CRATER LAKE, Ore. -- Crater Lake's translucent surface and dark, cold depths make for a scene of striking beauty.
It is a place of moody moments, and like countless visitors, I am overwhelmed by its size and awed by its sublime beauty. Crater Lake's brilliant blue is magical, even enchanting, and yet its history speaks of ancient and fiery times.
Our recent visit explored the lake from water level point of view on the Crater Lake Volcano Boat Tour – an up close look at Oregon’s striking azure beauty.
Many people begin their visit at Crater Lake Lodge – the stone and timber destination for nearly a century – where folks will grab a bite, relax and unwind – even spend the night and soak up the gorgeous scenery that lies some two-thousand feet below.
It is distant scenery for sure so grab your day pack, lace up the hiking boots and don’t forget water and a camera. For if you want a closer view to Crater Lake, you must hike the trail to Cleetwood Cove.
The 700-foot elevation drop on the Cleetwood Trail is done in a series of switchbacks and it doesn’t take long to reach the boat dock where Capt Rick and Ranger Dave welcome you aboard.
Hikers must reserve a spot in advance to step aboard one of the eight daily Crater Lake boat tours. The boats seat up to 48 passengers and sport names like Rogue, Klamath and Umpqua.
“Mount Mazama’s eruption was 100-times more powerful than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980,” according to park ranger Dave Harrison, who hosted our two-hour voyage across the six-mile-wide lake. He added, “Today, Mt Mazama ash lies scattered across eight states and three Canadian provinces.”
As we slowly trolled the azure water, all eyes of our two-score party were stunned by the size of the lake and the distance from shore to shore--a gigantic scene you cannot grasp from high up on the carter's rim.
Harrison noted that Crater Lake - when it was Mount Mazama - was taller than Mt Hood.
“It is so calm and serene and peaceful out here today but that peace belies the violent nature of the birth of this place,” said Harrison.
The two hour tour motored near the lake's rugged shoreline and offered unique points of view.
Harrison noted our wonder and added, “When you look up the sides of the crater wall, you’re actually looking at the insides of the mountain that started forming about 400,000 years ago. The different colored layers, the milky white, tan, and dark gray that you see, those are the ages of the lava as the mountain grew taller.”
He called the lake a “window on time” at places like the “Phantom Ship,” a rocky spine created as surface cracks allowed lava to ooze up and then seemingly freeze in place. The formations are now resistant to erosion from sun, wind, and water.
It took 500 years for the Mount Mazama caldera to become a lake – fed by 44 feet of snowfall that produce 30 billion gallons of water each year.
He added that the azure blue color is in part, a reflection of the sky and the 2,000-foot depth and clarity of the lake contribute to the rich color, too.
As we wrapped up our journey, Dave left us with this lingering thought: “It’s good to protect places like this and watch the natural processes of life continue without human interruption. Many people drive to the lake, but never take time to explore it from the water. In fact, it’s surprising how few people know that boat tours on Crater Lake are also part of this special recreation scene.”
It’s the immensity of the lake, the surrounding land and what happened here thousands of years ago that prompts a respectful and contemplative silence that lasts long after the boat has returned to the dock.
I was surprised to learn that less than one-percent of Crater Lake visitors make the trek to Cleetwood Cove to experience the boat tour. That really is a shame because the trip offers an unmatched educational experience and stunning visual lessons on the geologic history of the Northwest.
If you'd like to spend more time at Crater Lake, consider other overnight options beyond Crater Lake Lodge that include two National Park Campgrounds in the area.
You can also consider the nearby (40 miles away) Joseph Stewart State Park Recreation Area and Campground.