The slogan “Happy cows come from California” played through my head as I drove Highway 62 northwest through the pastoral mountain meadows with just a few miles to go before entering Crater Lake National Park. Looking around I couldn’t help but think, “Happier cows probably come from Oregon”.
The eastern side of Crater Lake’s volcanic rim is visible from Highway 97, yet every time I saw Crater Lake come into view while driving 60 mph, and I slowed down, the pine trees blocked the view for a photo of the volcano.
There are only two entrances to the Crater Lake Rim Drive and the North Entrance to Crater Lake National Park is buried in snow until at least July this summer 2011 season. Highway 62 between Medford and Grants Pass crosses the southwest portion of Crater Lake National Park.
Mount Mazama stood at 12,000 feet before collapsing into itself 7,700 years ago. The former volcano would have filled the skyline with 4,000 to 5,000 feet more of mountainous scenery in the background of this valley photo looking from Highway 62 toward Crater Lake National Park.
Mount Mazama collapsed into itself to form the caldera that filled with water over millennia to become Crater Lake. Crater Lake rim is only 7,000 to 8,000 feet high now and the lake itself at 6,173 ft surface level reaches a depth of 1,943 ft. at one point in the lake to be the deepest lake in the U.S. and 8th deepest in the world.
Crater Lake resulted from cataclysmic eruptions around 5,600 BC at then 12,000 ft. Mount Mazama. I would have guessed Crater Lake was formed hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago, only this eruption occurred at a time when Native American peoples were already living in the area. Klamath Indians have folklore stories describing the creation of Crater Lake.
The Annie Spring Entrance Station is just off Highway 62 with a small ranger booth for park entry payment and Annie Creek Restaurant. This is where Mazama Village is located, but the area looked rather snowbound as I passed and Crater Lake Rim Village with the Lodge and a couple of other buildings is 7 miles past the Park entrance.
This is Cascade Range snow country. The 2010-11 winter-spring season brought 649 inches of snow to Crater Lake, a snowfall level matched only twice in the past 40 years. That means over 54 ft. of snow fell around Crater Lake this past snow season when an average year has a still mind-boggling 44 ft. of snow.
Snowed in buildings like the Steel Information Center at Park Headquarters Center have paths cut through snow to access building doorways. I was wearing only a t-shirt in the 58 degree bright sun and stepping into the ice-bound tunnel leading into the Information Center was chilling. The temperature was in the low 70s on Highway 97 and 62 at the Annie Spring entrance to the park 4 miles below.
Steel Information Center has a short 20-minute film, cool maps, gift shop and some rangers. There was little activity happening here.
Crater Lake is really best to visit from mid-July to mid-September for access to most of the park by car.
The steepest part of the climb to Crater Lake rim is the final three miles of road from Park Headquarters to Rim Road.
Rim Village road access is plowed year-round to keep the road open to tourists and park staff. Rim Village sits at the edge of the Crater Lake caldera at 7,100 ft. elevation allowing cars to drive 1,000 feet higher than lake level.
A ranger told me that warm weather and rain in January compacted snow with ice and makes plowing the Rim Road especially difficult this year. Only one mile of the West Rim Road has been plowed with 32 miles to go around the Crater Lake caldera. In 1998-99, the last big snow season comparable to 2010-11, the Rim Road was not fully plowed and open until July 27.
All in all though, the road is fairly easy grade. In fact my car registered the best gas mileage ever for its drive along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and Crater Lake National Park getting over 30 mpg. Either Oregon gas is something special or the road gradient is really easy in these mountainous terrains.
The mile of Rim Road west plowed by June 18 still required walking across slippery snow to see Crater Lake 1,000 ft. below in the caldera.
Yellow rope indicated the out of bounds area to keep tourists from slipping and sliding down the snow and off the cliffs. Wizard Island rises 767 ft. above the lake surface.
There were really only two places to access Crater Lake views with a car during this visit. A parking area open at one mile on west Rim Road with good views of Wizard Island and the Crater Lake Lodge area were the only open access points. The weather in the high 50s on a bright sunny day made spending hours staring at the lake from these two spots worth the effort to reach the caldera rim. Only mosquitoes were a nuisance in the evening.
The deep blue water against a light blue sky with brown and white cliffs reflected off the lake surface makes the Crater Lake mirror a mesmerizing sight.
The lake scenery constantly changes as the sun moves across the sky affecting color and shadow.
Crater Lake Lodge
Crater Lake Lodge is located at Rim Village where there is also a separate visitor center, restaurant, and gift shop store. The Lodge had a ranger talk at 4pm about the history of Crater Lake Lodge on the day I was there. The topic changes daily for the ranger talk, so it was fortuitous I visited on the day of hotel talk.
The Lodge was originally built as a private venture in 1915, not too long after the creation of Crater Lake National Park in 1902. Accommodations were rustic with no private bathrooms and little electricity provided from a small generator. The Lodge was expanded and upgraded in the 1920s and 1930s.
The National Park Service bought Crater Lake Lodge in 1967. By the 1970s the Lodge was in poor shape despite its listing on the National Register of Historic Places and threatened by a demolition plan.
Finally in 1989 the Lodge was shut down for safety concerns and reopened in May 1995 after being gutted and rebuilt to modern standards in a $15 million project that retained the Great Hall design of the earlier Lodge.
The Lodge has 71 rooms, a restaurant and food/drink service in the Great Hall that functions as the main lobby for the hotel and park visitors.
I ate dinner in the corner table by the window of the Great Hall.
There is a formal dining hall, but nobody was dining in there yet and I didn’t want to be the first person eating alone in the restaurant.
This looked like a nice place to dine with views of the lake possible from the windows. From my window seat in the Great Hall I actually could not see over the snow banks to see the lake unless I was standing. That will not be an issue in August.
There are 71 rooms at Crater Lake Lodge. The hotel is only open mid-May to mid-October. Park staff work up here year-round at the nearby Visitor Center and gift shop and cafe. The Park Ranger said workers were snowed in at Rim Village for several days after one big storm this year.
- Rates for 2011 start at $158 to $188 per night for a ground floor room.
- Southside rooms do not have lake views. $188 One Queen or $198 for two Queen beds.
- Lakeside rooms have view of Crater Lake. $198 One Queen or $208 for two Queens.
- Deluxe lakeside rooms are $208 One Queen or $218 for two Queens.
- Loft = $284.
- Rates are based on two persons. Extra persons are $25 per guest.
- There are elevators in the four story Lodge.
- Reservations may be made up to 13 months in advance and require one night’s deposit.
- Reservations may be cancelled with full refund if at least two days before arrival.
The interesting thing about Crater Lake National Park Lodging and lodging at many National Parks is the rate is the same regardless of the day of week or month for the entire season. Lodging tends to be booked far in advance making it difficult to secure room reservations for a date next week or next month, but cancellations occur regularly. There were seven available rooms at Crater Lake Lodge on a Friday night at 5pm when I was there.
Some rooms at Crater Lake Lodge have showers, but some only have a tub.
The fourth floor corner room was a room with tub only, albeit one tub with a great window view of Crater Lake.
Rooms do not have TV or telephone.
There are electrical outlets in the room and a small space heater for cold nights. You don’t have to be totally old millennium retro during a stay at Crater Lake Lodge. I was able to pick up Verizon internet reception while at Crater Lake Lodge. But really? Do you want to look at a computer monitor when you have this view?
Mazama Village Accommodations
Mazama Village is 7 miles down the road near the Annie Spring Entrance Station and offers 40 cabin rooms with shower/bath at $132 per night. There is no AC, TV or telephone at Mazama Village cabins. I did not see the cabins at Mazama Village.
Mazama Village also has 212 tent ($21/night) and RV sites ($27/night).
Crater Lake is six miles across at its widest points. The lake lies 1,000 feet below the level of the Lodge and distances seem shorter than they actually are in this location.
Summer comes late here where 10 to 15 feet of standing snow takes some time to melt in the warm months of July and August. Life continually renews here.
And life lingers on here at the rim of the caldera holding Crater Lake.