Crater Lake National Park
Back in September I traveled to Oregon with my studio partner to photograph a wedding in a small town called Philomath, a couple of hours outside of Portland. We had a few days to enjoy this beautiful state so we decided that one of those days we would make the drive to Crater Lake. Being photographers and sunset lovers, we wanted to make sure that we are there during the day as well as sunset to capture the park’s beauty during different times of day.
Neither one of us are morning people, so we didn’t leave super early. I can’t remember the exact time. The GPS said it would take us about 4 hours to get there but we stopped to a few places along the way to enjoy the scenery so it took a couple of extra hours to get there.
We didn’t make any accommodations ahead of time and we thought for sure we will be able to just book something on the way. Well, we were wrong. Everything at the actual park was completely sold out and there really wasn’t anything close by that didn’t look “questionable.” So we decided we will just enjoy our day at the park and drive back until we find a hotel that we like.
Our drive was long but full of gorgeous scenery that we enjoyed very much. When we got close to the park, we started to notice the heavy smell of smoke. There were a lot of burnt trees along the way and we figured there was a forest fire somewhere in the distance. At the entrance to the park, we were informed that there is currently a fire at the park but it doesn’t affect the view of the lake or the visitor’s safety. The smell was strong for a little while but disappeared once we got closer to the lake.
The road that loops around the lake is called Rim Drive and is 33 miles long. It can be driven in about an hour but it will take at least 2-3 hours to fully enjoy all the major stops and enjoy the views of the lake and the surroundings. The road is open during the summer but some parts are closed during the winter so make sure and get the current info when you decide to visit.
First Impression – Breathtaking
We entered Rim Drive through the North Entrance Road and this was our first view of the lake. I knew it was beautiful from looking at the photos online, but even the best photos don’t do it justice. It truly has to be seen in person.
From here, we drove around in counter clockwise direction around the lake. Our next stop was the Watchman Overlook. This pullout offers an unmatched view of Wizard Island, a cinder cone that erupted out of Crater Lake approximately 7300 years ago.
Phantom Ship Overlook
Crater’s Lake “other island” look like a small sailboat from a distance. However, the island is actually as tall as a 16-story building. It’s made of 400,000 year old erosion-resistant lava.
Pumice Castle Overlook is located an unmarked viewpoint, located about a mile west of the Cloudcap Overlook. It’s a layer of orange pumice rock that has been eroded into the shape of a medieval castle.
Our final stop was at Cloudcap Overlook. This overlook sits at the end of a 1-mile spur road, the highest paved road in Oregon. Whitemark pines cling for survival here, dwarfed and contorted by the harsh winds. It’s most likely the best overlook to enjoy the sunset at Crater Lake. And we did just that. The view of the sunset was incredible. If you make the trip to the park, definitely plan to stay until sunset.
We really wanted to spend the night at the park and capture the sunrise over the lake, but since we didn’t have anywhere to stay, that didn’t happen. If you make the trip to the lake, I would highly suggest making accommodations well before you go. After doing some research, it looks like all rooms at Crater Lake Lodge book up quickly regardless of the time of the year. I hope next time I visit it will be in the winter. I can only imagine the beauty of the park under snow.
A few other tips
- Make sure to have a full tank of gas before going to the park. On our way out we didn’t have any signal at all for a few hours. We couldn’t look up the nearest gas station and we started to get nervous about not having enough gas to make it to the nearest town. There was no civilization in sight and it was pitch black! Finally we saw a small sign for a gas station and we turned on to this unmarked road. Once we got to the gas station it felt like we were in a horror movie. It was an old gas station, nobody was there and once we pulled up we saw a sign that said “If gas station is closed, pick up the phone.” I was thinking, no way am I getting out of the car and picking up that phone. As we were sitting there in the car freaking out, trying to decide what to do, a man pulled up in a pickup truck asking if we needed gas. We were still a little hesitant but told him yes. We only opened our window about an inch so we could communicate with him. He probably though we were rude. He went inside and unlocked the door and came back to pump gas for us. Since I am writing this you have probably figured out by now that we did not get kidnapped or murdered.See the crappy iPhone photo of this place below. Once again, the man that worked here was very nice but it was a scary experience for two women traveling alone nonetheless. I wish I could tell you how to get to this gas station if you need it. But I have no idea where it is. After looking at the location on the photo taken with my phone, all it says is that it was in Chemult, OR.
- Again, make sure you have enough gas. Even if you find a gas station at night, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get gas. Oregon and New Jersey are the only remaining “Pump For Me” states in the U.S. It means you cannot pump your own gas. And from what I was able to see, a lot of gas stations close around 10pm so even though you may find a gas station at night, it doesn’t mean someone will be there to pump gas for you.
- Be very careful when driving in and out of the park, especially at night. There are deer crossing everywhere and it’s very hard to see. So keep your speed at the minimum and be alert at all times.
- We ended up staying in Roseburg that night. The GPS will tell you that it’s a 2-hour drive from Crater Lake. However, it will probably take closer to 3 hours at night since you’ll have to lower your speed significantly to make sure not to hit any animals on the road while leaving the park.
- We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Roseburg. It was very nice for a Holiday Inn and I would definitely recommend it. Very clean and friendly staff. We missed the breakfast but it looked like they had some great options.
- We ate at Denny’s across the street from the hotel. I would definitely recommend you explore other options. That’s all I will say about that.
- If you are a coffee lover, definitely get coffee at Dutch Bros Coffee. It was the best coffee I’ve had in a while and the baristas were extremely friendly.
There you have it. If you have visited Crater Lake in the past, please feel free to share your stories and tips in the comments below.