Well, this was another one of those once in a life-time kind of road trips. I didn’t realize that a successful trip to Crater Lake is a big challenge and a major victory at every milestone.
I called to book a room at the 99 year old Crater Lake Lodge for Monday night, with the weather projected to be sunny on Tuesday morning. Disappointingly, there were no vacancies and the hotel was booked solid into September – because of the short season and popularity of the hotel. I called back three more times and luckily scored a cancellation room with two queen beds overlooking the lake! The room was for Tuesday night instead of Monday. The forecast was for clouds and rain all evening Tuesday, turning partly cloudy on Wednesday. With this being the only night available at the lodge, we gave it a shot and we were off the next morning.
The drive up there was spectacular. There were hills and mountains on either side of the interstate and dense pine forests while we crossed the Cascades. We saw Diamond Peak, with the top of the peak buried in clouds.
The rim of Crater Lake was completely inside the clouds and we couldn’t see very far at all. At the first look out point, it was a steep, almost vertical drop of hundreds of feet down to the lake and we could barely see ripples on the water. We took in the view knowing that this could be as good as it gets.
Rim Drive was a small two lane road with extreme vertical drop-offs on both sides on the actual rim of the crater. Rylee was my front seat passenger and with the near zero visibility and the drop-offs that disappeared into nothingness , Rylee was not enjoying the ride. Mostly she covered her eyes and only looked up occasionally to see that the view was not changing. We stopped at two more lookout points but the visibility was even worse and we couldn’t see past the railing. Looking over the edge was like looking straight up into the sky on a cloudy day, nothing but grey.
The historic lodge was so cool to see in person. It was huge in the landscape. A rustic, mountain lodge appearance with plenty of snow still on the ground. Kelly, Rylee and I played outside a little while Tate and Luke settled into the room.
After a little fun in the snow, we went back inside the lodge. We all sat in the big hall downstairs next to their huge fireplace and we had drinks, snacks and played a matching game that I brought along. We stayed down there for a few hours then headed up to the room where Tate and Luke beat the crap out of me in a Japanese fighting game that Luke has on the laptop. After that, Tate and Luke just sparred with each other.
I set my alarm for 5am for the unlikely event that the clouds would clear enough for me to see the sunrise from the window of our “Lakeview” room. And of course, just whiteout. So I went back to sleep hoping for some weather clearing before the family ran out of patience. The forecast called for cloudy until 1PM turning partly cloudy after that. So, there was still a chance. Checkout time was at 11 but we planned to hang around until at least 1PM.
We brought our bags to the car then we all walked behind the hotel to the paved trail and, there it was, we could see the lake! Barely, but we had a view! The trip was already a cool trip before this since we made it to the lodge and actually got a room there, but now we got a glimpse and it felt really special. Especially since I had already met a man in the elevator who said he saw the lake 12 years ago and was hoping to see it again but was giving up and leaving.
So we took a short walk down the path then got in the car to attempt a drive up to the Phantom Ship Overlook. We only made it to the parking lot at Sun Notch since the road beyond that was closed due to rock falls. The map said it was a 0.5mi round trip moderate hike to the rim from the parking lot. The sky was still completely grey and the kids were ready to head back. I put the car in reverse to start heading home, but Kelly stopped me. We decided since we were this close, give it a shot. So I got out and asked if anyone wanted to try the short hike with me and, Kelly did. It was a breathtaking hike through the forest, past snowy cliffs and then all of a sudden, up there at the rim, the clouds were hanging just above us in the sky and we had a totally clear view of the lake! It felt like time stood still out there. I had seen plenty of pictures, but actually standing there looking at that crystal clear lake with the royal blue water up there on the top of the caldera was an unbelievable experience.
It was hard to walk away from that place. The scenery was out of this world, the air was cool and smelled like pine trees and there was not a big crowd. Amazing.
On our way down, we met a couple making their way up. The man was bent over, sucking on his inhaler and asked me if it was worth it for him to try to make it the rest of the way even with his extreme emphysema. He told me a friend of his made the trek to Crater Lake twice and has not seen the lake and vowed to never try again. I told him that the view up there was spectacular and you could see the entire panorama. The weather was temporarily favorable and it was absolutely worth the walk up. And if you collapse up there, you will die happy. He looked excited and said it renewed his energy. Off they went.
On our way home we drove along the West Rim Drive again to leave via the North Entrance. We stopped at the overlooks again and, although the lake was still visible, the rest of the views were shrouded in mist.
We had already resolved to making another run at seeing Crater Lake if the sky had not opened up for us while we were there. But now that we saw it, I still believe that it is certainly worth another trip out at some point in the future. It will not be the same, with the level of anticipation of the place, the company of the family and our present places in life. But well worth the risk and effort to see in person. I’m so happy to have visited this place with my family.