So, if you can’t tell from our last posts, Oregon is super pretty.
Like, super-duper pretty.
The last time that Mandy and I were on the Pacific Coast, we had really wanted to check out Crater Lake but because of the season, most of the roads were closed down and covered in snow. We decided to hang a little closer to where we were staying, which at that point was San Fransisco, and do some sight-seeing there.
This time, armed with nothing but time on our hands, we decided that we were finally going to conquer Crater Lake.
One thing to note ahead of time, if you’re going to drive to Crater Lake anytime from the end of October to the end of May, the northern entrance to the park is shut down, as is most of the area around the lake for driving. We used TripCheck on our way when we were figuring out what roads were closed and which weren’t. In the winter months, pre-planning this drive is a must. You’re required to have traction tires or chains to attach when the roads get iced, and if you’re not studied up on which routes are closed, you could be adding several hours to your trip. We luckily showed up on a day where the snow wasn’t awful and the tires/chains were more or less optional (they don’t say that), so we made the drive just fine.
But seriously, if you’re going in winter, pre-plan.
Having to detour to the southern entrance added an extra 1.5 hours to our drive from the north. The lake was definitely worth the trip, and we don’t mind a car ride, but if you’ve got kids that are impatient or if you don’t like long car rides, you might wanna wait until the roads free up in the summer. Anyways, that’s my two cents.
On the way to Crater Lake, if you’re going south from Eugene, you’ll be spending a majority of your time on Highway 58. I don’t know why they don’t consider Hwy 58 to be a scenic byway, or maybe it’s just because we are out of towners that we were so floored, but even before we got close to the park, we were in awe. Half of the drive, we just sat in stunned silence, motioning to places we wanted the other to see.
When Hwy 58 ended, we hooked onto Route 97 heading south, then onto 138 heading west. Route 138 is the beginning of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. This byway is very informative about the formation of crater lake and the mountains and volcanoes surrounding it. Most of the rocks and dirt on the side of the road you’ll be passing were actually the contents of the active volcano that led to Crater Lake. There are many informative stops and some awesome sights to see, so take your time on this byway.
Follow Hwy 138 to Hwy 230 going south. Hwy 230 is part of the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway (yes, there are a lot of scenic byways in Oregon). This section of the trip was partly like the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway but also much like the Over the River and Through the Woods Byway and West Cascades Byway in that it was full of old-growth forests with ponderosa pines (among many other types of trees).
Take Hwy 230 south to Hwy 62 (heading east) and you’ll eventually find yourself at the Lake proper. No matter what time of the year you get there, the sight is going to be incredible. The lake is a massive pool reflecting the sky above it. It was incredibly clear and still, and you could see every detail of the sky above mirrored onto the lake surface.
Fun fact: The formation of Crater Lake occurred when Mt. Manama, a still active volcano, basically went supernova about 7,000 years ago. The explosion that resulted in the formation of the lake was so catastrophic that the remaining shell of the mountain simply collapsed in on itself, thus creating Crater Lake.
While you’re up there, grab something to eat at Rim Visitor Center, a souvenir if you like those, and read some of the brochures. There’s tons to do at the Lake, including walking tours in the summer and guided ranger snow-shoe tours in the winter. We unfortunately got to the Lake right before everything was closing, so we didn’t have the time to experience everything the park had to offer, but the next time we go, we’ll definitely leave more time.
Another great thing about a long scenic drive to your location is that you can get a long scenic drive back, so strap in and be ready to see Oregon at dusk. Mountain sunsets and colors of all kinds are going to be stretching across the sky, so again, on your way back, take your time and enjoy what you’re seeing. It’s an incredible drive with breathtaking views. This state is incredible when it comes to delivering on nature.