Crater Lake is a 2.5-hour drive from Bend, making it a doable day trip. Although in May, most of the park is still hibernating under multiple feet of snow, the south entrance is open and tourists can drive to the rim. The drive was rather uneventful; a pine tunnel with a smattering of distant peaks as we paralleled the Cascades. Once off the highway though, we drove through the gorgeous Wood River Valley enveloping Ft. Klamath with its flower-dotted, kelly green pastures, babbling Wood River, and grazing cattle.
We arrived at the entrance to the park after entering the treeline that borders the valley. As we discovered, the entrance sign is well below the rim. We travelled through a forest of imposing ponderosa pine and hemlock until the road gave way to the entrance station. From there the road began to climb and surprisingly quickly, we found ourselves at Rim Village.
I had done my homework before we arrived, so I thought I understood what would be open, where the road had been plowed, and where we might want to snowshoe. We were also given a map at the entrance station noting how far the rim road had been plowed, where dogs were allowed, and the various distances once could travel on the rim road east and west. In May, the only attractions open were Rim Village – which has a visitor center and gift shop – and the Crater Lake Lodge.
It was a beautiful day with a high in the low 50s and a clear, sunny sky. The perfect day to visit. We left Tru in the car initially and walked over to the lodge. Built in the early 1910s, it received a full structural renovation in the 1990s. The main floor has a large dining and living area bedecked with ponderosa pine slabs. The slabs were smooth to the touch and had an arresting effect. There was also a small exhibit room where we read about the construction of the lodge, the problems with insulation and seasonal hazards, as well as the more recent renovation. Off the living area, it looked like there must be a wonderful patio to have a beer and admire the view but it was still completely snowbound with a wall of white blocking the doors and windows.
Back outside, we climbed the snowbank to the side of the lodge for a view of the lake. It was stunningly blue, a deep cerulean hue, set against the sides of the caldera. It was breathtaking. The water was so still, that it almost bled into the sky, creating an immense boundless blue.
Crater Lake rests inside the shell of a collapsed volcano, Mt. Mazama. It is the deepest lake in the US at 1,943 feet deep, and the 9th deepest in the world. I was surprised to learn that nearly all of the water comes from rain and snow, rather than an inlet. Although annual snowfall has been below average for 9 of the last 10 years, Rim Village receives an average of more than 50 feet of snow each year! Yet, the lake has not frozen over entirely since 1949.
I asked the lodge concierge about snowshoeing on the rim road and she recommended walking to Discovery Point from the lodge to start our trek. She said there was a picnic area that would be a good turn-around point. So, back at our car, we prepared ourselves for the walk to the point. We prepped Tru, readied our packs, strapped our snowshoes to them, changed into our boots, and began. We walked around the Rim Village parking area to reach the west side and clamored up onto the snowbank to take in a different perspective.
Along the snowbanks by Rim Village, nylon rope is strung along the edges to prevent people from going too far, breaking through the snow, and hurtling into the caldera below. Much was made of the hazard of snow in the park for unsuspecting tourists in the newspaper we were given at the entrance. The snowbanks on the rim form cornices on which snow appears to extend farther out but is actually an unsupported ledge.
We returned to the road and continued our journey. However, we soon realized that we didn’t need to walk to Discovery Point because unlike the map showed, it was very much open to vehicle traffic. We were being passed fairly consistently by cars traveling west on the narrow two-lane road. Feeling frustrated (only me) and increasingly warm, we climbed a snow bank to get out of the road and reassess. We decided to turn around and walk the half-mile back to the car.
After driving to Discovery Point – where there was a small lot – we decided that walking the rim road wasn’t that important after all. Initially, I felt really committed to using our snowshoes since we had brought them along, but ultimately it didn’t seem worth it. While the road was closed to vehicle traffic after the Point, it appeared plowed. I wasn’t ready to lug all of our things once more only to discover we didn’t need any of them. I changed shoes for the third time and put on my Chacos. We ventured once more onto a snowbank for a view, exchanged photographer duties with another couple, and climbed back into the car to return to Bend. It was such a delight visiting the park and seeing the lake surrounded by snow, but I look forward to returning when there’s a lot less of it and more hiking opportunities.