United States 59 National Park Quest #42 – Crater Lake National Park

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The sun had long since set by the time I got to Crater Lake National Park. I had made the long drive from Davis, CA to Crater Lake National Park after work to spend the weekend in Oregon’s only national park. I couldn’t wait to check out Crater Lake as it would be my 42nd national park and the last of the Cascade mountain national parks. As with most of my trips, I read up on the post of fun activities to do while camping on campingfunzone.com and headed out with the hope of this trip being better than my last one. Not to mention, this was a last minute decision to spend the weekend in Crater Lake.

I had been plagued with indecision on which national park to visit for the weekend. I couldn’t decide between Redwoods National Park and Crater Lake National Park. They both were about equal drive time from Davis, yet I couldn’t decide. In the end, Crater Lake won because it was July and Crater has limited winter access.

I had planned to camp in the Mazama Campground at Crater Lake but it was full. This wasn’t surprising but it was worth a shot. I wasn’t worried. Crater Lake is surrounded by National Forest which means dispersal camping is available plus there are always some campgrounds in the national forests. I headed into the park to hunt a great spot to do some night photography. I headed up to the Crater Lake Lodge. I wasn’t in love with that spot so I headed west on the rim road until I found pullout overlooking Wizard Island and had an amazing view of the lake with the stars above.

It was too much to ask for a mirror surface but I had a great view of the lake with the stars above. I didn’t want to just watch the stars I wanted to spend the night photographing the stars since they were so bright and I so rarely get a cloud-free night in national parks. I spent most the night away supervising my camera. One is not allowed to sleep outside of designated campgrounds in the national parks (and can get a ticket for sleeping in your car outside of a designated campground). That being said if you are actively awake and doing something you can spend the night doing things like star photography.

After watching the sunrise over Crater Lake, I headed back down to the visitor center to figure out the boat tours and my other plans for the weekend.  I knew I wanted to do a boat tour and some hiking.

Boats for sale are everywhere you look. You just have to know where to look. There is nothing worse than buying a boat that is in horrible condition and having to put thousands of dollars of your own money into repairs. That’s why it is so important that before you go looking for a boat for sale, you do as much research as you can on the boats that are available so that you can find the perfect one for you. Start with boats for sale by your area; you can visit your local marina or yacht club to find some great deals on used yachts. For the best selection of used boats for sale, however, it is best to head online to find a boat dealer and yachting website.

Since I didn’t plan ahead for this trip, I didn’t have boat tour tickets but that was ok.  I knew that a selection of tickets made available 24 hours before tours start.  There are three different boat tours options on the lake.  The first is the standard two and half hour tour of the lake.  The second is a shuttle out to Wizard Island with a three hour on the island.  The third tour is a combination of the tour and the shuttle.  The tours are an additional cost.

Due to some technical issues, they weren’t running the combination tour but they use the same boat for the 9:00 standard tour and the 11:30 shuttle.  Booking the tours seperatly was an extra $5.00 but it was worth it to do both.  The only issue is that tickets are released exactly 24 hours before the start of the tour.  Meaning I had to be at the Crater Lake Lodge at 9:00 am and 11:30 am to buy my tickets.  That sucked but oh well.

I got my ticket for the 9:00 am boat tour and then did a short hike along the rim of the lake.  I was just at about to turn around and head back to get my 11:30 ticket when I had to stop and do a double take.  There was a person wearing a banana suit hiking towards me.  I wasn’t hallucinating.  It was a young female like myself who was wearing a banana suit in a national park.  I had to stop and ask about it.  She got the suit as a kind of gag gift that she started wearing because she takes pictures for her mom.  Now she does it to be funny.  She was in Oregon to attend a wedding on the way to Alaska.  Now, I had a Denali Road Lottery Permit that I still didn’t have a car for in September.  I made a split second decision and asked her if she wanted to meet me in Denali and drive the road with me.  And that is the funny story behind how I meet a banana and ended up with a car for the Denali Road Lottery.  Check out her Instagram account at @wearinthebanana.

After getting my ticket for the shuttle, I headed out East Rim road.  I stopped and did the 0.5 mile Castle Crest trail.  The trail is a small but short trail that goes out to a small stream and meadow with great wildflowers.

My next stop was Videa Falls which located just off the side of the road. I stopped and enjoyed lunch at the picnic area near the falls.  Despite the location, the Falls is fed by a small stream, not the lake.

From there I hiked the Sun Notch trail.  Sun Notch is a 0.8-mile loop that took me up to the rim of Crater Lake and it had amazing views of the Phantom Ship. The trail is located in a small valley was formed by an ancient glacier.  The Phantom Ship is the smallest of the two island in the lake.  It looks like a small sailboat from the rim but the Ship is actually as tall as a 16-story building and the rock is the oldest exposed rock in the caldera.

I drove down the Pinnacles road to the Pinnacles trailhead to hike the 0.8-mile Pinnacles Trail.  The trail follows along the edge of the Pinnacles Valley and features fossil fumaroles that formed from the volcanic ash that turned into solid rock and has been eroding every since.

I kept driving around the Rim road and stopped to explore the overlooks and check out the amazing views around the lakes. Each overlook, overlooks Crater Lake but each overlook has a different view of the geological features of the lake.

I set up to watch the sunset over the Pumice Castle Overlook and then spent half the night up photographing the stars.

I was up early the next morning (aka 6:00 am) to drive over to Cleetwood Cove Trail.  The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only trail goes below the rim of Crater Lake.  Most of the rim is unstable and access is restricted to the overlook and trails above the rim.  Cleetwood is a 1.1-mile steep trail down to the Crate Lake boat dock.  The only boats allowed on the lake are the park boats and all fishing gear should be cleaned to minimize the introduction of new species into the lake.

I checked in at about 7:00 am for my boat tour.  It is recommended that you check in an hour before the boat tour to give you plenty of time to hike down the boat launch. The hike only took me 45 minutes.  I had about an hour to explore and enjoy the lake views from the area around the boat dock and stick my feet in the lake.  The water is cold.  It is a snow-fed lake so the water is never warm.  During August, the surface averages about 59F.

At 9:00 am, my boat tour left the dock and started around the lake in a counterclockwise direction.  The boat provided a completely different perspective of the lake.  It was amazing to look up the high walls and see the amazing geology of the lake.

The lake is so large that it has its own currents.  This is most evident by the Old Man of the Lake.  The Old Man is a 30ft tall hemlock tree that has been floating vertically around the lake since at least 1896.  He floats around the lake going where the currents push him.  He has been recorded to travel up to several miles a day depending on the wind and current.  In the old days of the park, the rangers would stand on the log to show how buoyant the log was.  I wouldn’t do that.  Given my balance, I would fall in the lake before I even stood on the log.

We made it thru Skell Channel around Wizard Island, when disaster struck.  My tour boat broke down.  My driver did everything he could to fix the boat but alas we had to get towed to Wizard Island.

They estimated it would take about an hour and a half to fix. I looked at that and realized that if I wanted to get to the Witches Cauldron at the Summit of Wizard Island, I need to hurry.  The Wizard Summit trail is a 2.2-mile trail that has 760 feet of elevation gain.

I had to hike up the trail significantly faster than I planned.  It was an uphill rush, but  I made it to the top in about an hour and decided that I had time to take the 0.3-mile trail around the cauldron.  Despite being July the Cauldron still had snow.  Before the season starts, the rangers will hike up to the summit with a sled and go sledding in the cauldron.

I hauled but down the mountain and back to the boat dock to learn that our boat couldn’t be repaired and we were getting picked up by the other boat and all the rest of the tours for the day had been canceled.  I refilled my water bottle from the end of the boat dock and took a breather as I waited for our boat pick up.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get the full boat tour but at least I got to hike on Wizard Island. I was surprised that I was issued a full refund on both tours.  I was ultimately happy with my day.  I got to do everything I wanted.

Back in Cleetwood cove, I made the long 1.1-mile hike back up to the rim of Crater Lake and from there made the drive back to Davis, CA.

Have you been to Crater Lake National Park?  What was your favorite part?

37 thoughts on “United States 59 National Park Quest #42 – Crater Lake National Park”

  1. I am in awe of your pictures. Those shots of the star studded skies and the crater lake with its reflections are just mind blowing. Pretty sorry to hear about those little glitches in your tour but at the end of it, you sure seem to have collected some interesting memories. Cheers

  2. Wow, amazing starry night sky. It reminds me of the time I was in Outback Australia. The nights were pitched black and the sky was dotted with countless stars. It’s so remarkable how different the environment around Crater Lake look at different time of day. Your photos truly capture the beauty of Crater Lake National Park.

  3. Crater lake is so beautiful! I feel like I am there just from your pictures. Such a stunning area of natural beauty and your tips would help me plan a trip. It’s good that they make tickets available 24 hours in advance so you can go a little more spontaneously than having to book ages in advance!

    1. I agree the 24 hours in advance is a great way to let people get tickets while in the park. I took advantage of it even if I didn’t get a full tour.

  4. Love to read about your quest #42 which houses famed crater lake. Loved the shot of the lake with sky full of stars. Amazing. Sunrise is truly fantastic and I would also like to go on a boat ride during morning golden hour to feel the place.

  5. Stunnign shot of the stars above the lake – what an incredible sky! I’ve always wanted to visit Crater Lake National Park but I think I’ll definitely camp now. Stunning at sunrise and also stunning throughout the day! Lol too funny about the woman in a banana suit – reminded me of my trip to Antarctica where one of the guys on the cruise spent half the time in a Penguin suit!! Sun Notch trail looks like it has stunning views. Awesome that they refunded you because of the boat tour. Cool park!

  6. Absolutely love the sunrise and night sky pictures of Crater Lake. I’ve seen someone’s pictures when there was snow on the peaks and the blue lake in between and that’s when I fell in love with Crater Lake. You’re so lucky you have all these great national parks in the US, so much nature and beauty surrounding you.

  7. What a wonderful quest to visit all the national parks. I’ve not been since I was 13 or so. I didn’t do all of the trails or get out on the lake though. We just sort-of peered down into the lake. I’d love to do the Wizard Island summit! Sounds beautiful!

  8. A great travel story of a day out in nature. How beautiful do these stars look! And I loved the story about the Old Man, what a crazy thing to observe. Loved your pictures of the pinnacles and water, the colours are amazing. It’s a shame that the boat had some issues but at least you got the refund and you enjoyed the trip anyway. Nice post!

  9. We have visited many national parks in the US but we still haven’t made it to Crater Lake. The night sky is surreal, and how romantic! I’m writing down a note of going to Wizard Island to take beautiful night pictures, great job!

  10. OMG, this sounds like such an amazing weekend trip and especially your night pictures are breathtaking. It was absolutely worthwhile to stay up all night for those. Now I am really motivated to check out which National Parks are close to my town and plan a similar trip here. Thanks for sharing!

  11. The pictures are amazing, Crater Lake during sunrise and with the sun out looks stunning. And the night sky is equally lovely. Such places are so great for hiking trails, camping and just taking a boat out. I’ve heard so much about Crater Lake, have not been lucky enough to visit though.

  12. I’ve never been to Crater Lake but looking at your pics, I should have! The color of that lake is unreal – so blue! And the starry sky was amazing. Having lived most of my life in cities like NYC, Chicago, Hong Kong, I haven’t seen starry skies in a real long time (if you can see any stars at all in those nightlight cities….) The first picture was just amazing. What camera did you use to take that pic?

  13. Your photos of Crater Lake are absolutely stunning, especially the starry night ones! I haven’t visited Crate Lake yet, but I would love to go. It’s great to know you can make a trip there at the last minute with many camp sites to choose from. That’s too funny about you meeting the banana and making plans for Denali. What a funny happenstance!

  14. Such a detail post. I’ve not been to Crater Lake or National Park but your post wants me to visit. Generous of them to refund you. You had a lucky day that I’m jealous.

    1. The tour that was fully canceled they would have had to. The half of one I would argue but they made it easy and less angry customers.

  15. We have loved the national parks we have visited during our trips to the US. Great picture overlooking Wizard Island at night, living in the town you forget how many stars you can see when you get away from all that light pollution.

  16. Jennifer, it seems you had a good time. The first picture – starry night – is beautiful. You had me convinced there! I have only visited the big cities in US. But the national parks and the outdoor beauty is what is really striking about your country.

  17. This national park is so beautiful and I love your photography. I’m especially impressed with the night photography of the stars, it came out really well! Was it busy with other visitors while you were there?

  18. I haven’t been there but your journey with all its little incidents makes such an interesting read. Imagining the banana suited girl 🙂 and too bad the tour boat gave away. But I guess these are the things that make travel interesting.

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