Crater Lake: a spectacular hike, a cold swim

Statesman JournalJuly 13, 2014 

— "Photos don't do it justice." That's what I'd heard from almost everyone I spoke with before embarking on my very first trip to Crater Lake National Park.

As I clicked through hundreds of photos in the Statesman Journal's photo archives, I considered myself prepared to feast my eyes on the giant body of water that everyone spoke so fondly of.

"Eh," I thought to myself. "A lake is a lake, right?"

Wrong.

As I drove my way up the hill toward the second-deepest lake in the world, my stomach did flip flops. This was my first camping trip of the summer, at one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and since camping ranks in my top five favorite activities, I couldn't contain my excitement. Tapping my fingers on the steering wheel and singing along with the music playing through my car speakers, I rounded the corner to see a flash of the bright blue water and my natural reaction wasn't something fit for print.

I cannot emphasize just how shocked I was to see the beautiful blue water of the massive lake — and it's true — photos don't even begin to do it justice.

After picking up three friends in Eugene, the three-hour drive flew by with the company of good music and great people, but as soon as we could, we hopped out of the car and started snapping photos. Eventually we got over the initial shock of the pure beauty and headed to our campsite about 8 miles away from Rim Drive — the road that encircles the lake.

For $21 per night, you can stay at the Mazama Campgrounds which are the closest campgrounds to the lake. The grounds have a variety of amenities including showers, restrooms, a small store, laundry services and more. Each campsite is rather large. Most are equipped with a picnic table, fire grate and a metal box to put food and or garbage in at night so the bears can't get into it. (Don't fret, a bear hasn't been seen at Crater Lake in more than two years.)

While the campsites are a great place to hang out in during the evening, I wasn't there to just sit around a fire, although that was wonderful. Saturday morning we awoke after a chilly slumber (it gets rather cold at night so pack warm clothes) and made some breakfast. Eggs, bacon, bagels and coffee made for a great start to the day. A word to the wise: bring a cast iron skillet. It may be the most valuable cooking tool you'll use while camping.

After a camping feast, we packed our backpack with snacks, sunscreen, swimsuits and bug spray and set out for a hike. Since it's still very early in the season for summer activities at Crater Lake, many of the trails were still closed due to snow and unsafe conditions. We decided a trek down to the water was necessary, and got on Cleetwood Cove Trail, a 2.2-mile hike round trip. Side note: the Mazama Campgrounds are about 8 miles away from Cleetwood Cove, so you have to drive to get there, but there's ample parking near the trailhead.

The hike is made up of several steep switch backs and takes about 30 minutes to descend. On the way down I couldn't help but to continuously take photos, as the view just keeps getting better. Once at the bottom, a rocky lake shore leads to the crystal blue waters of the 1,943-foot deep, 6.03-mile wide lake.

It was the first time that three out of the four of us had ever been to Crater Lake, therefore a jump in the water was necessary. After scouting out a good spot on a giant rock, we took turns jumping into the water, ice cold from the season's melted snow. The initial shock of the freezing water took my breath away and chilled me to the bone.

But it was worth it.

After drying off and warming up we headed back up the steep trail toward the car. While the switchbacks seem pretty daunting, and are rather steep, the trail has strategically placed benches throughout for the hikers to sit and catch their breath. (I consider myself to be in pretty good shape and even I stopped a few times, partly to admire the beautiful view.)

Back at the top of the trail, the view was incredible. We walked up the closed road a little bit to see the lake from a different perspective, and from higher points on Rim Drive, the lake seems like something out of a fairy tale — completely unreal.

For those who have never been to Crater Lake I highly recommend visiting this summer — it's a phenomenal spot.

If you go

What: Crater Lake National Park

GPS: 42.965009, -122.150455

When: The park is always open, but some of the roads and facilities are closed during the winter. For more information on the facilities, weather, trails, roads, and current conditions go to nps.gov/crla/planyourvisit/current-conditions.htm.

Directions: Head South on Interstate 5 for 65 miles to take exit 188 toward Oakridge / Klamath Falls and after .4 miles merge onto Highway 58. After 86 miles take the ramp onto Highway 97S for 18 miles and then turn right onto Highway 138W for 15 miles. Take a left onto Highway 209 / Crater Lake Highway N.

(asterisk)(asterisk) Note: There's construction on Interstate 5 just south of Cottage Grove. The actual construction site is only eight miles long, but since the freeway is limited to only one lane on each side for those eight miles, it causes serious delays. On a Sunday evening we sat still for more than an hour.

Also, the mosquitoes are terrible this time of year so bring bug spray and lots of clothing to cover your body especially in the evening.

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The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal's website: http://stjr.nl/1iS55al

Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

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