I hope everyone’s enjoying their summer and getting the most out of our great outdoors! Our much-anticipated summer trip came and went in a blink of an eye, and we have now started the countdown for my daughter’s first day of school. I neeeeed moooooore tiiiiiime! It was a rare summer to have our daughter at home without too many obligations, and it was heaven.
So, remember that week in July with the really hot weather and all the fires in Northern California? Well, that’s the week we traveled to Crater Lake National Park, Lava Beds National Monument and Lassen National Park. There was pretty much smoke the entire time on our trip and I couldn’t help but look for news about the fires whenever we could get internet (broke my “unplug during our trips” rule). Fires with their unpredictability are terrifying, and it was heartbreaking to hear of so much destruction the fires caused (and are still causing at the time I’m writing this).
On the way to Crater Lake National Park (Oregon):
We chickened out of our first night of camping at Castle Crags State Park due to the predicted 103 ºF weather. Nope, no can do Cap’n! Instead, we left the Bay Area the following day and drove the 7.5 hours to Crater Lake National Park in one travel day. We stopped at a few places worth mentioning. One was the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding which was right off of I-5. It was already 95 ºF by the time we got there at around 11 am, so we kept our stop short, but we were really impressed with the place. We basically walked across the modern and very photographable Sundial Bridge, had some Italian ice from the vendor by the arboretum and gardens, shopped in their cute (air-conditioned!) museum gift shop, and finally used their very clean restrooms (the ones next to the gift shop). Perfect place to stretch our legs and get back on the road quickly!
Our lunch stop at Yaks on the 5 was only about an hour away in Dunsmuir. What a fun place to have lunch, seriously just check out their menu! The staff at Yaks went above and beyond and were so welcoming, it really made our lunch. Everything we had was amazing, including the cinnamon rolls and that crazy, but delicious Scott’s Tots appetizer, and of course their one of a kind burgers with their fun, creative names (I had the “Screw it, I’m on Vacation Sticky Bunn and Bourbon Bacon Burger” Yum!). If we are in the area again, we will definitely be back.
After lunch we stopped at the Dunsmuir Recreation and Parks before driving our last leg to Crater Lake. It is a great place to cool down by the river, go for a short walk, and get rid of any residual food coma from lunch.
Our drive took us on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway (Hwy 97) where we passed by the north side of Mt. Shasta. It is one gorgeous drive with one pretty scene after another.
Crater Lake National Park:
We finally made it to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon, the fifth oldest national park in the United States (established in 1902). The parks main attraction is Crater Lake which is a caldera made by a destroyed volcano, Mount Mazama. Interestingly, Crater Lake only makes up 10% of the park, so there is much to be explored besides the lake.
Unfortunately, a lightning storm had started a fire just north of Crater Lake and the smoke got noticeably thicker as we got closer to the park. We had reservations at Mazama campground the first night and a cabin the second night. The campground reservation guarantees you a campsite, but you pick the campsite when you get there. Needless to say, it’s better to get there earlier for a better selection. By the time we arrived at around 5 pm (on a Friday night), the available choices were dwindling. However, we did manage to find a nice campsite at the end of loop E (site #53). After the big travel day and big lunch, no one really felt like cooking or starting a campfire, so off to bed we went with plans to have an early morning breakfast with our first look at Crater Lake.
Crater Lake, Rim Drive:
A quick drive from the campground led us to the Rim Drive, which we drove in the clockwise direction (onto West Rim Drive). We found a pullout with a nice view of Wizard Island and had our breakfast staring off at Crater Lake. I’m not sure if there was mist coming off of the lake or if it was the smoke creating a hazy effect, but there was a mystical aura about the lake that Saturday morning. Wizard Island (a volcanic cinder cone island in the lake) seemed a very appropriate name. The last time I visited Crater Lake was when I was my daughter’s age (15) and it had left quite an impression on me. So, seeing Crater Lake again through my daughter’s eyes was very special, and I hope that it will leave a lasting impression on her as well.
We spent the day stopping at numerous pullouts and parking lots on the thirty-three mile Rim Drive, exploring wherever any trails invited us. Since our campervan side door opens on the right side of the van, it was important that we drove clockwise on the Rim Drive so that we could easily open the door and take in the view. For us, going clockwise was beneficial not only for the best view from the van, but also, it was much easier to pull over quickly with the lake on the right side of the vehicle.
I’m going to finish the rest of our Crater Lake visit in another post since this one is getting kind of long. We were also able to fit a couple of short hikes and explore some areas of the park away from the lake. Overall, even with the nearby fire and smoky air, the views of Crater Lake were truly majestic. This is no wonder since the NPS website claims that this lake has the distinction of being “the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.” I’m not sure if the fire had anything to do with the lack of crowds in the park, but it was very easy to get around and parking was never a problem for us on a Saturday in July. Take your time and stop often, it’s worth exploring as many of the trails as you can, you never know what magical place or unique view you’ll find.
If you’re interested, check out another post on Crater Lake hikes (Crater Lake National Park, Part 2).