A Day at Crater Lake National Park

100T8560_LUCiDWe spent Labor Day weekend completing an awesome roadtrip down the Oregon coast to Crater Lake National Park and north through Bend and Mt. Hood before returning to Seattle.

I already detailed a few of the stops we made the first-leg of our journey and wanted to dedicate a little more time and attention to our day exploring Umpqua National Forest and Crater Lake National Park.

We woke up bright and early in Eugene and grabbed some coffee and breakfast from Voodoo Doughnuts before heading southeast toward the Cascade mountains.

I remember the first time we experienced Voodoo Doughnuts (in 2010!) when we drove from San Francisco to Seattle with an overnight stay in Portland.

It’s amazing how much the chain has grown since then—I didn’t know they had a location in Eugene until we were driving by and decided to make a quick pit stop before leaving town.

This location carried forward the same feel and our selections didn’t disappoint!

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It took us about two hours to drive south to Roseburg and enter Umpqua National Forest en route to Crater Lake. I was a little nervous about this leg of our trip because the forest had been experiencing pretty significant fires and we saw various online updates about the air quality in the forest as well as near Crater Lake.

As it turned out, the air around us was clear and it was a beautiful day. We pulled over at several viewpoints, including a fun stop where we could walk down to the water to view a series of small waterfalls.

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Tioga Bridge

One spot we enjoyed was right off the road along the North Umpqua Trail—the picturesque Tioga Bridge. Completed in 2013, this bridge sits where the former Young’s Bay Bridge was located prior to its destruction during the 1964 Christmas Flood.

There were a few people hiking the trail with quite a bit of gear–I’m guessing they had been or were about to overnight hike. Otherwise we had the place to ourselves!

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Fall Creek Falls

We wanted to do a little hiking but were starting to realize we needed to balance our explorations along the way with the amount of time we wanted to have at Crater Lake, knowing we still had a several hour drive to Bend for the night.

We opted for the two-mile roundtrip hike to Fall Creek Falls. There were very few cars in the parking lot so we were excited to have the trail primarily to ourselves; however, as we set out we noticed that the creek alongside the trail was dry in places or merely a trickle.

Many waterfalls dry up by the end of summer, and we began to wonder whether there were so few hikers not because we had lucked upon a lesser known hike but because other hikers knew there wasn’t going to be much water at the waterfall!

Happily, the waterfall was still intact—albeit much drier than other times of year. It was peaceful and lovely, and after spending some time relaxing nearby we hiked back out to check out a second and more popular waterfall, Toketee Falls.

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Toketee Falls

After the peaceful Fall Creek Falls, I found Toketee Falls a little crowded and a little underwhelming. You have to view it from a platform a .8 mile hike into the woods, and because it’s so accessible, many more people were there to see it.

My favorite part of this stop was the above-ground wooden Toketee Pipeline running along the parking lot. The pipeline diverts water to a nearby powerhouse and seems relatively important, but I’m not sure how it’s maintained–we had to walk around several giant leaks!

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Crater Lake National Park

I was ready to get to Crater Lake after Toketee Falls so we headed to the north entrance of the park without making any other stops along the way. There was a short line of cars but it wasn’t as busy as I thought it might be given we were later in the day than I originally anticipated.

The drive in from the north is interesting in that you go through a 3,055-acre, desert-like scape known as the Pumice Desert. According to the National Park Service, the area was a glacier-carved meadow prior to the mountain erupting. The ash and pumice from the eruption covered the area, creating the Pumice Desert, which has more than 200 feet of pumice in some locations.

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We began on West Rim Drive and immediately pulled into a parking lot to overlook both the desert to one side and the lake on the other.

I can only describe my initial views of the lake as breathtaking. I had seen many, many pictures of the lake online and on Instagram leading up to our visit, but nothing prepared me for how truly blue the water is or how surreal it is to find a six-mile wide lake in the middle of a barren area.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,943 feet and is fed exclusively by rain and snow, making it one of the cleanest bodies of water in the world. The lake was formed when the 12,000-foot Mount Mazama volcano erupted about 7,700 years ago, leaving a caldera that began retaining water.

The surface is interrupted by only a few small islands, the largest one being Wizard Island, which you can see behind us in the pictures.

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We drove toward Rim Village, making stops along the way for pictures, hoping to park and hit the facilities and refill our water bottles. The village was CHAOS—it seemed like everyone visiting the park for the day was there fighting for a parking spot.

Brian ended up driving around while I got out in search of water. After several attempts with no luck, we headed on toward the lodge where we were able to find parking, facilities, and friendly dining room staff who allowed us to refill our water bottles from a water station for lodge guests.

We took a minute to walk around outside the lodge, which has lovely views looking north over the lake. We also enjoyed the antics of a golden-mantled ground squirrel who visitors had apparently been feeding—he was much too friendly. PSA: I love animals and enjoy seeing wildlife up close as much as anyone else, but PLEASE do not feed them and contribute to their demise for your personal enjoyment. It’s not cute, it’s deadly.

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We were a little overwhelmed by the people as we set out to drive the East Rim and we were also now looking into the sun in the west over the water as we headed north.

For these reasons we made fewer stops along this side of the lake, really only parking to hike up to the Phantom Ship Overlook (the island does look a little like a ship, and there was a small ship circling the island while we were there!).

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Next time I would love to spend time hiking around the lake and doing Pinnacles Overlook—as it was, much of our tour was in the car with stops to look around. Once we finished the loop, we headed back out of the park via the north entrance and set out for Bend where we were staying the night.

Umpqua National Forest and Crater Lake were both amazing, and we only scratched the surface of all there is to do. I would put both high on your list!

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