A Visit to Crater Lake National Park

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During our time in Oregon Alex and I spent a day and night in Crater Lake National Park. Our visit was short but we were able to see as much of the park as we could given the circumstances. In addition to our time constraint we were also limited to what we could do because a huge portion of the park was closed due to snow pack.

We woke up early after our night in Mt. Hood and were on the road by 7am and made it to Thielsen View Campground ($15/night) by 11, set up camp, and headed to Crater Lake for a whirlwind tour.

Our first experience in the park was less than satisfactory. We pulled onto the final stretch of road that led to the park to find standstill traffic. Traffic was moving so slowly that people were turning their cars off, getting out, and walking around. We inched along for 45 minutes until we reached the front gate only to find out that the reason for the delay was that there was no ranger on duty to usher people into the park so everyone was self-registering (which is better than just flying through without paying). It was frustrating but we were finally in. 

As we followed the road into the park the snowpack grew significantly. When we entered the park the ground was bare, but by the time we arrived to the first lookout the snow walls bordering the road were at least two times taller than our car (which is saying something, considering it was an F-150). 

Wizard Island viewed from Merriam Point

Wizard Island viewed from Merriam Point

The first view of Crater Lake was jaw-dropping. We drove in from the north entrance and stopped at the Merriam Point lookout. The water was such an intense blue that I though my eyes were deceiving me. Initially I was really bummed that there was so much snow on the ground but seeing the caldera dusted in white was very scenic. 

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This gorgeous landscape was formed 7,700 years ago in a massive volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama that caused it to collapse into the caldera that is now Crater Lake. It took centuries of rain water and snow to fill the lake to it's current depth of 1,946'. Crater Lake is the deepest in the USA. 

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After battling the crowds at the scenic overlooks (as expected on a holiday weekend), we headed out to hike Garfield Peak for solitude and more unique views of the lake. The Garfield Peak trail starts right behind the Crater Lake Lodge. It is a 3.5 mile hike and we had hoped to reach the top for sunset. Unfortunately we were unprepared for the snow. We made it about halfway before we reached an impassable section of the trail. It was either straight up or across, and both looked sketchy given the crumbly rock and wet snow. Rather than risk a foolhardy and potentially fatal hike to take a few pictures, we turned back, discouraged yet resolute in our decision.  

At this point I was frustrated with our Crater Lake experience. There was too much snow to do most of what I had planned (100% my fault for not thoroughly researching), and there were so many people. When we visit national parks we typically stay away from the easily accessible scenic viewpoints and try to head out on longer hikes to avoid the masses that congregate, but we weren't able to do that here. By the end of the day the park had already cleared out significantly and even though we had planned on watching sunset at Crater we headed back to our campsite to nap before doing some night photography. 

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After we returned to our campsite I promptly fell into a deep sleep and in what seemed like no time my alarm was going off. I turned it off and went back to sleep. Then I had a dream that I slept through the night and didn't take any night photos and was so disappointed. I woke up and in a groggy stupor carried my camera gear to the edge of Diamond Lake and set up a 3-hour time lapse of the Milky Way rising over Mt. Thielsen. I sat next to my camera as it opened and closed its shutter every 20 seconds and drifted in and out of sleep. Finally the last photo was taken. It was 2am. The plan was to go back to the tent to sleep but Alex and I had another idea: let's go back to Crater Lake. We didn't even mention the possibility of sleeping, we knew we were up for good. We packed up our tent as quietly as we could and made the 20 minute drive back to the park. We returned to Merriam Point, now noticeably empty. The spot that had cars double parked was completely ours. The Milky Way was perfectly positioned over Crater Lake and the moon was beginning to rise, a unique and beautiful combination for night photography. 

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If you ever want a unique and memorable experience at a national park I recommend venturing out at night. You don't have to hike through the woods, just head to one of the scenic lookouts that despite being so crowded during the day will be empty at night. 

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After spending some time photographing Crater Lake after dark I headed back to the car to sleep for another hour or so before the sun rose. To catch sunrise we headed to The Watchman overlook. There was already a large group of people gathered to watch the sunrise. After we watched the sun peak over the rim we returned to the car to warm up and hit the road to explore some new scenes within the Umpqua National Forest.

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See more photos from my time in Crater Lake HERE!