Crater Lake is pretty well known here in Southern Oregon. Most locals have visited at least once or twice and marveled at the stunning views. Been there, done that…right? It’s pretty much a given. Most check out the views from the parking lot, look around the cozy lodge, and browse the gift shop. But did you know that in the winter Oregon’s only National Park transforms into a extremly beautiful and sometimes harsh winter playground? Fridged temperatures and high altitudes create a rugged environment filled with dramatic views of snow covered caldera walls rising up a thousand feet above the deep blue lake. It’s one of the most unique places in the world, and exteme winter conditions only make it that much more breathtaking. One of the best ways to experiance this snow crusted wonderland is the many cross country ski trails surrounding the lake.
The most popular trail with the best views is West Rim Drive. This trail simply starts in the west end of the parking lot at Rim Villiage. The first two miles of this trail are good for beginners and have fantastic overlooks of the lake. The trail contunues on for 2 more miles, where it pulls away from the lake to go around The Watchman, a large peak on the rim. There the route becomes steep, and extreme caution is advised. A short distance from The Watchman, skiiers will reach a stunning view of snow covered Wizard Island, a small volcanic island rising from the depths of the lake. The trail then pulls away from the rim. Most choose to turn back here, or after the first two miles. One major word of caution is to pay attention to the weather. The conditions can change fast, and since the entire stretch of the trail is unsheltered, high winds and snow can move in quickly creating whiteout conditions. Also, be aware that show banks form along the rim that could collapse at any time, so stay back a good distance from the edge. When we attempted this trail the weather was so nasty and the winds so high that we had to do a more sheltered trail lower down.
This trail, East Rim Drive, starts near the Park Entrance Headquarters and follows the unplowed East Rim road. This trail is popular because it’s sheltered and usually calm when West Rim Drive is experiencing bad conditions. The trail starts out winding through the scenic woods below the crater. It climbs 500 feet in 5 miles to the edge of the lake to Sun Notch overlook where skiiers and show shoers get great views of Phantom Ship, a rock island in the lake below. Besides this view, the trail mainly stays in the woods below the Crater. Picturesque snow covered trees and peaceful mountian streams make for a very nice alternative trail.
Overall, Crater Lake National Park is one of the most exciting places to go in the Winter. When you add up stunning views of a natural phenomenon, tons of snow, and world class ski trails you get one fantastic local adventure.
For more information and trail maps, go to craterlakeskipatrol.org. For ski or shoe shoe rentals, visit your local outdoor store.