Oregon’s Seven Wonders, Part III: Crater Lake

The beautiful, snowy winter wonderland of Willamette Pass. Photo: Clark
The beautiful, snowy winter wonderland of Willamette Pass. Photo: Clark

“How steep is the pass south of here?” we asked the gas station clerk.

“Not too steep, but it’s much snowier than here,” she responded.

The record rainfall that caused us to pull the plug on our original drive-the-length-of-the-Oregon-Coast-on-Highway-101 itinerary also meant that, if it was cold enough, the precipitation would turn to snow in the mountains.

Sure enough, as soon as we hit Willamette Pass en route to Oregon’s one and only national park, Crater Lake National Park, we entered a winter white wonderland.

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Looking up from the Willamette Pass. Photo: Clark

We found ourselves deliberating with gas station staffers and truck drivers about how, and if, we could reach the rim road of Crater Lake National Park. Judging by the photos we’ve seen of Crater Lake on a clear day during the winter, the winter months are when the lake looks the most stunning.

Unfortunately for us, it turned out that due to the prodigious amounts of snowfall (they annually average 44 feet) and forecasted snowfall (the December snowfall record was broken in 2015 with 197 inches), we wouldn’t be able to make it to the ridge on this trip.

However, we had spent a ton of time researching the lake, talking to friends who had been there and discussing exactly what we would have done if nature had allowed it.

So, here’s our advice for those who get the weather on their side:

The Deepest Lake in the U.S.

Just spend a few good hours staring out at the deepest lake in the U.S. (1,943 feet), the second deepest in North America and the ninth deepest in the world!

It’s a volcanic caldera, which means a hole made by the collapse of the volcano — specifically following the eruption of Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago. Now, the chamber is filled with pristine water and covers a six-mile-wide diameter.


Snowshoe around the lake rim for a guided trip with a park ranger by way of the Steel Visitor Center near Park Headquarters.

While we were at the info center, we could have watched an 18-minute documentary on the history of the park and things to do. Next time!

Cross-Country ski on the lake rim trail

One of the most popular nordic ski routes in the country is the 33-mile circumnavigation on the snow-covered Rim Drive. Closed during winter months, the Rim Drive allows for great access and views of the lake and surrounding area.

The Park Service lists six marked winter trails, ranging from beginner to advanced, for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Alpine Skiing

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon: A man stands on a cliff overlooking Crater Lake in early winter at sunset.

If you’re more of the thrill-seeking type, bring your alpine skis to tour and ski on the Rim Drive and the adjacent slopes.

With the Rim Drive access and 500-plus inches of annual snowfall, the skiing is there for the taking, highlighted by 2,000-foot-vertical shots down Mount Scott, a satellite cone of the original stratovolcano, Mount Mazama.

It’s always a good idea to check in with a park ranger to review snow safety conditions and ski routes.

Where to stay?

Since there’s no lodging, food or services available at Crater Lake from October through May, we had planned on staying in Klamath Falls, just 45 minutes south, which seems like a great option during the winter months.

As an alternative to Klamath Falls, you can also stay in Medford and fly into Rogue Valley International Airport (also 45 minutes from Crater Lake).

Also, Historic Prospect Hotel (25-minute drive from Crater Lake), Diamond Lake Resort (45 minutes away) where they offer ample winter activities like snowmobiling, cat skiing on Mt. Bailey, x-country skiing, snow tubing and snowshoeing, and Union Creek Resort (25 miles from Crater Lake).

The weather may have kept us from reaching the lake, but there’s plenty to do in Oregon when the weather is frightful.

Stay tuned for our next post where we take on the Cascades.

John Stifter & Janna Irons, @vanventures

To win an Oregon Winter Wonders getaway …

Learn more about John and Janna’s trip through Oregon’s 7 Wonders and plan your own adventure at TravelOregon.com

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