It has been at least five years since I have been to Crater Lake, and on that occasion I was so out of season that I was the only person at the one open lookout and didn't get to see the lake because of the dense clouds. Not so this weekend. This time, I took the opposite approach and joined the crowds on the park's busiest weekend of the year,the 4th of July. Used to the crush of the more than ten million visitors the Grand Canyon gets annually, I was bracing myself for long lines, tube socks, and RV's trying to see four parks in one week.
But that wasn't the case. It turns out that due to its remote location Crater Lake only receives about 500,000 visitors a year so even their busiest weekends are mellow in comparison to many of the other National Parks. Sure, the lodge was busy with the usual assortment of tourists, mostly from West Indian,a fact for which I have no explanation, the trails and view points were fairly mellow.
The odd thing about visiting Crater Lake is how inaccessible the lake itself actually is. The only access to the lake itself is via the Cleetwood trail, which loses more than 700 feet in elevation in just over a mile of trail. It's steep, packed, and on this weekend, stupid hot as well. But the best parts of the park, away from the spectacular blue of the lake, are in side canyons cut through great stacks of volcanic airfall where hoo doos stand as sentries and clear lake water runs its course out to the Klamath Basin. In these parts of the park there is solitude, spectacular views of Oregon country, and a true sense being squarely set in the middle of no where. It is a wonderful reminder of just how big the world really is. So, if you haven't made it out to Crater Lake in a while or ever, put it back on your list.