Stop #13 & #14: Crater Lake National Park and Joseph H. Stewart Recreation Area
The plan was to camp in Crater Lake at Mazama Campground. From what I could gather online, there might be some first-come, first-serve sites. Normally, the earlier you go, the better chance of getting a campsite.
So on Thursday we were awake by 5am to leave for the 3+ hour drive to Crater Lake. We arrived around 830am and I went into the office to get a campsite. The girl behind the counter told me I couldn’t buy one yet and would have to come back at 12pm to wait in line for whatever was available that day. Oh also, the line normally starts at 10am. 🤦🏻♀️
My dad hadn’t camped since he was in grade school and I’m sure that experience was way different than it is now. I had wanted to show him camping how I normally enjoy it, but we were not off to a great start.
We took a quick look at the visitor center nearby and was back by 10ish to get in line, there were already about 7-8 people in front of us.
After 2 hours of waiting in the sun, we make our way towards the counter when I overhear the guy behind the counter say, “You know this is just for one night right? You’ll have to come back tomorrow again to buy another night.” WTF?! So every night you stay there, you waste half the day standing in line to buy one more night of camping? I’ve never heard of such a slow process before.
You could tell everyone was impatient to get a site and get moving. It was already almost 1 pm. We bought our one night of camping, and went to find our site. My dad was grumbling about the process and I explained to him how it normally works for a walk-up site; you find an empty site or one where people will be leaving and put money in an envelope and drop it into a box near the front of camp.
We set up our tent, put the food in the bear locker and got moving. Crater Lake National Park has a circle road that runs along the edge of the Lake, with lots of places to stop and gawk. In the winter, they close most of the road so summer is normally the only time you can drive the whole loop.
We started clock-wise, with our first stop at Rim Village, which had the Lodge, store, food, and a visitor center. Tip: if you do the drive clockwise, then all the turns into parking lots will be an easy right.
The walkway along the edge of Rim Village had some interpretive signs explaining what we were looking at. What we were looking at was an exploded mountain that sunk into itself once all the lava had emptied below it. Over thousands of years it filled in with rain and snow melt. There’s just so many cool facts about this place; it is the deepest lake in the US at 1,943 feet, there are no rivers running in or out, it literally is a giant bowl, and it has the clearest water, giving it the super deep blue color. You can’t help but say WOW! the first time you see it, which is exactly what my dad and I were doing.
There is only one way down to the water, a trail that zig-zags down, it’s not very long, just one mile, but that means coming back up on a steep trail, when perhaps you’re already tired. We skipped the hike but watched the boats zip back and forth from the dock at the end of the trail to Wizard Island, a cone of land sticking out of the western side of the lake. Another fun fact is that they got the boats into the lake by helicopter! The edges of the lake are very steep and look like they are made of loose rock. We saw several signs that said people have died trying to get down to the lake other than the trail. 🤔
We stopped at all the major overlooks, including Phantom Ship, a blip of rock that looks like its sailing out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Near the end of the drive, my dad and I decided we didn’t want to wait in line again for a campsite. Luckily, I had service at one of the lookouts and found an Oregon state park nearby and called to book a campsite. Way easier! (When I talked to the women on the phone and she asked for my zip code, she responded, “Do you know you’re calling Oregon?!” They must not get many Ohioans 😂) It also helped that Crater Lake is small enough that you can see most of the touristy sites in one day.
The next day we didn’t have to rush, so we had breakfast at camp and took out time packing up. My dad complained that my tent was too small 😂. We drove about an hour southwest to Joseph H. Stewart Recreation Area. The campsite was set on the bluffs of Lost Creek Reservoir. There was a marina about a mile down which we went to first since we couldn’t check into camp yet.
My dad was being his usual cranky self but I convinced him to rent a canoe with me and paddle around the lake. The water was mostly clear but you could see some algae floating around. Since my dad is so big into fishing, he was interested to see if anyone was catching anything. We paddled near shore to see if we could find any fish but nothing much other than some tiny fish. It seemed like most people used the lake for recreation, renting pontoon boats and swimming near the beach. It got pretty hot out on the water, so we made our way back to the dock.
It was only 11, we ate lunch and lazed about the park until 4, when we could check in at the campsite. The campsite was well maintained, they even showed a movie at night for the kids. And free showers!
The next morning, I went on a quick run on the trails near the campsite. I’m not usually much of a runner, but trail running seems way more appealing then running down sidewalks. But definitely not ready for Mike-sized mountain races yet.
We packed up camp and headed south. Onto the next adventure!