also where the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway (OR 138) begins. True to its name, the byway curved along beautiful rushing waters and through gorgeous forested landscapes. It took us right to the northern entrance of the park (open only during the summer) where we paid the $10 entry fee and got a free postcard in addition to entrance for a few days.
Before we even got to Crater Lake itself, we were struck by the striking landscapes in Pumice Desert and the northern corridor. Although the destructive force of Mount Mazam’s massive eruption can still be seen, there’s a lot of new growth around the park. It was humbling to see how the land has rebuilt itself after that eruption more than 7,000 years ago, and how it continues to rebuild itself.
As I mentioned before, the beauty of Crater Lake’s blue waters can be easily accessed by car. You can drive up to any of the viewpoints and behold the vast depth and color of the lake without breaking a sweat (there is also a single trail, Cleetwood Clove, that takes you down to the water).
But of course the best views require a lot more effort, so we hiked up to Garfield Peak, with a summit of 8,054 feet.
I hike pretty frequently so the elevation gain of 1,010 feet in 1.7 miles for this hike didn’t intimidate me at all. However, the starting altitude definitely made it feel a lot more painful than that. I huffed, puffed, and sweated my butt off the entire way. The one awful thing about this hike is that every time you think you’re about to reach the summit, there’s another switchback that makes you groan in determined misery (like I’m doing here while resting on a “trail” sign).
We stopped at a few other sites, like the underwhelming Vidae Falls (dinky little thing), but really it was more and more blue water and quirky landscape features (conduit fissure that looks like a ghost ship) so I won’t cover them. There are 3 main villages around the park for food and bathrooms, which was convenient. And of course we got a passport stamp for my fiancé/former boyscout’s passport book.
One thing I did want to call out is that unless you’re staying in the park, either camping or at the lodge, or just want to get photos from one of the viewpoints, using public transportation may not be the best way to explore the lake. My original plan was to take an Amtrak train to a nearby city, then take a shuttle (seasonally offered) into the park. However, there isn’t much in terms of public transportation around the entire park once you get there. Crater lake itself is 33 miles around, with many lovely viewpoints and good hiking trails. There is a trolley, but it’s more for informational tours and isn’t intended for mass a-to-b transport. We ultimately ended up driving ourselves for this reason, and as we were leaving the park we both agreed that it would have been difficult to do all we wanted to without driving.