Exploring Crater Lake and the Surrounding Trails

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June 17th 2020
Published: June 20th 2020
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Crater Lake Lodge Dining RoomCrater Lake Lodge Dining RoomCrater Lake Lodge Dining Room

Due to COVID19, it's currently only open to guests staying at the lodge. For us, that meant it was quite empty.
We woke up to a much more promising day at Crater Lake National Park. Now that the snow has stopped and the fog has lifted, the view from our lodge room is stunning. We can see Wizard Island from our window!

Crater Lake used to be a large mountain. Actually, scratch that, it was (and is) a large volcano! After it erupted a few thousand years ago, it collapsed into a crater. It was still active, and one of the resulting cinder cones is what we now see as Wizard Island. The crater filled with fresh water from the rain and snow, and that water is actually extraordinarily deep. One of the signs we read said that Crater Lake is the deepest lake in all of North America! One of the cinder cones is tall enough to peak out of the water, and that's Wizard Island.

On a normal year, you can take a boat during the summer months to Wizard Island. This year, those boat tours have been canceled because of COVID19. I don't think there was really a way to offer those while maintaining social distancing. Even if boat tours were to be offered this year, they wouldn't be happening right now. The East Rim Drive is still closed, and the only access to the docks is from Cleetwood Cove Trail, the trailhead starting from East Rim Drive.

My guess is that East Rim Drive will open soon. When we pass by the northern and southern entrance to the road, it is closed but looks plowed. Although East Rim Drive isn't open yet, we're happy that West Rim Drive is open, as it opens up more of the park to us. So, after spending some time marveling at Wizard Island from our resort room, we packed up our hiking gear, ate some breakfast, and set out on West Rim Drive. We wanted to head back to Watchman Overlook at take the Watchman Trail to The Watchman. It's a building on a mountain peak that is supposed to offer beautiful views of the lake.

We actually ate breakfast at the lodge. We haven't eaten out in months, but the lodge is limiting its restaurant to resort guests only. When we went downstairs, we saw that there was only a single table occupied for breakfast, and it was an older couple in a corner. We asked if
From the patio at Crater Lake LodgeFrom the patio at Crater Lake LodgeFrom the patio at Crater Lake Lodge

The patio is also only open to guests staying at Crater Lake Lodge.
we could sit in the opposite corner of the restaurant from them, and that was no problem. As a bonus, we got incredible views of Crater Lake. The resort modified their breakfast buffet. You go up, one at a time, wearing a mask. The food is behind a shield, and you let a worker know what you'd like. The worker is also wearing a mask and goes through the buffet, adds stuff to your plate for you, and hands it to you at the end. This way, there isn't a bunch of people touching serving spoons or standing over one another. We ate our breakfast in the mostly empty restaurant of the lodge and really enjoyed ourselves. It was a little bit of normalcy during a scary time, so we appreciated it very much.

After breakfast, we set out for Watchman Overlook. We'd been there yesterday when everything was shrouded in fog. When we arrived at Watchman Overlook, it was much clearer. We didn't even need to get out of the car to see the trail head was closed. It's no wonder. The trail follows the side of a mountain, and it was completely under snow. We couldn't see
Adding Yak Tracks to our ShoesAdding Yak Tracks to our ShoesAdding Yak Tracks to our Shoes

They're actually a generic version, but they help us walk on the ice.
what was the trail and what was just the mountain. It would be impossible to follow the trail.

We felt disappointed. On our way back down West Rim Drive, we stopped at the pullout for Lightning Spring Trail but couldn't even see the trail head in the snow. At that point, I understood that the hiking adventures we'd planned weren't going to happen, but I still held out some hope. We went back to the lodge hoping to try the trail up Garfield peak. When I was out on the patio earlier, a man told me that it offers good views of the lake, too. I didn't expect to actually hike the whole mountain, but I thought we could at least hike for an hour and see some pretty sights. Nope, that one was closed, too! There's just so much snow still.

We tried one more change of plans. There isn't as much snow going south by the south/west entrance of the park. So, we drove to Steel Visitor's Center. The visitor's center is closed due to COVID19, but there are two very small trails leading from the visitor's center. We walked the wildflower hike first. There aren't any wildflowers yet, but we got to walk for about a quarter mile into the woods. Actually, it was still quite snowy, and it was an old snow that was frozen on top. We put on our generic Yak Tracks for the hike, and I'm glad we did. We didn't slip or slide over the icy trail, and we enjoyed our little stroll. Afterwards, we went to check out the Lady of the Woods hike behind the visitor's center. In some ways, it was a bit disappointing because it was mostly just a path leading to employee housing. So, we walked by the buildings the staff lives in. There was a nice stream, though, and I felt better that we got to do a little exploring.

When we were finished with our little hikes, we stopped at a gift shop to pick up a deck of cards. We sat out on the patio of our lodge (also limited to guests only) and played Go Fish. We felt like we could take off our masks because we were outdoors, and there was only one other family. They were sitting on the opposite side of the patio. It was really nice sitting in the sun, enjoying the views, and playing games with the kids.

Afterwards, we joined Paul and Colleen at their camper for lunch. They parked at Rim Village again. It had warmed up significantly at this point, and it was drastically different from yesterday. There were crowds of people at Rim Village! We had walked there from our lodge, and we found ourselves stepping into the road frequently to pass people at a safe distance. I was glad when we made it to camper. We ate and played more Exploding Kittens.

After lunch, we drove to Annie Spring and hiked the short hike to see the little falls. The trail head sign said the hike was 0.5 miles, but it wasn't even a quarter mile round trip. We walked about a city block down the trail. It did a little switchback at the springs, and then it ended at the creek a short distance down. We went back to the trail head and crossed the road. The trail picked up again there. We hiked about a half mile or so. The forest smelled incredible. We loved the pines, and the trail was covered in needles (no snow). After half a mile, we came to a fork in the trail. We decided to turn around and head back, as Paul was staying back at the cars.

We took a drive along West Rim Drive again. We found a few places to pull out and enjoy more views of the lake. I realized that we were mostly seeing and doing the same thing over and over. I was reminded of my grandma at Yellowstone, who at first marveled at seeing all the mule deer, but then finally got tired of craning her neck to look at them. We frequently quote her as saying, "I'm not going to crane my neck to see any more damned mule deer!" Her sentiment summed up my current feelings. Don't get me wrong, Crater Lake is incredible to see. I'm just not sure we needed three days here. We keep looking at the same lake, and now I feel ready to go see or do something else.

So, we drove West Rim Drive again. We marveled at the lake a bit more and also judged the people who climbed over ledges to get Instagram photos. There are warning signs everywhere, but dozens of people were ignoring them and posing while sitting or standing at the edges of cliffs. When we were done looking at the lake again, we decided to drive about 15 miles west to Union Creek. I heard about some incredible pie at Beckie's Cafe there, and I wanted to check it out. The drive was through forest and was stunning. The smell was the best part!

Beckie's Cafe is adorable. Everyone there was wearing masks unless they were eating. They had an outdoor window to order and another outdoor window to pick up. There were picnic tables around. Unfortunately, their huckleberry pie wasn't in season yet, so we ordered a blackberry pie to go. The bottom of the pie was still warm (made fresh daily). As we walked to the car, we passed a table of people raving about their slices of pie. Dinner time couldn't come fast enough!

For dinner, we drove to Annie Falls (different than Annie Spring). It's a picnic area just south of the Crater Lake National Park entrance. Andrew and Colleen made hot dogs for the kids and grandparents and black bean burgers for Andrew and me. Then we carried our prize pie to a picnic table overlooking the falls. We were surprised there were no guardrails or anything, as there is just a straight drop off about 10 feet behind the picnic table! We kept an eagle eye on the kids and probably wouldn't have sat there if our kids had been any younger. We spread out a table cloth and cut into the pie. It was so, so good. It wasn't too sweet, and it was thick with berries. The crust was buttery and flaky and delicious. It was easily the best pie I've had. Later, back at our room, I caved and had another slice of the pie. It was just as good the second time around, although I felt a little sick to my stomach after having a second slice. It was still worth it, though!

We have another full day at Crater Lake tomorrow. I kind of want to explore some of the forest outside of the national park instead of spending our time in the national park. I love our national parks. They are beautiful, and I'm so glad Crater Lake is preserved and available for everyone to see and enjoy. Unfortunately, I just don't think there is enough to do for three full days in the park. Staying at Crater Lake reminds me of the time we camped at Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming (not that Devil's Tower is like Crater Lake, but they are each a unique thing to go see). Devil's Tower is really cool to see. We enjoyed walking around and looking at it, seeing something so unique and wondering how it got to be the way it is. But, after about an hour or so, we were ready to move on. In that way, it reminds me of Crater Lake. Crater Lake is beautiful, and it's unique. However, after you see it, there isn't all that much to do. If the weather was nicer, we could have walked the Watchman Trail to get a different view of the lake, or we could have walked the Garfield trail to get a different view of the lake. Yet, in the end, it's a different view of the same lake. In the future, I would absolutely come back to Crater Lake National Park, but I think I would do it as a stop for the day or maybe one night if I wanted to do some hiking. It's beautiful here, but I've learned that Crater Lake National Park is a 1-2 day national park, depending on what all you like to do.


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