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Crater Lake: First Impressions of Oregon’s Only National Park

I had never ventured to the central sections of Southern Oregon. For my entire life in the Pacific Northwest, the region between Bend and Klamath Falls remained a mystery. Sure, I had looked at pictures of Crater Lake as we studied it in school, but the region’s spirit was unknown to me. All growing up, my family explored the wild lands of the Pacific Northwest, but for some reason, Crater Lake escaped our adventures. That all changed in late February, when I was lucky enough to take a trip to the Crater Lake region of southern Oregon, finally giving me a chance to fall in love with the wilderness of the region, at least in the winter.

 

The winter of 2014-15 is on track to be the worst in recent memory, as far as snowpack numbers are concerned. All across the west, from Yosemite to the North Cascades, the snowpack in the mountains is nearly non-existent. Olympic National Park is said to have only 13% of snowpack at the time of publication. Olympic’s Hurricane Ridge, one of three ski areas in the 59 National Parks, was unable to open, having not received the needed usually easy to obtain 36 inches of snow at a mile above sea level. At nearby Mount Rainier National Park, the 35% normal snowpack has not allowed the opening of the sledding area at Paradise, which has been known to open in October. Yosemite National Park’s Horsetail Waterfall, normal a popular tourist draw in late February, when the light of the setting sun turns the falls into a golden color, is dry and empty and won’t be seen in 2015.

 

Crater Lake National Park is not faring much better, sitting at 37% of normal snowpack. While the snowpack is low, the roads around the crater are closed, giving those driving to the park just one entry point to the hallowed out volcano. The roads to the ridge are snow free, and as our vehicle drove the steep, winding road, I was glad to not have to head up in wintery conditions. As the temperature crept over 55 degrees fahrenheit, we reached the end of the road, parking near the closed up Crater Lake Lodge below Mount Garfield. The snow was built up just enough to not give us a view of the lake, so we gathered our gear and proceeded to climb a small bit of snow. After a few seconds of walking, the water-filled shell of Mount Mazama expanded before us, giving me my very first view of Crater Lake.

 

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Mount Garfield right before sunset in Crater Lake National Park

Mount Garfield right before sunset in Crater Lake National Park

Looking toward Crater Lake National Park during golden hour

Looking toward Crater Lake National Park during golden hour

Winter Sunset at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Winter Sunset at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

 

We stayed until sunset, exploring a few short trails, visiting with rangers and taking in the grandeur of Crater Lake National Park. As the sun plunged below the horizon behind us, we watched the clouds above the lake erupt in color. Every other car in the parking lot was gone, giving us a moment of solitude in a location that

 

In the summer, the regions few campsites and lodges quickly fill up, helping families, friends and solo adventures experience the wilds of the southern Oregon Cascades. Crater Lake National Park, with numerous pull spots, overlooks and visitor information areas, also has 100 miles of trails around the ancient volcano, each ranging in levels of popularity in the summer. In the winter, the trails are almost empty. In the off-season, the lodges are few and far between, while the campsites sit empty along amazing rivers in beautiful forests.

 

For me, this is when I like to discover a park. The off-season isn’t for everyone, as most amenities, including ranger stations and even bathrooms, are closed. Seeing Crater Lake in the winter made me want to visit the park again and again. With no crowds, I was able to experience a level of wilderness that I come to expect having grown up in the nature of Olympic National Park. The empty rim of Crater Lake made me think about my views on nature and what I appreciate.

 

Falling in love in the winter, when I have a place to myself, is easy. Without crowds, I feel immediately connected to nature. I relax and am calm, knowing I am part of the air, able to enjoy the smells and able to feel the wind on my face in complete silence. With no crowds, connecting with nature is easy, but will I still love it in the summer? When we had the crater to ourselves during sunset, was it more beautiful because we were there alone? Would it still have been amazing if it was packed with people talking, snapping pictures and enjoying the last bursts of sunlight?

 

I honestly don’t know.

 

From the first glimpse of Crater Lake, I was hooked, eager to return a few times a year, exploring the amazing views, history and geology of Oregon’s only National Park. Now that I have connected with the region, I am forever attached, always able to draw on the beauty I experienced first-hand. Crowds or no crowds, I always have that first night at Crater Lake, the sunset forever burnt into my eyes, allowing me to escape back to that tranquil moment where I first realized I loved yet another National Park.

 

What are your best memories from Crater Lake National Park?

 

 

Author Note: In the future, articles like this can be found more often at The Outdoor Society: http://outdoor-society.com

 

 

 

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