Established in 1902, Crater Lake is the fifth-oldest national park in the United
States and the only national park in Oregon. The park encompasses
the caldera of Crater Lake, a remnant of Mount Mazama, a destroyed volcano, and
the surrounding hills and forests. Mount Mazama began the climactic
eruptions about 7700 years ago. The Mazama magma chamber was emptied and the
volcano collapsed, leaving a huge bowl-shaped caldera which formed the Crater
Lake. The lake is 1,949 feet (594 m) deep at its deepest point, which makes it
the deepest lake in the United States. No stream runs into or out of the
lake, so it is considered a closed ecological system. The clean, clear, cold
lake water contained no fish until they were introduced by human from 1888 to
Getting there ...
Straddling the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake National Park is
one of the snowiest inhabited places in America. Storms from the Pacific Ocean
dump an annual average of more than 50 feet at Rim Village. Visiting
Crater Lake in winter has been on my wish list for a long time, but the harsh
winter weather and driving conditions have been a big concern. I checked
the webcam and weather at Crater Lake before the Thanksgiving, and found it
would be an ideal condition to visit Crater Lake in winter: 4-5 days of
good weather forecast and the crater rim had been blanketed in snow from early
We started early at 6:30AM on the Thanksgiving day for the
long 7+ hours driving. When we stopped for gas and food, we found none of
the fast food (e.g., McDonald's) were open in Red Bluff and Redding areas...
- Union Creek Resort
I booked a 6-person cabin with kitchen at the
Union Creek Resort (closest hotel to Crater Lake since the Crater Lake Lodge
is closed in winter) just 2 days before the trip. It's spacious and
quiet as we did not see many guests around the cabins. We had a late
lunch (because we could not find any McDonald's open on our way) at
the cafe cross the road and had a good rest after the long drive.
- Crater Lake
We headed to the park after 3PM for a late afternoon
visit. It's about 40-min drive to the Rim Village and the road was
clear and dry. We started to see snow when we began to climb after
entering the park boundary. We took an easy stroll around the rim.
It's a beautiful day for a perfect sunset!
Day 2 (11/24)...
- I left at about 6AM to drive to the park, and got to the Crater Lake Rim
at about 6:45AM (sunrise at 7:10AM). Although it was clear at lower
elevation, it was totally cloudy and very windy at the lake rim. I
waited in the car for about 10 min and decided to drive back without even
opening my car door (it's 19F outside)
- Union Creek Resort & Rogue River Gorge
After breakfast, we walked
around the resort ground and visited the nearby Rogue River Gorge.
- Crater Lake
During winter months (from November to April), the West
Rim Drive is unplowed and it is the most scenic route for snowshoeing and
cross-country skiing in the park. We put on our snowshoes and started
the hike on the West Rim Drive at about 11AM. The snow for first mile
(to the Discover Point Viewpoint) was fairly packed that people could still
walk easily without any special footwear. Most hikers turned around
after the first vista point (in fact, most visitors may not go further than
50 feet from the parking lot at the Rim Village), so the snow was much
softer afterwards and the snowshoes became much more needed to walk on the unplowed
road/trail. We continued for about another mile to a nice view point
for the Wizard Island, and had our delicious peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches for lunch (it was partially frozen and it tasted like crunching
We returned to the Rim Village at about 2:30PM after the
4-mile snowshoeing, and took a long break at the 2nd floor of the Rim Cafe.
I decided to stay a little bit longer for another fantastic sunset (but very
different from yesterday).
Day 3 (11/25) ...
- Lava Beds National Monument
We left the hotel at 7:30AM to start our
journey back home. We stopped by the Lava Beds National Monument,
about 2 hours of drive from the Crater Lake.
The monument lies on
the northeastern flank of Medicine Lake Volcano, which is the largest
volcano by area in the Cascade Range. Over the last half-million
years, volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created a
rugged landscape dotted with diverse volcanic features. Lava Beds
National Monument is a land of turmoil, both geological and historical, with
more than 800 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields
and campsites, and a high desert wilderness.
We first went to the visitor to get the caving permit and
borrowed a flashlight before exploring the lava tube caves.
- Valentine Cave
Named for the day it was discovered in 1933, Valentine Cave
has large main passages with two openings. It has smooth floors
and walls, and quite a few side caves (lava tubes) which are much smaller
- Skull Cave
It is massive, and a good contrast to Valentine Cave in
how this one is mostly "breakdown," or boulders that fell from the original
ceiling and covered the floor. The wide open feel of this cave makes
it an excellent choice for those who do not like tight closed-in spaces.
It is named for the bones of pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and two human
skeletons discovered inside.
Going Home ...
- Mt. Shasta dominates the landscape from Highway 97 to I-5. We
stopped by a few viewpoints, and took a short break at the Lake Siskiyou
near Mt. Shasta City. We then drove for another 2 hours to have a nice
dinner in Orland (a small town between Redding and Sacramento). After
dinner, it's another 3-hour driving to get home to conclude our impromptu
Thanksgiving road trip.
Although many roads, and services are
closed during the extended winter season (November to April) in Crater Lake,
it is a magical and surreal place to visit in winter as long as the weather
is good and driving condition is safe.
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