Crater Lake: a spectacular hike, a cold swim
The fabled blue, blue waters are an eye-opener for a first-timer to Oregon’s only national park.
(Salem) Statesman Journal
Northwest travel guides
CRATER LAKE, Ore. — “Photos don’t do it justice.” That’s what I’d heard from almost everyone I spoke with before embarking on my first trip to Crater Lake National Park.
As I looked at many photos before my visit, I considered myself prepared to feast my eyes on the giant body of water of which everyone spoke so fondly.
“Eh,” I thought to myself. “A lake is a lake, right?”
As I drove 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 enough 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.
As soon as we could, my friends and I 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, 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 in which to put food and/or garbage at night so 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 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 cold at night so pack warm clothes) and made 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 (important) and set out for a hike. Since it was 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 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 switchbacks and takes about 30 minutes to descend. On the way down I couldn’t help but 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 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, the trail has strategically placed benches for hikers to sit and catch their breath.
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.